By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor
Wakefield – The resume of a particular former Essex County assistant district attorney and criminal defense trial attorney also includes his credits for stand-up comedian, five-time author and co-star of the 2011 Showtime movie “The Godfathers of Comedy.” No longer presenting cases in courts, Paul D’Angelo is now headlining at comedy clubs and has opened for over 60 internationally-acclaimed entertainers.
He pursued interests other than performing while attending Wakefield High School and later Suffolk University Law School, graduating with a Juris Doctor degree in 1982. The following year, he accepted a job as assistant district attorney. His stage debut of sorts was delivering a comical speech at a buddy’s bachelor party.
“I loved the whole dynamic of performing in front of people and getting an immediate reaction,” he recalled. “I really hadn’t thought of actually performing onstage.”
Considering a try at performing onstage, he figured the DA wouldn’t allow him to moonlight at comedy clubs. He decided to perform open mic nights by the pseudonym Paul D’Angelo and continue working days by his birth name, Paul Murphy. He applied his law experience to experimenting onstage.
“I wasn’t worried about my stage presence because I had done probably 100 trials by then in front of a judge and jury,” he explained. “When you’ve been admonished by a judge in front of a crowded courtroom, a heckler isn’t going to bother you.”
Venturing into the comedy scene got his mother’s backhanded approval.
“I’ll never forget my mother’s words of encouragement when I first performed comedy: ‘I’m glad you got that out of your system!’” he recollected. “After doing only about a dozen open mics, all of a sudden I was headlining shows four to seven nights a week while holding down my job at the DA’s office.”
D’Angelo also began working as an opening act. Among the entertainers with whom he shared stages are The Beach Boys, Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Chicago, Aretha Franklin, Tom Jones, Jerry Lew Lewis, Lyle Lovett, Dennis Miller, The Righteous Brothers, Joan Rivers and The Temptations.
As an especially memorable gig, he cites opening for comic legend George Carlin in 1989 at Hampton Beach’s Club Casino (now known as Casino Ballroom). After D’Angelo invited friends to the much-anticipated show, he learned that Carlin’s manager wanted to replace him with the headliner’s usual opener. The venue’s owner convinced Carlin’s manager to give D’Angelo five minutes to perform.
“When I got to the end of five minutes, they kept telling me to stretch,” D’Angelo recounted. “I ended up doing 25 minutes, getting a standing ovation and signing autographs.”
Afterward backstage, he joined his friends including Wally, the owner of a limo service in which D’Angelo invested when financial assistance was needed.
“Wally grinned and said, ‘I don’t know what happened, Paul; I picked up George at the airport and we must have got lost,’” D’Angelo relayed. “That’s when I realized that Wally ‘got lost’ on purpose to give me more time onstage.”
Named Boston’s Best Comedian in 1994 and 1995 by Boston Magazine, D’Angelo was also recognized as a finalist in several national comedy competitions. He left his job at the DA’s office in 1994 and became a criminal defense trial attorney.
“I was doing good things for bad people,” he said. “I eventually quit and moved to Los Angeles.”
While in L.A. from 1996 to 2002, he wrote diaries to vent his aversion for Tinseltown. Now back in his hometown of Wakefield, D’Angelo continues to incorporate some of the writings into his act as well as his most recently released three of five books, a series titled “L.A. Miserables.”
“Living in L.A. was frustrating, so writing was cathartic for me,” he noted. “Comedy comes from tension, conflict and awkward situations. The fact that I hated L.A. so much was actually beneficial because it lent itself to writing funny material.”