¬‘Provenz’ was destined for a life in comedy. Since everyone laughed at him anyway he figured he might as well make it look like it was his idea, and by 17 was performing at New York’s original Improv. Continuing stand-up while training with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London and studying at University of Pennsylvania, he has now been a comedian for over thirty years, leaving him with absolutely no other marketable skills whatsoever.
In 1983, Paul made his first appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. By the late 1980’s, he’d appeared on every TV show with a desk and a host, opened for superstars in Las Vegas and toured clubs, colleges and concerts across America. He wrote, co-produced, and hosted the ground-breaking Ace Award-nominated “Comics Only” for Comedy Central, and by 1991 did a critically acclaimed stand-up special for Showtime, “Incredible Man-Boy.” He starred on ABC’s short-lived, “The Pursuit of Happiness,” hosted Nickelodeon’s “Kids’ Court,” became television’s foremost interpreter of ‘the star's boyfriend’ (series regular, “Facts of Life,” “Empty Nest”), co-starred with Keanu Reeves in “Under the Influence” for CBS, played a recurring role on “The West Wing,” co-starred on Showtime’s “Beggars and Choosers,” guest starred on countless sitcoms and dramas, and played Fleischman’s replacement in the final season of “Northern Exposure,” enraging the show’s fans who still blame him personally for its demise.
Theater highlights include a Drama Desk Award for Best Actor for Only Kidding, working with playwright Steve Martin, performing the title role in his Picasso at the Lapin Agile (NY and national tour), and directing Nigerian Spam Scam Scam, and Kumail Nanjiani: Unprounounceable.
Film credits include festival favorite Fixing Frank, and various indie films nobody’s ever seen but are online somewhere between some cat videos and clips of people getting hit in the testicles.
By 2000, Paul got involved in human trafficking on the international comedy scene and spent the decade performing across the UK, Europe, Asia, Australia and the Middle East.
In 2005, he got away with directing The Aristocrats, the infamous behind-the-scenes comedy/documentary, co-produced and gently caressed by Penn Jillette, about one very dirty joke. Against all better judgment, it broke records at Sundance and was released to critical acclaim and box office success. Go figure.
In 2010, Paul co-authored ¡Satiristas!, bringing together Dan Dion’s evocative photographic art portraits and conversations with over 75 comedians and social critics across a comedy spectrum wide enough to contain, among others, The Smothers Brothers, Jello Biafra, Lily Tomlin, Patrice Oneal, Mike Nichols, Richard Lewis, PJ O’Rourke, Greg Giraldo, Damon Wayans, Robert Klein, Stephen Colbert, Roseanne Barr, Paul Mooney, Billy the Mime, Doug Stanhope, Culture Clash, Robin Williams, Lee Camp, Greg Proops, Will Durst, Don “Father Guido Sarducci” Novello, Bill Maher, Rick Shapiro, Judd Apatow, Paul Krassner, Andy Borowitz, The Onion, Margaret Cho, Terry Jones, Jay Leno … to George Carlin, in his last taped interview. (“Provenza poses thoughtful questions and offers spirited debate. ¡Satiristas! is at once a tribute, a textbook, and a comedy compendium.” -- Sacramento Book Review)
The book spawned “¡Satiristas LIVE!,” a comedy collective creating new forms of comedy performance in association with Tim Robbins and The Actors Gang in LA, as well as ongoing live, curated stand up shows with a point for festivals and events.
Paul has consulted for Just For Laughs festivals, curated comedy for Chicago’s Lakeshore Theater, created the Free Speech Comedy series at The Revolutions International Theater Festival in Albuquerque. He has been a recurring panelist on NPR's Wait, Wait… Don't Tell Me, and will do just about any podcast anyone ever asks him to.
Current projects include:
The Green Room with Paul Provenza
It’s on SHOWTIME. It’s way cool. Just watch it if you haven’t yet. Seriously. You’ll know it, like, 3 minutes if it’s for you or not.
Set List: Comedy Without A Net
From the brilliant mind of evil genius Troy Conrad. “He creates a ‘set list’ and hands it to you as you’re headed to the mic, and you just start talking and create a stand up set from it. And you’re just funny or you’re not, and that’s that. It’s so scary and insane to do as a comic, I begged Troy to let me work with him to bring it around the world so every great comedian I know could get a shot at it. “It’s catnip for comedians,” is how Phil Jupitus put it at the Edinburgh Fringe. And Carlos Alazraqui said this - which I begged Carlos to let me use in a promo reel, and I was so pathetic he said yes, so I want to credit him anywhere I can because he wrote it and it’s everything you need to know about Set List in one sentence: ‘Asking a comedian to improvise an entire stand up set is like asking a magician to do actual fucking magic.’”
Along with Barbara Romen and the ninja production team that makes The Green Room happen, and Matt Kirshen in the foreign office (that’s not really a thing), Set List opens a limited run at The Soho Theatre, London in December.
Paul is honored to be directing Kelly Carlin in her solo show, A Carlin Home Companion:
Exploring her life with her father George has been an exercise in truth, honesty and fearlessness. You gotta see this fucking’ thing.