By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor
Boston – Stand-up comedian and actor Tony Viveiros of Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood redirected his career path from social worker to performing alongside Jay Leno, Dennis Miller, Steven Wright and Adam Sandler, as well as opening for The Beach Boys, Billy Ray Cyrus, Joan Jett, Kenny Rogers and The Temptations. Along the way, he became known as Tony V.
After graduating from UMass Boston in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Viveiros studied toward earning a master’s degree while employed as a social worker for several years at Somerville Mental Health Association.
“Having other people’s lives in your head is very stressful,” he noted. “I started going to comedy clubs as a relief.”
He first performed stand-up comedy in 1983 at Boston’s now-closed Comedy Connection. The host couldn’t pronounce the debuting comedian’s last name, so Viveiros was introduced as his now-alias Tony V.
In 1986, Showtime cable network named Viveiros “Funniest Person in Massachusetts.”
“Showtime traveled to every state for contests in a Winnebago with a blowup Groucho Marx nose and glasses on the hood,” he explained.
Viveiros landed a gig from 1987 through 1992 that afforded him to buy the Charlestown home where he still resides. A television ad campaign from the 1970s into mid-‘80s featured a gorilla abusing American Tourister luggage, a Samsonite-owned brand. After the commercials stopped airing, a national search was conducted for a comedian to portray the gorilla-costumed “spokesperson” at public relations appearances. Viveiros and other finalists competed in California.
“I did a show hosted by Phyllis Diller and won the contest to be spokesperson,” he recounted. “I was contractually obligated to appear on cable shows, at openings of luggage stores, and conventions for stores with a luggage department.”
Wearing weighty gorilla garb, Viveiros trudged a vertical 5K up the stairs of the Prudential Building known as Climb to the Top Boston, benefitting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. He also appeared on the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon via live feeds including one at an Atlanta mall.
“The honored guests were me as the gorilla, Ronald McDonald, and the Bud Light beer dog Spuds MacKenzie, doing a traditional southern dance,” Viveiros relayed. “The guy in the Spuds costume passed out in front of about 2,000 people at this mall. Ronald took off because he was sweating so much. Shortly afterward I decided that I’d stop doing this.”
In the mid- to late-1990s, Viveiros performed weekends at Boston-area clubs, then lived and pursued work weekdays in NYC. Among his television gigs were multiple appearances on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and Comedy Central shows.
A job for an FX Network show with Bobcat Goldthwait in 1998 relocated Viveiros to Los Angeles. There, he also performed on A&E’s “An Evening at the Improv” and guest roles on the sitcoms “Boston Common” and “The Single Guy.” Viveiros cherishes interacting with castmates on the “Seinfeld” umbrella-twirling episode.
“It was great working with Jerry Seinfeld and Julia Louis-Dreyfus,” he recalled. “They laughed and offered me suggestions.”
Although Viveiros consistently worked in LA, he chose to return home to Boston.
“My kids started coming along in’98 and I didn’t want to raise them in filthy LA,” he noted. “Also, you’ve been there too long when someone tells you for the fifth time that they’re taking their dog to a psychiatrist.”
From 2006 to 2008, he played a recurring role on Showtime’s “Brotherhood,” filmed in Rhode Island. Among his recent movie gigs filmed in Boston are “I Feel Pretty,” “Chappaquiddick,” “Stronger” and “Ghostbusters.”
“I get to do what I love and live where I want,” he said. “I’m a Bostonian – always will be.”
His most recent venture is the weekly podcast “Dueling Comedians.” It’s an opportunity for the former social worker to analyze his career choice.
“I truly believe that stand-up comedy is one of the last truths,” he shared.