Local #Southie resident Will Noonan was just named funniest comedian by the Improper Bostonian. For those of us who have seen him perform, either at Capo Supper Club’s Monday Night Comedy or elsewhere, that comes as no surprise. He’s like a millennial Bill Burr—curmudgeonly retiree combined with manic 20 year old. But not even that comparison does him justice.
Tall and lean, “every inch the affable Irish-Catholic boy with bed head” according to the Improper, Noonan looks like an overgrown altar boy right up until he opens his mouth. He specializes in whip-smart observational comedy: his own life and people he knows, hammered home with brutal honesty.
He jokes about dating, “a.k.a. how much I’m not crushing it on Tinder,” pot-smoking, being a recovering alcoholic, his nieces, and everything else in his world. “That’s where my stand up’s been going the past couple years: making fun of real life characters. Stand up, for me, is about saying the uncomfortable truths no one else will. It’s the reptilian brain at the wheel,” he laughs.
In a sense, he’s a bit of an anomaly. Boston has a small but strong comedy community, but it’s also known as a proving ground for some of the greats who left to pursue fame in New York or LA: Burr, Louis C.K., Mike Birbiglia, Conan O’Brien, Amy Poehler.
He says, “People ask me when I’m going to leave Boston and take my big shot. You’re seeing a guy on his second chance now. This is what success looks like for me. I was almost dead. I’m so happy here, and I’m building a cool new thing.”
Most weeks he’s driving around New England to do sets, recording his High Pathetically podcast in the car, doing local commercials, and filling in as a radio host for WAAF. He’s also building a global audience through travel, including a regular stint on The Anthony Cumia Show (formerly Artie and Anthony).
Noonan draws comedic energy from his surroundings. His family lives in Milton but hails from South Boston originally, and Will moved back to Southie a few years ago. Both his family and the neighborhood are regular sources of material. His jokes take place at the Dunkin’ Donuts or an ATM on East Broadway. One of his best recent bits is a homeless guy randomly heckling him, yelling, “There were no gays on the Mayflower!” Noonan responds, “Who do you think came up with the name ‘The Mayflower?’ It’s the gayest name for a boat I’ve ever heard!”
He’s constantly coming up with new material, both on social media and in real life. We joke about how, statistically speaking, there had to be gays on the Mayflower. “I bet some guys started that journey straight and ended up gay!” he cracks, then immediately writes it down on his phone for future use.
Noonan left Massachusetts for New York in the early 2000s, originally with dreams of becoming an actor. In retrospect, stand-up comedy was always at the fringes, waiting for him: initially in method acting and off-Broadway shows, then in his surprising and successful career as a karaoke DJ.
“I was trying to find stand up in other things,” he remembers. “If you take the traditional ‘path’ of a comedian, I’ve done the exact opposite.”
His friends saw it long before he did. He remembers visiting home and his late friend Dante Fugazzotto telling him, “Noonan, when are you just gonna do stand up?” He finally took the plunge just after New Year’s in 2007, crushing it in front of an audience of seven people and realizing in his bones that this was it.
“Stand up wants you to get addicted to it,” he says. “It wants you to come back again and again, so it can beat you again and again.” Quickly, he got on MTV and NPR and became known as a rising star.
But it was a mixed success: Noonan was drinking hard and burning out fast. In part, he was immersed in the New York bar scene, but he was also self-medicating from a violent mugging. He realized that to get sober and stay that way, he had to move home with his support system close by. “Having an addiction is like being paralyzed. You have to relearn how to go to a restaurant and order coffee,” he says.
Next year will mark a decade of sobriety and of living back home in Boston. Noonan’s self-imposed exile from drinking helped him channel his energy into full-time stand up. He’s immersed in the local comedy scene, and he says we’re starting to see it grow and flourish in ways it hasn’t before. He doesn’t have a favorite, but he says he’s particularly impressed by rising stars Mike Whitman, Dan Boulger, and Christine Hurley.
Arguably, Noonan’s presence is aiding this renaissance. “I would love to be one of the reasons why people come to Boston to see a comedy show,” he says. He’s committed to sticking around regardless, not just because of his support system but, he says, because living in his hometown keeps him grounded and grateful.
“For all the brushes with fame I have now, it doesn’t affect me as much,” he says. “I’m just lucky to be here.”