Interview: Stand-up Comics Sean Donnelly and Rus Gutin

Comedian Sean Donnelly
Comedian Sean Donnelly

On Sunday, August 21, stand-up comedian Sean Donnelly (notable for Comedy Central's The Half Hour) and Rus Gutin – comedian and promoter – will share the bill at the recently-opened Punch Line comedy club in Philadelphia. The lineup, which also features Luchana Gatica and James Mattern, also serves as the debut of Rus Gutin's Fishtown Premium, a showcase he hopes to bring to Punch Line on a regular basis. We spoke with Donnelly and Gutin about their long-time friendship and comic inspiration.

A.D. Amorosi: Where did you grow up and hone your comic skills?
Sean Donnelly: I grew up on the border of Long Island and Nassau County, New York. Most people hear Long Island and they think the Hamptons. I used to go to Nassau Coliseum to see wrestling shows with my dad.

A.D.: What led to you working as a comedian?
Sean: I was obsessed with George Carlin albums that I listened to with my dad. I had this thing in the back of my head that it wasn't a JOB, so I avoided it at first. When I started doing it and kept it up, I surpassed where I ever dreamed I could go.

A.D.: So now it is your job.
Sean: Yes, I'm a working comic. It can get rough, even brutal on the road, but I love it. When you start in New York it’s a battleground. Everybody comes to NYC to make it. I started here so I got better faster and dealt with hard competition. New York is, I guess like Philly, a 'show me what you got' place.

A.D.: That's much harder to do, but more satisfying to conquer than the Midwest?
Sean: Yes, because there they are so bubbly and optimistic. It’s hard to figure why they are being so nice to me. In New York, your best show is 'nice.'

A.D.: Did your dad think you were funny? You mentioned him twice so far.
Sean: He did. He passed away several years ago and I know I made him laugh. Especially around the dinner table. If I could do it there – make him laugh – I was ready to go.

A.D.: What brings you to Philadelphia?
Sean: This is my first time in Philly, but I've been doing comedy across the nation for a while now, ten years. Rus is a good dude, a maniac, and I trust his instincts in producing shows.

A.D.: So what is occupying your comic mind at present that might make its way into the show?
Sean: I'm not really topical or political. It's not my bag. I am highly personal. Self-deprecating. I talk about my dog, my kid, being married, trying to lose weight. It's about me, and I'm very conversational. I like a natural setting . I'm a big fan of Patrice O'Neal - he's my mountain top. With him, you couldn’t ever tell if he as riffing or doing a bit. That's my goal as well.

A.D. Amorosi: Rus, you have an extensive resume as a comedian and as a comic writer - the Off-Broadway Gangstapella, bits on Chelsea Lately, hosting shows at Gotham (NYC) and The Comedy Store (LA). Where did you get the promoter's initiative - the gumption?
Rus Gutin: I grew up n "CherryHillADelphia" and when I was a senior at Cherry Hill East in 98, I started promoting for my Uncle Barry's old nightclubs Shampoo and Egypt's "18-24" nights [Barry Gutin is currently the co-owner of the Cuba Libra restaurant chain with Larry Cohen]. I covered the city and the whole tri-state area with flyers and posters, because this was all before social media. Working for Barry and his team taught me everything about branding, building a real audience and reputation by making sure the product and the promotion is always top shelf. I make the "business" part of "show business" equally as important. Which is where I got the "gumption," I suppose, to set out to be the "Uncle Barry" of comedian / showrunners.

A.D.: What sort of comic are you? Who do you like in terms of stand up?
Rus: The best description I have ever heard of me was from the LA Examiner during the time of having my own show at The World Famous Comedy Store:. "Gutin's stage persona is a compelling mixture of Woody Allen and Sam Kinison. Something akin to Jewish angst on meth." I agree with that 100%. I grew up in the 80's, during stand-up's golden era and spent countless years "binge watching" every bit of stand-up on HBO. The one thing that always interested me were the comics whose voice, personality and stories were specific and unique. Being funny was part of it, but the comics willing to share the things that seemed painful for laughs, to me that was where it was at.

A.D.: How did you and Sean hook up in the first place as pals and as comic foils?
Rus: When I moved back East four-ish years ago, I thought I'd have to start from square one again on the comedy scene here. Then, I got the amazing opportunity to help establish and run "COMEDY JUICE NY" every Tuesday at Gotham for 2 years. The COMEDY JUICE brand specializes in "All-Star" showcases, so I was working with all of NY's finest right away. That's where I met Sean. He was always professional, on time, friendly, he could host, feature, it didn't matter. After a few months of working on other shows with him outside of JUICE, sharing a burger before the show, talking movies, music, etc., I realized that this was a rare case in comedy where what you see is really what you get. This guy really is just fun to be around, his laugh is infectious and he is just as if not funnier off stage.

A.D. : So what should we expect from this show, Fishtown Premium and the future as a comedy promoter?
Rus: Speaking as the producer, Sean is a "go-to, no-brainer" booking, or a "designated hitter" every time. My dream is for Fishtown Premium to grow a real following like we did for Shampoo back in the day, and my shows in LA and NY did, so it can last for many years to come. Sean and the whole line up will be a perfect example of the kind of top shelf talent I plan to have my Fishtown Premium brand to be associated with. Like Robert Evans said, "Luck is when opportunity meets preparation." I simply couldn't feel more lucky to come back home like this.

Sean Donnelly, Rus Gutin and friends present Fishtown Premium on Sunday, August 21 at Punch Line Philly, 33 E Laurel St, Philadelphia, PA. Showtime: 7:30PM, Tickets: $15. For more info call 215.606.6555 or visit

Comedian Rus Gutin on stage in NYC
Comedian Rus Gutin on stage in NYC
Photos courtesy of Rus Gutin
Rus Gutin performance shot by Brody Brodo

Posted on Saturday, August 20, 2016