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Phil Varone

Interview by Sean Mitchell // November 02 2007
Phil Varone

I always stayed level headed. I’ve seen people around me get huge egos and ruin situations. Fame affects people in many ways.

Generally all drum magazines do feature articles on players who are ascending or at the height of their career. This is not that article. The words contained within this interview are that of an artist who has taken his final bow from the drum throne.

For Phil Varone, all the world is still a stage. However, these days the former Skid Row/Saigon Kick skinsman has traded in his sticks for a microphone. Another drummer turned lead singer, you ask? No, not this cat. Staying true to his less than conventional ways, Phil has decided to entertain the masses with comedy. The one time rock ‘n' roll wildman has evolved into a lean, mean stand-up comic machine. With his unique brand of humor, Phil has reintroduced himself to a new following of fans and has proven to be a welcome newcomer on the comedy club circuit.

To say Phil once lived a life of excess and debauchery would be an understatement. His 2005 documentary entitled Waking Up Dead, chronicles his slow and less than flattering descent into addiction. One only needs to look at photos from Phil’s edgy Skid Row promo shots and compare them to his more recent standup promo pics to see the evolution he has accomplished. Although he has opted for the clean and sober lifestyle, Phil’s standup routine is humorously laced with the raw and uncensored tales of a man once destined to wake up dead.

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I recently watched Waking Up Dead and, dude, I am surprised you are not a corpse. What prompted the turn around to get your life back on track?

It was time to get cleaned up. I’m going to be 40 this year and I have kids. I lived a great life and for some reason I’m still here. It’s a blessing that I didn’t die, so I want to live life to the fullest. 

There was an interview done with you a couple years back and you stated that you couldn’t tour again. Is this a permanent thing for you or will there be a day when you are backing Skid Row again, or perhaps a Saigon Kick reunion?

I will not tour again. I did that already and have no desire to anymore. I have nothing to prove. I’ve seen so much and I’m ready to do other great things.

Given that the entertainment industry welcomes and sometimes encourages the use of recreational substances, how do you cope with the temptation?

One day at a time.

Now here’s a good question, Phil. How does a crazy rock 'n' roll drummer come to be a standup comic?

I’m a huge fan of comedy and always wanted to be a comic. My friends got behind me and convinced me to try it. I did and now I love learning another great form of expressing myself. I only wish I started sooner. I’m just a baby with one year under my belt; I have a long way to go.

Mel Brooks once said, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger; comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.”  What do you feel makes for good comedy?

I’m still trying to figure that out. I hope to someday, but I doubt I will. It’s not as easy as I thought.

Is there anything too taboo for your act?

Not really. I do some crazy material and very normal material. At this stage, I’m still trying to find my voice in comedy. That takes time, a lot of time.

Who have been your comedic idols?

Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Eddie Murphy, Rodney Dangerfield, and Robert Shimmell.

You have played with some of rock’s more successful bands. Is there a feeling that with the standup career you are starting all over again?

Of course. I’m a baby. I’m new. Being successful at music has nothing to do with being funny. I enjoy it. Makes you work hard. Let me put it this way, if Dane Cook wanted to be a rock star he would be starting from the beginning—learning an instrument, writing songs etc. That’s where I’m at with comedy—learning.

Getting back to drums for a bit, do you still keep your chops up, and if so what do you generally work on?

Nope, no desire to play these days. It’s like riding a bike. One day I will start to screw around. For now, I’m happy not playing.

How did you get started in music?

In grade school. I played percussion in the orchestra. Then I saw the Motley Crue “Looks that Kill” video in 1983, and I was sold.

You have been a part of some very famous acts over the years. How did fame affect you and your band mates coming up in the industry?

For me, I always stayed levelheaded. I’ve seen people around me get huge egos and ruin situations. Fame affects people in many ways.

As a standup comic you are front and center; you don’t have the luxury of being behind a kit and somewhat separated from the crowd. How do you handle hecklers? Or do you get any?

You just handle it. I get heckled and I’m learning the art of dealing. That’s why it takes time. You are naked up there with a big target on you. That pressure is what makes it so exciting.

Where do you see the standup bit headed? Are you aiming for television or the big screen? Perhaps Jay Leno’s job?

I’m looking forward to doing movies. I take acting classes and I’m writing a new TV show that I would love to have made. All in time, I look forward to the future.

What is coming up for you in 2007?

My movie Waking Up Dead is out and I want to do a college-speaking tour to promote the movie. Other then that standup, writing, acting.




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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.



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