Pests in the Press

Catching The Virus
Opie & Anthony — And Friends — Come Together At Jones Beach

Micheal M. Martino, Jr

Thursday, June 21, 2007

They are more than fans. In fact, the dedicated followers of radio-comedy duo Opie & Anthony transcend traditional fandom. They are more like that troubled brother or cousin you love dearly but cringe when they call, and they represent the heart of The Opie & Anthony Show on XM Satellite Radio and WXRK-FM. This week, they'll gather en masse when the largest comedy tour of the year, the Opie & Anthony Traveling Virus, comes to Nikon at Jones Beach Theatre.

"We like to call [our fans] 'Pests,'" says the show's co-host, Anthony Cumia. "If they joined the [armed forces], they could just pester the enemy to death."

Of course, the nickname comes from love. Without the dedication of O&A's stalwart fans, the show might have been long gone. But the connection between Cumia, co-host Gregg "Opie" Hughes and their fans is almost incestuous. To the faithful, the show is more than just a radio program-it's a few hours every day when friends get together. In a way, the Traveling Virus is just another excuse for O&A to bring their people together. And the Virus does indeed collect some of the best stand-up comedians on the circuit. But more than that, the performers are, by and large, show regulars.

"We were offered a few very big names to help sell more tickets, but they are not part of our show," says Hughes. "There are plenty of guys that have a funny act, but are not funny people."

When a comedian appears on the radio show, Hughes, Cumia and guest host Jim Norton (himself a star of the Traveling Virus Tour and one of the leading stand-up comics in the world) go right for the person, not the material, and strip away the mask so often worn by performers. That ability to get behind the persona has always been the key to the show, and part of the reason O&A's fans tune in every day.

"You really get to know these guys and get a personal knowledge of their lives, some of the stuff they've been through," says Hughes.

Some of the comedians who will perform at Jones Beach include Norton, Frank Caliendo, Louis C.K., Rich Voss and Bob Saget, whom Cumia and Hughes believe will be the biggest surprise to those who have not seen him perform. Despite Saget's clean-cut and wholesome turns in family TV shows Full House and America's Funniest Home Videos, he is a notoriously blue comic, with enough raw humor to make Redd Foxx run to church.

"We had heard about Saget's act for years [before actually witnessing it]," says Hughes. "Most of the country does not know he is a filthy comic. The joke was on America."

This is the second year of the comedy tour, something that Hughes and Cumia saw as a natural progression for the show and their already busy personal-appearance schedule. A quick run-through in Las Vegas recently revealed that the show has enough juice to steamroll across the country.

Beyond the tour, it's been an interesting year for the duo. Recently, they found themselves caught in the vortex created by the firing of WFAN radio personality Don Imus. After a guest made comments about Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on O&A, XM Satellite suspended the show for 30 days. The duo continued their 6-9 a.m. spot on Free FM during that time, all the while keeping their rabid fans laughing as usual. The pair is scheduled to return to XM on June 15.

The spirit of the show has not been dampened, though. This week, for example, the hosts have spent a good deal of time rehashing the series finale of The Sopranos. "Right off the bat, I thought it sucked so bad, but I let it simmer for a couple of days and now it sucks a little less," says Cumia.

But when their show ends, Cumia and Hughes do not hide from fans, instead taking time to communicate with them. Cumia even plays online poker with many of them late into the night, creating a communal feeling that is central to the duo's charm and success.

"The Traveling Virus really is just an extension of the [radio] show," says Hughes. "No matter what time we are off the air, the show really never ends. It continues all day long."