1980s New York City. A paradox onto itself. Gritty and violent – yeah – but also crackling with excitement, intrigue and – especially – possibility. For a young guy open to that kind of energy, this was a city that could be absolutely intoxicating.
Nineteen-year-old Joey Montaperto journeys over from his nearby downtrodden New Jersey town, seeking to escape the dreary negativity of his surroundings. Enrolling in a prestigious Russian drama school, he is determined to become the next great actor in the Stanislavski/Moscow Art Theater tradition. It doesn’t pan out exactly the way he plans, though, and after a time there, he hits the streets even more conflicted and alienated, seeking answers.
He finds a gig as a nut vendor in a grimy Hell’s Kitchen location and dreams of a better life. Subsequently introduced to the ancient texts of Eastern spirituality (The Upanishads) by Vassant, an elderly, brilliant, but drunken Indian scholar who also works as a nut vendor, he becomes fascinated. When Vassant dies unexpectedly, Joey vows to continue his quest for a Master, joining an ashram in the city, while working at the connected health food store. Devoting himself entirely to the rigors of spiritual practice for the next year, he sits in daily meditation – until one day he is rocked by a major epiphany.
Oh my God! I could sit here in my white yoga pants and meditate for the next 40 years, and still not reach enlightenment! Then what?! What about travel? Adventure? Life?! Upon that realization, he dives headlong into what he believes to be his true calling – stand-up comedy, embracing the comedy circuit and the whole lifestyle that ensues. While performing, he also hits the seedy Hell’s Kitchen bars – dancing, drinking heavily and mixing with the denizens – the pimps, prostitutes, dealers and other comics who populate the bar. He learns quite a lot from these characters, but still maintains his spiritual practice.
Quickly rising up the ranks of the comedy scene, he is consumed by the lure of fame, by the rush of performing. Now, he has to get onstage. He is jonesing. This is his life. Out on the streets at all hours of the night, he has to defend himself against the hordes of crackheads roaming the streets, soon even relishing the violence, the rush of revenge. He gets involved in a romantic affair with the sultry Vanessa, a Puerto Rican former streetwalker – who is also transgender – and revels in that scene. It fuels the rush, but it’s still not enough. Nothing ever is. He can’t come down. Finally, disgusted with the comedy club scene, the comedy bookers, the rough streets, and his annoyance with no matter what club he goes to, it seems Jon Stewart and Dave Attell are already regulars there, blocking his way.
A chance viewing of the movie ‘My Dinner With Andre’, makes a life-changing impression on him, and he becomes spellbound by the film, the book, and it’s conversations about exotic travels, and mystical experiences at the spiritual community, Findhorn. He excitedly applies, but finds it is way too expensive, and is sadly resigned to staying in the city. He is unexpectedly reprieved when he hears about Omega Institute, a holistic community in rural upstate New York. Abandoning everything, he then jumps on an Amtrak to begin the adventure of his life.
I chose to read this book after receiving a free copy from the author. All opinions in this review are my own and completely unbiased.
Joe Montaperto has had an interesting life. He’s from New Jersey and in the 1980s he studied acting in New York, among other things, before taking a class on improv and finally found his place in the world of stand up comedy.
In Lovely Chaos, Joe shares the craziness of the life of a young man in New York in the 1980s. He’s a good storyteller and I enjoyed his stories. His writing is a little rough around the edges and tends to jump from one story to the other often, but he has great descriptions. He made me laugh a lot!
Joe reading from his first book
About the Author
Joe Montaperto was born in Brooklyn, New York, and moved with his family at the age of 11 to Roselle, New Jersey – where the subject of his first memoir – The Edge of Whiteness – takes place.
After studying acting at the Sonia Moore Studio of the Theater, he grew tired of the depressing Russian plays, and moved on to a job as a nut vendor in the Hell’s Kitchen streets, before studying to be a monk at a NYC ashram; eventually leaving to pursue both stage and film work in New York. Afterwards, embarking on what he believed to be his true passion – stand-up – on the city’s comedy circuit, where he worked with Jon Stewart, Dave Attell and John Leguizammo, among others, in the edgy, crack-riddled 1980’s. Drinking, dancing, and getting beat up by crackheads on the late night city streets, eventually led him to create a one-man show, Four Degrees of Disconnection, based on his experiences and some of the characters he encountered along the way, which ran at several theaters in Manhattan in the late 1990’s.
Burnt out from the intensity of the New York art scene, he set out on a long-awaited spiritual sabbatical, living at a couple of Buddhist monasteries before escaping to South America. There, he spent quite a bit of time exploring the Ecuadorian and Peruvian Amazon jungle, teaching English and becoming involved in several eco-projects.
He has been an avid freeloader for many years at The Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in upstate Rhinebeck, New York, among other establishments, and is currently featuring his second memoir, Lovely Chaos, in a planned trilogy, which explores his spiritual and stand-up comic adventures in the gritty streets of 1980’s New York.