Hosting a talk show is a natural extension of what Niagara-on-the-Lake comedian and business owner Joe Pillitteri does on a regular basis. Even so, his role as the emcee for Music Niagara Festival’s new Not So Late Show is a step in a fresh direction for the popular stand-up comic.
“I’ve wondered a few times if this is something I could do if the opportunity was given to me,” Pillitteri tells The Local. “And then Music Niagara reached out to me and asked me to host. And I love the guys from Quartetto Gelato, they’re so talented. So it was an easy decision.”
The Local caught up to Pillitteri and Quartetto Gelato, the Not So Late Show’s ‘house band,’ at Yuk Yuk’s in Niagara Falls for the taping of their second instalment of the online talk show earlier this week. The contemporary online variety show seeks to engage with a diverse viewership across Niagara and Ontario with a thrilling mix of live music, comedy, and local hospitality.
“Each episode of the Not So Late Show features eclectic guests and a conversational atmosphere,” says Music Niagara’s general manager Karen Lade. “It’s all filtered through a local focus with a particular spotlight on fellow businesses and arts organizations that have been impacted by the pandemic.”
The first three episodes are funded by a grant via Reconnect Ontario 2021 and the St. Catharines Cultural Investment Program. Episode one was filmed two weeks ago at the library at the Pillar and Post. Episode three is scheduled to be recorded in early March at Hernder Estates Winery in St. Catharines.
At the core of the show is the ease at which Pillitteri banters back and forth with the quartet, led by oboist Colin Maier.
“Nothing’s forced with him,” Pillitteri says of Maier. “When nothing’s forced with the person you’re bantering with, it’s so easy to make it flow naturally. You’re not trying to rescue each other.”
The pair first connected in August 2020 at a Music Niagara show that combined Pilletteri’s comedy with the classical music, tangos, gypsy, klezmer, jazz and folk songs in the quartet’s repertoire. It’s a perfect fit, as Maier and bandmates Konstantin Popović, Matti Pulki, and Kirk Starkey regularly engage their audiences with an at times irreverent sense of humour in their performances.
Pillitteri displays an ability to engage with his guests and make them feel at ease. NOTL residents are familiar with how funny he is, and that comes through on the program. Though he says his favourite talk show hosts include Johnny Carson, Stephen Colbert, Conan O’Brien and David Letterman, he doesn’t try to channel any of them in this gig.
Episode two of the Not So Late Show features Pillitteri sitting down to chat with comedian Ben Bankas, who also performs a stand-up set. Marcel Morgenstern from Pondview at Bella Terra Vineyards (formerly Pondview Estate Winery) and Toronto musician Kris Maddigan, who has composed the music for the enormously popular video game Cuphead, also take a chair beside the host.
His discussion with Morgenstern touches on the marketing expert’s efforts to support the local hospitality industry’s recovery through his creation of wheninniagara.com and the Restaurants of Niagara Facebook page.
The conversation also delves into Morgenstern’s YouTube channel, which often features his children’s stop-motion Lego animations. Both Morgenstern and Pillitteri laugh about the fact that neither one has the patience of the kids to get beyond 10 frames.
That segues nicely into Pillitteri’s conversation with Maddigan, a Regina, Saskatchewan native who has become one of the biggest names in video game scoring in recent years.
Maddigan’s childhood friends Chad and Jared Moldenhauer are the creators of Cuphead, a popular run-and-gun video game developed by their independent studio MDHR. They enlisted the drummer/percussionist to write music for their 2017 release.
Visually, Cuphead features graphics inspired by the golden age of American animation, such as the early works of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Fleischer Studios.
Maddigan tells Pillitteri the game has sold about six million copies and has even inspired a new Netflix animated series. It has also spawned a sequel coming this summer, Cuphead 2, for which Maddigan has once again composed music. He gathered about 120 musicians to play on the score, which he describes as in the style of the big bands, such as those of Cab Calloway or Benny Goodman.
Maier is one of those musicians recruited for Cuphead 2. “When I told my son I was doing Cuphead, Maier tells Maddigan and Pilliterri, “he was so excited. Honestly, with all the stuff I do, it’s the first thing he’s ever cared about. It’s finally something that’s relevant to him.”
Of course, that leads to the opportunity for Maddigan to sit in on spoons with Quartetto Gelato on an outtake from the first game, called Tombstone Tango. Other musical guests for the second instalment of the show include Tanya Charles Iveniuk of the Odin Quartet and Music Niagara founder and artistic director Atis Bankas.
Through it all, Pillitteri keeps things flowing with his comedy. He had the musicians and the small crowd roaring at his stories of his parents embarrassing the entire family at his son Johnny’s hockey games.
Bankas, Maier and Pillitteri are enjoying their collaboration. Pillitteri seems truly fascinated by the talent of the musicians. Maier and the quartet are clearly having fun, as they always do on stage. Maier sees the talk shows as a chance to turn some new people on to the world of classical music.
Says Lade, “the Niagara arts, live performance, and tourism sectors have all suffered dramatically as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This new programming initiative seeks to alleviate some of the financial pressure on the region’s hardest hit industries while highlighting local Niagara businesses.”
Lade says they are hoping to record more episodes in the future. The first three episodes of the Not So Late Show will be streamed on March 17, 24 and 31 at 7 p.m. on Music Niagara’s website and YouTube channel. For more information visit musicniagara.org.