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You kidding me?

Take a break and laugh a little at Comedy Xxtravaganza

Special to the Union Leader
February 08. 2017 1:07PM
Comedian Wendy Liebman 
If you go...
WHAT: Comedy Xxtravaganza

IN PORTSMOUTH: With Mike McDonald, Joe List, Wendy Liebman, Ken Rogerson and Tony V at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Music Hall, 28 Chestnut St. Tickets: $38-$42. Info: themusichall.org, 436-2400.

IN LEBANON: With Mike McDonald, Wendy Liebman, Joe List and Paul D'Angelo at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Lebanon Opera House, 51 No. Park St. Tickets: $32-$35. Info: lebanonoperahouse.org, 448-0400.

In uncertain times, comedy can take on a new importance; it’s an escape from the every day, a chance to take a break, laugh and maybe even do some good in the world in the process.

For years now, comedian Mike McDonald has been bringing top talent to The Music Hall in Portsmouth for what he calls The Comedy Xxtravaganza.

“Sixteen years at The Music Hall — beautiful place. We come back every year because, well, we don’t suck. It’s a good show. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have put 875 people in the big room last year.”

This year’s 16th annual Xxtravaganza at 7:30 p.m. Friday will benefit Cross Roads House and the Seacoast Family Food Pantry.

In addition to McDonald as the anchor and emcee, the lineup will include Wendy Liebman, who was a finalist on “America’s Got Talent” in 2014; Joe List, who has been touring with Louis CK; Tony V, whose 35-year career spans both standup and television; and Ken Rogerson, who got his start in Chicago’s famed “Second City” comedy troupe.

“These are truly funny people, headliners in their own right,” McDonald said. “Lots of TV and club experience. You will be entertained.”

New this year is a second show at the Lebanon Opera House. The 7:30 p.m. show Friday will feature Liebman and List along with Paul D’Angelo, who appeared in “The Godfathers of Comedy” on Showtime.

Both shows are underwritten by corporate sponsor Eastern Propane.

“(It’s a family-owned business. l’ve known the family for, oh, 25 years. The Clement family. Great people,” McDonald said. “They help me be able to secure the comedians, hotel rooms, advertising, things like that.

“This past year, I said to them, ‘Well, the show has been going so well. Why don’t we do something in Concord or in Manchester? And they said, ‘You know what? We just made an acquisition up in the Claremont and Lebanon area, so why don’t we do something up there to introduce ourselves?’”

So McDonald scouted out some performance rooms and settled on the Lebanon Opera House.

“Lebanon presents a different challenge logistically because the town is 33,000 during the day and 12,000 at night,” he said with a laugh. “So you have to deal with that area differently. You have to reach a little farther, even going across state lines into Vermont. We really hope people will come out.

“Hey, it’s going to be Valentine’s Day weekend,” he added. “If you have to buy your significant other something, why not get something that you can use half of yourself? Right? Who doesn’t like comedy?”

The Lebanon show will benefit David’s House, a home away from home for families whose children are undergoing long-term treatment at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

All of the comedians have New England connections, either by birth or residence. McDonald is a Hartford, Conn., native who now lives in the “Billerica/Tewksbury snow belt.”

“The beauty of New England is, you can get in your car and you drive two hours, and you’re in Providence, Hartford, Portland, Manchester or Concord, New Hampshire ... You can get to a lot of major cities where there is good population base that is ready to see comedy. That’s not the case in, you know, Nebraska. You can’t do that in, say, Texas. We are very fortunate here,” McDonald said.

Being funny always came easy to McDonald. The idea of using humor to pay the bills was something he realized was possible early on.

“I remember watching comedians when I as a kid ... watching ‘The Tonight Show’ or Merv Griffin or Mike Douglas,” he said. “And when I figured out these guys were getting paid to be funny, the light went on. I was 10 or 12, you know, and this was amazing to me.

“I was always funny in school, to the point of always getting in trouble because I was funnier than my teacher, and that wasn’t good,” McDonald said. “And ... my mother was a teacher in the same school system, so stuff would get back to her right quick.”

McDonald was at Emerson College with the likes of Steven Wright, Denis Leary and the late Lauren Dombrowski.

“I’ve been lucky to work alongside some very talented people,” he said. “It’s going to be fun making people laugh with some of them.”

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