Arts & Entertainment

A Conversation With YouTuber Grace Helbig


youtube comedian Grace Helbig

Courtesy of Robin Roemer



You haven’t lived in New Jersey for quite a while, but I notice you still have a 609 area code.

It’s a little piece of my heart. I hope I never get hacked, because I really truly adore my 609 area code. It’s a conversation starter.

So you have fond memories of growing up in South Jersey? 

It gave me backbone. There’s a wonderful grit and sincerity to this concentrated little state.  

You were a track and pole-vaulting star at Gateway Regional High, not the nerdy or sad kid so many comedians claim as youthful personas.
I’d say star with quotations around it. There were only, like, 156 kids in my graduating class, and my body is 75 percent legs, and I noticed that female pole vaulting was a new thing. Being an overachiever, I saw there weren’t a lot of other people in the competition, and I thought I could swing my gangly legs over the bar.  

When did you start feeling like a YouTube celebrity? 

It has sort of felt more like we’ve built a community together online than me being above anybody in any way. But the time I felt most proud or excited is when my first book came out. My mom went to the Barnes & Noble at Deptford Mall, and she got recognized because she’s been in my videos. She went up to the counter to ask where the book was, and the person behind the counter knew she was my mom!

How would you explain your show Consistently Inconsistent to someone who has never watched?

It’s my way of explaining, in a lighthearted way, that my content-creation process doesn’t have a strict schedule. I’m a bit of a floppy, sloppy creative human, so it feels like the most accurate way to describe how I make things and what an audience can expect. It’s a fun way to manage expectations. 

What vein have you tapped into to draw 3 million YouTube followers? 

I think trying to stay true to my curiosity about humans and life in general has garnered an audience. I can’t present myself as a perfectly put-together lifestyle vlogger, because I’m just not that. A majority of my audience are younger females that I think see me as some sort of awkward older sister. I definitely don’t know the best way to do things, but I’ll for sure offer the best advice I can and we’ll figure it out together.  

Is building a YouTube community an end in itself, or do you hope to bring those followers along to traditional media, like TV and film?

I hope to bring them into whatever endeavors the future holds, whether that’s TV, film or opening a bakery. That’s not an actual goal, but I’ve been watching a lot of The Great British Baking Show lately, so it’s in my brain. Basically, I want them to come along for the ride, and I’m not even sure what the final destination is at the moment. 

What do you miss about living in New Jersey? 

One thing I don’t miss whatsoever is digging my car out of snow. But New Jersey is the silliest state, and I miss that. I miss the Shore—not MTV’s version, but the real one—and all the funny people. New Jersey is like a clenched fist that’s well meaning. My boyfriend, this new guy I’m dating, hasn’t been back with me yet, but I can’t wait for him to see it.

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Jim Inzero Transforms Melted Wax into Stunning Art


Artist Jim Inzero in his studio. Photo by Justin Borucki



A trip to Mexico changed Jim Inzero’s life. The Connecticut native studied architecture and interior design in college, thinking it was “a steady and consistent way of being creative,” he says. But, while visiting his mother-in-law, he joined her in a class on the encaustic method of art. “I was instantly hooked,” Inzero says. He returned home, created two encaustic pieces, and sold both very quickly. That was in 2004. “The momentum started,” he says now.

Encaustic painting dates to 100 A.D., when the Egyptian upper class employed the technique to create mummy portraits. More recently, it has been practiced by renowned artists such as Jasper Johns and Diego Rivera. For Inzero, the process entails melting tiny wax pellets in a skillet over a camp stove. He then adds a powder pigment, and when it’s liquified, brushes it onto a canvas made of wood. The wax dries instantly, “like a drip candle,” he says. Inzero uses a torch to soften the brush strokes. The colors mix and emerge from beneath. “It’s literally thousands of layers,” he says. “It could be several inches thick.” The material is durable—it won’t fade or melt in the sun.

A blowtorch is used to soften the pigmented wax for blending. Photo by Justin Borucki

Inzero does not make prints, so each piece is one of a kind. “Everything is completely unique,” he says. “When people buy, they’re getting my original art.”

During the creative process, Inzero wears an apron and a respirator with a complete ventilation system to protect himself. With each new piece, he says, “I have no idea what it’s going to look like.” When he thinks it’s done, he takes it to his gallery. “Then I sit with it. I may feel it’s not finished and I will change something,” he says. “This art is a moving process. It’s melting, it’s fluid. It’s never complete.” 

From left: Hula, from Inzer’s wave collection; a newer series depicts abstract flowers. (“I wanted to do something really happy,” Inzero says.) Prices vary; pieces are generally between $1,200 and $4,000, and nothing is more than $10,000. Inzero’s 8-inch ceiling tins are $250. Courtesy of Jim Inzero

By 2007, Inzero realized he could make a living as an encaustic artist and stepped away from his interior-design career. He moved into studio space above the Point Pleasant Beach shop, Stella e Luna, owned by his wife,  Lauren. There, he was a hidden treasure, tucked away on the second floor, but sought out by those in the know. Then, last fall, the space adjacent to Stella e Luna opened up, giving Inzero ground-floor exposure. “The foot traffic is enormous here,” he says. Open on weekends year-round, with plans to extend hours during the summer, Inzero greets every customer who walks in the door. “I can’t have someone else here. It’s my passion; it’s my life,” he explains. “This is my calling, and I never get sick of explaining the process.” 

Jim Inzero Gallery, 502 Bay Avenue, Pt. Pleasant Beach; 732-451-2666

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When James Gandolfini Let Down His Guard


Photo by Chris Buck

Editor’s note: During the winter of 2004, as The Sopranos was heading into its fifth season on HBO, actor James Gandolfini agreed to a rare interview with reporter Rebecca Brill Moody. The story originally appeared in the March 2004 issue of New Jersey Monthly.

Tony Soprano wasn’t in the cards when James Gandolfini was studying communications at Rutgers University. The future Emmy winner never even took the stage while matriculating on the banks of the Raritan. But when he moved to Manhattan after graduating in 1983, he enrolled in acting lessons and caught the bug, a twist of fate for which Sopranos fans can only by grateful.

Gandolfini grew up in Park Ridge, a child of Italian immigrants, and graduated from the local public high school. After college he worked as a nightclub manager, a bouncer, and a bartender while honing his acting chops in off-Broadway plays. His first Broadway show came in 1992, when he landed a role alongside Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin as Harold “Mitch” Mitchell, Stanley Kowalski’s Army buddy, in A Streetcar Named Desire. His film credits include supporting roles in Get Shorty and A Civil Action and, more recently, star turns in The Mexican and The Last Castle. These days he’s preparing for a real stretch—starring with John Turturro in Cigarettes and Romance, a musical produced by Joel and Ethan Coen.

In January, Gandolfini, who’s divorced, became engaged to Lora Somoza, whom he met on the set of The Mexican, the 2001 movie in which starred with Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. Although he rarely grants interview, he agreed to meet during a recent Gandolfini family get-together. After dinner we sat down to chat—outside, so he could smoke his cigar.

You’re a fairly reserved guy. Is it difficult to deal with the fame of being the star of The Sopranos?
Yes, but only because in reality I’m so boring that I don’t want people to get close to me, because they’ll realize how boring I am, and they won’t want to watch anymore. I’m just a normal guy. It’s the writing that is interesting, and the characters. The less said about me, the better.

Do you ever get a true reprieve from Tony Soprano or from the mass celebrity of the show?
Yeah, it’s not that bad. I can go down the Shore or stay inside. It all comes with the territory. But mostly people are nice. I mean, I’m tired and there are twenty people coming up to me. But people are mostly kind.

Can you describe any time when your fans did something that bothered you?
One time I’d gotten sick on an airplane… I vomited outside the airport. And right after, some woman came up and said “Can I take a picture with you and get an autograph?” She had seen me vomit but she ignored it completely. I just said, “Uh, no. Not right now.” I thought that was a little insensitive.

What do you do to relax or to take a step back from all that?
I read a lot. And my son—playing with my son [4-year-old Michael] really takes me right out of all this, because it’s all about him. Are you freezing?

No. When did you first decide to act?
I guess I thought about it seriously after college. I was about 24 years old. A friend of mine was doing a class, and I thought it was interesting. But nobody in my family had ever really done anything like that. I thought it was pretty silly, but I really liked the class. So I went back and kind of got hooked into it.

What had you planned to do after college?
My major was English literature and communications, but I didn’t have a clue, so I moved to New York. I managed nightclubs; I started at a club called Private Eyes on 24th Street. I saw a lot of different kinds of people doing a lot of different kinds of things. It was an interesting learning experience.

What was your first break in acting?
My first really big break was when I got hired for a Broadway play—without an agent. Some friends of mine knew the casting director, and I got the job. That was A Streetcar Named Desire. Most of my first roles were parts in original plays that most people would not recognize.

What’s the difference between stage acting and TV and film?
Stage acting is about two hours of concentration, and the concentration is intense. Film acting is concentration in little snippets all throughout the day. After a day of film, you’re exhausted; at the end of two hours of stage, you’re energized from the interaction with the audience. That is why 95 percent of the time after a play, everyone goes out to eat or do something. After a film, everybody goes home because they’re exhausted. Stage is more energizing, and there is something about it that is really wonderful. It’s a communal experience. It’s like going to see a movie-with an audience in the theater—rather than watching it alone at home. It is that experience. It’s been going on for hundreds of years. There is something nice about that.

Which stage or film role were you most nervous about?
Get Shorty, because I didn’t know what to do with the character, and at the time, I didn’t have any experience to be able to fix it. When I opened my mouth, a Southern accent came out. To this day, I don’t know why.

What was your favorite role?
My characters in True Romance or A Civil Action, or maybe Mitch in Streetcar. Obviously, I love Tony Soprano—that goes without saying—because the writing is so good. He’s from Jersey. How hard is that?

How do you feel about the scenes with Dr. Melfi? Were those the most difficult?
I think those scenes made the show. They were kind of like the ancient Greek chorus, which allowed the audience to experience what the character was experiencing. I think these scenes let you into Tony’s head, bringing him a little closer to the audience.

Do you think there should be more of those scenes, perhaps taking the audience into the minds of some of the other characters?
I would love that. I think Christopher [Moltisanti, played by Michael Imperioli] should go to therapy—but don’t ask me. I’m not a writer.

What do you think about the role of women in the show?
One of the best things about the show is that the women are incredibly strong—as strong as, if not stronger than, the men. For example, look at Carmela. Tony is afraid of one, possibly two people in the world: his mother and his wife—and his daughter. Actually, those are the three people Tony probably fears the most. I also like the show because older characters have power, are intelligent, and still have sex. Where do you see older people still having a healthy sexuality? Very few shows. This show is one of them—just the fact that these older characters still have a life and are valued.

Do you have a favorite Sopranos episode?
Probably the one where I took Meadow to college. It showed the two sides of Tony’s life. But my favorite character in the show is Uncle Junior. I think he is such a great character. He has such grandeur. I think Uncle Junior is an old sage. He’s smart, bitter, and hysterically funny.

Can you recall any mistake you’ve made on stage or film?
Forty million. But, one time—oh, I can’t tell you that story. All right, this one. I was doing a play in Sweden, and there was a ten-foot drop into the orchestra pit. When the lights went out, you were supposed to walk offstage. Well, I was on the end, and I walked straight off the edge of the stage into about twenty metal chairs. The noise was unbelievable. I’ve also forgotten lines on stage. One time—I can’t tell you what happened—but it was during Streetcar. It was in the last scene, and something happened that made me start laughing. So did this other guy, and the two of us could not stop. We just sat in our chairs giggling and put our heads down. It’s not a comedy, but we were laughing so hard that I thought I was going to puke.

I know family is important to you. Can you tell me a little bit about your family?
A: My family is a good family. They keep me in line. They are very smart people. They have kind hearts. We’re like any family though—we have our idiosyncrasies. But I would never be afraid to bring anyone home to them. I think that they would back me up on anything I ever did. That is really all you can ask for in a family.

Do you think your parents, James and Santa Maria, ever dreamed you’d come this far?
No way! My parents laughed at me. At one point when things were starting to happen, I was thinking about changing my name, so I asked my family. We talked about it, and I got up to go to the bathroom or something, and my sister and my mother were hysterically laughing. They were saying, “Who the hell does he think he is? He thinks he’s going to have to change his name.” Now they are bothered all the time about their names. So I got the last laugh.

I heard you play practical jokes on members of your family.
I like to give my nieces various taxidermic animals for holidays and birthdays. Usually I give them money and stick it in some orifice—any weird body parts I can find—so they really have to touch the animal to get it out. It grosses them out.

Knowing what you know now about this profession and the invasion of your privacy, would you do it all again?
Yeah, I’d probably do it all again. Ultimately, it’s been a good experience. I’ve had a chance to go to a lot of places and meet a lot of people. Wherever I’ve been, people have treated me well because they’ve known me through television.

What is one of the most interesting places you’ve visited during your career?
Well, I went to Moscow when I did one of my first movies, with Charlie Sheen [Terminal Velocity, in 1994]—that was wonderful. I got to go to Mexico City, which I thought was amazing. For The Sopranos, we went to this place in East Orange, basically a crack den, a couple of days ago. I met the warden of Leavenworth Prison. You get to see places and meet people you wouldn’t otherwise. Actually, the research is one of the most interesting parts for me. You go out and talk to people. So, am I being funny enough?

Yes. With whom have you enjoyed working the most?
Everybody on The Sopranos. Gene Hackman [in Get Shorty and Crimson Tide]. Alec Baldwin [in The Juror]. I’ve never worked with an actor that I did not like. I don’t see any of these stories that you hear about people. People worked too hard to get where they are. There aren’t a lot of problems. George C. Scott and Jack Lemmon [in Twelve Angry Men] were amazing to work with. I mean, I have been very lucky.

The media often suggest that you’re typecast. Do you agree?
On one level, I am typecast, because this show is so popular, so in-everybody’s-face. I’ll make a conscious effort after this is over to take other roles. I can’t keep doing Mafia roles. That would be idiotic. I think having a son, I don’t want to go to those places as much, you know what I mean? You want to play different types of characters that your son could se. If you do character after character of dark people, I think eventually it might begin to bug you. So am I typecast? In a way, well, yeah. I’m 260 pounds and look a certain way. I’m not going to play Tinkerbell.

Do you have any advice for aspiring young actors?
People concentrate on making contacts, on their resumes and on their phones. All that is nonsense. Work—do plays, learn your craft, and go to school. Keep working. Nobody is going to give you jobs for going to parties or any of that nonsense. Go out, look around, do things. Stay out late a couple of nights and have some fun—but work, that is the thing. I did little plays where six people saw me. Some nights I was awful. You learn from that. You get up and go back the next day. And you know what? You get better. Tennessee Williams rewrote Streetcar like 26 times before he got it right. Nobody gets it right the first time.

What was your most important life lesson thus far?
That nothing comes easily. Nothing. There were many nights during that first season of The Sopranos where I felt completely overwhelmed by the amount of work. I sat in my house alone studying, getting three or four hours’ of sleep, thinking, There is no way I can do this. You know what? You must work and keep working. You must get up and keep going. Hard work—I know it sounds silly—but I’ve worked for years, and I’m proud of that. I’m actually proud that I got through it. For The Sopranos, I’d work fourteen or fifteen hours on the set. I’d come home and eat. Then my friend would come over to run lines. Then I went to bed. It paid off because we worked hard.

Did you have trouble memorizing lines?
I did in the beginning, but I’m much better. It’s like a muscle now. I was so used to doing two pages for film. I mean, in the first two weeks, I was in shock. Slowly you get into a groove with it, and you can’t do anything else. During the week, I can’t do anything because otherwise I’m not prepared. There are 200 people standing there the next day. If you’re not prepared, you feel pretty stupid.

What were some of your favorite New Jersey memories?
Playing football in high school, driving down the Parkway to the Jersey Shore, chasing girls at Rutgers, and hanging out with my college friends, who I still see.

Where did you go as a kid?
I went to the Jersey Shore with my family, to our house in Lavallette. We had what seemed like a palace there.

Where did you hang out as a teenager?
The places I mentioned before, and I hung out at the Ridge Diner in town.

Are you a Nets or Devils fan?
Nets, Jets, and Giants. But mostly Jets.

Do you think being a Jersey guy has helped you as an actor?
In the TV show, especially since I’m playing someone from Jersey, definitely yes. Coming from Jersey, you’re exposed to many cultures and nationalities. Being so close to New York, there are so many opportunities for actors.

What memories do you have about your parents?
Normal kid memories. My father coached a baseball team and wouldn’t play me. He told me I stunk. Now he tells me we all stunk. And I remember my mother was always prodding my father to let me play.

What would you like people to know about you?
The only thing I’m really ever trying to say about anything is about the average guy—the average guy who has to deal with all this crap from the government, rich people, and everything else. It’s the only reason I like doing this. Sometimes, you get to tell a story about someone. I don’t really want to say anything about me. That’s why I don’t do a lot of interviews, particularly on television. I come from a very blue-collar family, people who work hard and are honest, A lot of young actors get interviewed and go on television, and it makes them start to think that they are important. And we’re not, not anymore than anybody else.

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When James Gandolfini Let Down His Guard Copy




Photo by Chris Buck

Editor’s note: During the winter of 2004, as The Sopranos was heading into its fifth season on HBO, actor James Gandolfini agreed to a rare interview with reporter Rebecca Brill Moody. The story originally appeared in the March 2004 issue of New Jersey Monthly.

Tony Soprano wasn’t in the cards when James Gandolfini was studying communications at Rutgers University. The future Emmy winner never even took the stage while matriculating on the banks of the Raritan. But when he moved to Manhattan after graduating in 1983, he enrolled in acting lessons and caught the bug, a twist of fate for which Sopranos fans can only by grateful.

Gandolfini grew up in Park Ridge, a child of Italian immigrants, and graduated from the local public high school. After college he worked as a nightclub manager, a bouncer, and a bartender while honing his acting chops in off-Broadway plays. His first Broadway show came in 1992, when he landed a role alongside Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin as Harold “Mitch” Mitchell, Stanley Kowalski’s Army buddy, in A Streetcar Named Desire. His film credits include supporting roles in Get Shorty and A Civil Action and, more recently, star turns in The Mexican and The Last Castle. These days he’s preparing for a real stretch—starring with John Turturro in Cigarettes and Romance, a musical produced by Joel and Ethan Coen.

In January, Gandolfini, who’s divorced, became engaged to Lora Somoza, whom he met on the set of The Mexican, the 2001 movie in which starred with Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. Although he rarely grants interview, he agreed to meet during a recent Gandolfini family get-together. After dinner we sat down to chat—outside, so he could smoke his cigar.

You’re a fairly reserved guy. Is it difficult to deal with the fame of being the star of The Sopranos?
Yes, but only because in reality I’m so boring that I don’t want people to get close to me, because they’ll realize how boring I am, and they won’t want to watch anymore. I’m just a normal guy. It’s the writing that is interesting, and the characters. The less said about me, the better.

Do you ever get a true reprieve from Tony Soprano or from the mass celebrity of the show?
Yeah, it’s not that bad. I can go down the Shore or stay inside. It all comes with the territory. But mostly people are nice. I mean, I’m tired and there are twenty people coming up to me. But people are mostly kind.

Can you describe any time when your fans did something that bothered you?
One time I’d gotten sick on an airplane… I vomited outside the airport. And right after, some woman came up and said “Can I take a picture with you and get an autograph?” She had seen me vomit but she ignored it completely. I just said, “Uh, no. Not right now.” I thought that was a little insensitive.

What do you do to relax or to take a step back from all that?
I read a lot. And my son—playing with my son [4-year-old Michael] really takes me right out of all this, because it’s all about him. Are you freezing?

No. When did you first decide to act?
I guess I thought about it seriously after college. I was about 24 years old. A friend of mine was doing a class, and I thought it was interesting. But nobody in my family had ever really done anything like that. I thought it was pretty silly, but I really liked the class. So I went back and kind of got hooked into it.

What had you planned to do after college?
My major was English literature and communications, but I didn’t have a clue, so I moved to New York. I managed nightclubs; I started at a club called Private Eyes on 24th Street. I saw a lot of different kinds of people doing a lot of different kinds of things. It was an interesting learning experience.

What was your first break in acting?
My first really big break was when I got hired for a Broadway play—without an agent. Some friends of mine knew the casting director, and I got the job. That was A Streetcar Named Desire. Most of my first roles were parts in original plays that most people would not recognize.

What’s the difference between stage acting and TV and film?
Stage acting is about two hours of concentration, and the concentration is intense. Film acting is concentration in little snippets all throughout the day. After a day of film, you’re exhausted; at the end of two hours of stage, you’re energized from the interaction with the audience. That is why 95 percent of the time after a play, everyone goes out to eat or do something. After a film, everybody goes home because they’re exhausted. Stage is more energizing, and there is something about it that is really wonderful. It’s a communal experience. It’s like going to see a movie-with an audience in the theater—rather than watching it alone at home. It is that experience. It’s been going on for hundreds of years. There is something nice about that.

Which stage or film role were you most nervous about?
Get Shorty, because I didn’t know what to do with the character, and at the time, I didn’t have any experience to be able to fix it. When I opened my mouth, a Southern accent came out. To this day, I don’t know why.

What was your favorite role?
My characters in True Romance or A Civil Action, or maybe Mitch in Streetcar. Obviously, I love Tony Soprano—that goes without saying—because the writing is so good. He’s from Jersey. How hard is that?

How do you feel about the scenes with Dr. Melfi? Were those the most difficult?
I think those scenes made the show. They were kind of like the ancient Greek chorus, which allowed the audience to experience what the character was experiencing. I think these scenes let you into Tony’s head, bringing him a little closer to the audience.

Do you think there should be more of those scenes, perhaps taking the audience into the minds of some of the other characters?
I would love that. I think Christopher [Moltisanti, played by Michael Imperioli] should go to therapy—but don’t ask me. I’m not a writer.

What do you think about the role of women in the show?
One of the best things about the show is that the women are incredibly strong—as strong as, if not stronger than, the men. For example, look at Carmela. Tony is afraid of one, possibly two people in the world: his mother and his wife—and his daughter. Actually, those are the three people Tony probably fears the most. I also like the show because older characters have power, are intelligent, and still have sex. Where do you see older people still having a healthy sexuality? Very few shows. This show is one of them—just the fact that these older characters still have a life and are valued.

Do you have a favorite Sopranos episode?
Probably the one where I took Meadow to college. It showed the two sides of Tony’s life. But my favorite character in the show is Uncle Junior. I think he is such a great character. He has such grandeur. I think Uncle Junior is an old sage. He’s smart, bitter, and hysterically funny.

Can you recall any mistake you’ve made on stage or film?
Forty million. But, one time—oh, I can’t tell you that story. All right, this one. I was doing a play in Sweden, and there was a ten-foot drop into the orchestra pit. When the lights went out, you were supposed to walk offstage. Well, I was on the end, and I walked straight off the edge of the stage into about twenty metal chairs. The noise was unbelievable. I’ve also forgotten lines on stage. One time—I can’t tell you what happened—but it was during Streetcar. It was in the last scene, and something happened that made me start laughing. So did this other guy, and the two of us could not stop. We just sat in our chairs giggling and put our heads down. It’s not a comedy, but we were laughing so hard that I thought I was going to puke.

I know family is important to you. Can you tell me a little bit about your family?
A: My family is a good family. They keep me in line. They are very smart people. They have kind hearts. We’re like any family though—we have our idiosyncrasies. But I would never be afraid to bring anyone home to them. I think that they would back me up on anything I ever did. That is really all you can ask for in a family.

Do you think your parents, James and Santa Maria, ever dreamed you’d come this far?
No way! My parents laughed at me. At one point when things were starting to happen, I was thinking about changing my name, so I asked my family. We talked about it, and I got up to go to the bathroom or something, and my sister and my mother were hysterically laughing. They were saying, “Who the hell does he think he is? He thinks he’s going to have to change his name.” Now they are bothered all the time about their names. So I got the last laugh.

I heard you play practical jokes on members of your family.
I like to give my nieces various taxidermic animals for holidays and birthdays. Usually I give them money and stick it in some orifice—any weird body parts I can find—so they really have to touch the animal to get it out. It grosses them out.

Knowing what you know now about this profession and the invasion of your privacy, would you do it all again?
Yeah, I’d probably do it all again. Ultimately, it’s been a good experience. I’ve had a chance to go to a lot of places and meet a lot of people. Wherever I’ve been, people have treated me well because they’ve known me through television.

What is one of the most interesting places you’ve visited during your career?
Well, I went to Moscow when I did one of my first movies, with Charlie Sheen [Terminal Velocity, in 1994]—that was wonderful. I got to go to Mexico City, which I thought was amazing. For The Sopranos, we went to this place in East Orange, basically a crack den, a couple of days ago. I met the warden of Leavenworth Prison. You get to see places and meet people you wouldn’t otherwise. Actually, the research is one of the most interesting parts for me. You go out and talk to people. So, am I being funny enough?

Yes. With whom have you enjoyed working the most?
Everybody on The Sopranos. Gene Hackman [in Get Shorty and Crimson Tide]. Alec Baldwin [in The Juror]. I’ve never worked with an actor that I did not like. I don’t see any of these stories that you hear about people. People worked too hard to get where they are. There aren’t a lot of problems. George C. Scott and Jack Lemmon [in Twelve Angry Men] were amazing to work with. I mean, I have been very lucky.

The media often suggest that you’re typecast. Do you agree?
On one level, I am typecast, because this show is so popular, so in-everybody’s-face. I’ll make a conscious effort after this is over to take other roles. I can’t keep doing Mafia roles. That would be idiotic. I think having a son, I don’t want to go to those places as much, you know what I mean? You want to play different types of characters that your son could se. If you do character after character of dark people, I think eventually it might begin to bug you. So am I typecast? In a way, well, yeah. I’m 260 pounds and look a certain way. I’m not going to play Tinkerbell.

Do you have any advice for aspiring young actors?
People concentrate on making contacts, on their resumes and on their phones. All that is nonsense. Work—do plays, learn your craft, and go to school. Keep working. Nobody is going to give you jobs for going to parties or any of that nonsense. Go out, look around, do things. Stay out late a couple of nights and have some fun—but work, that is the thing. I did little plays where six people saw me. Some nights I was awful. You learn from that. You get up and go back the next day. And you know what? You get better. Tennessee Williams rewrote Streetcar like 26 times before he got it right. Nobody gets it right the first time.

What was your most important life lesson thus far?
That nothing comes easily. Nothing. There were many nights during that first season of The Sopranos where I felt completely overwhelmed by the amount of work. I sat in my house alone studying, getting three or four hours’ of sleep, thinking, There is no way I can do this. You know what? You must work and keep working. You must get up and keep going. Hard work—I know it sounds silly—but I’ve worked for years, and I’m proud of that. I’m actually proud that I got through it. For The Sopranos, I’d work fourteen or fifteen hours on the set. I’d come home and eat. Then my friend would come over to run lines. Then I went to bed. It paid off because we worked hard.

Did you have trouble memorizing lines?
I did in the beginning, but I’m much better. It’s like a muscle now. I was so used to doing two pages for film. I mean, in the first two weeks, I was in shock. Slowly you get into a groove with it, and you can’t do anything else. During the week, I can’t do anything because otherwise I’m not prepared. There are 200 people standing there the next day. If you’re not prepared, you feel pretty stupid.

What were some of your favorite New Jersey memories?
Playing football in high school, driving down the Parkway to the Jersey Shore, chasing girls at Rutgers, and hanging out with my college friends, who I still see.

Where did you go as a kid?
I went to the Jersey Shore with my family, to our house in Lavallette. We had what seemed like a palace there.

Where did you hang out as a teenager?
The places I mentioned before, and I hung out at the Ridge Diner in town.

Are you a Nets or Devils fan?
Nets, Jets, and Giants. But mostly Jets.

Do you think being a Jersey guy has helped you as an actor?
In the TV show, especially since I’m playing someone from Jersey, definitely yes. Coming from Jersey, you’re exposed to many cultures and nationalities. Being so close to New York, there are so many opportunities for actors.

What memories do you have about your parents?
Normal kid memories. My father coached a baseball team and wouldn’t play me. He told me I stunk. Now he tells me we all stunk. And I remember my mother was always prodding my father to let me play.

What would you like people to know about you?
The only thing I’m really ever trying to say about anything is about the average guy—the average guy who has to deal with all this crap from the government, rich people, and everything else. It’s the only reason I like doing this. Sometimes, you get to tell a story about someone. I don’t really want to say anything about me. That’s why I don’t do a lot of interviews, particularly on television. I come from a very blue-collar family, people who work hard and are honest, A lot of young actors get interviewed and go on television, and it makes them start to think that they are important. And we’re not, not anymore than anybody else.

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Newark’s Jubilation Choir Celebrates 20 Years of Grammy-Worthy Gospel


The 75-member Jubilation Choir includes members from as far away as Virginia. They’ve sung alongside the likes of Dionne Warwick and Ray Charles. Courtesy of Kasi McKoy



There’s a reason Newark’s Grammy-winning Jubilation Choir has sung alongside heavy hitters including Dionne Warwick, Queen Latifah and the late Ray Charles. Those who buy a ticket to the gospel group’s 20th anniversary show June 22 at NJPAC won’t leave wondering what that reason might be, says the Rev. Dr. Stefanie Minatee, Jubilation’s founder and artistic director.

The Rev. Dr. Stefanie Minatee founded the choir in 1999. Courtesy of Kasi McKoy

“When you see Jubilation, you see the sincerity on people’s faces, and you hear the soul in their voices,” says Minatee, a Newark native who lives in Union. “Even if it’s a secular song they’re singing, you’re going to hear that they actually feel the message of the music.” 

Jubilation’s reputation as New Jersey’s most decorated community choir dates to 1999, when Minatee, known to all as Rev. Stef, auditioned more than 300 singers from the tristate area for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at NJPAC. She selected 120 from that group, including Queen Latifah’s mother, Rita Owens. The group went on to sing that year with Shirley Caesar, another gospel giant. In 2002, Jubilation was tapped as the choir on Ray Charles Celebrates: A Gospel Christmas Album. In 2010, the choir earned a Grammy with Latifah and other artists for a track on the compilation album Oh Happy Day. In between, there were gigs with the likes of Isaac Hayes and tours to places like Japan. This year, Jubilation joined Warwick for a pair of songs on an as-yet-unnamed forthcoming album by the 78-year-old Orange native.

Despite the lofty credentials, the now 75-member choir, with members from as far away as Virginia, has stayed humble, says Minatee. At the anniversary show, they will offer a tribute to Owens, who died in 2018, and present a scholarship to a deserving young artist from a historically black college or university. Latifah may attend, says Minatee, and honorary chairpersons, including gospel great Cissy Houston (mother of Whitney) and Warwick, as well as Governor Phil Murphy, may also appear.  

“This will be a time for celebration,” says Minatee, who is still recovering from a stroke she suffered in 2015. “We’re grateful to God for all of it.”

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Fun Abounds at the State Fair Meadowlands


There’s nothing like a day at the carnival. Kids on a roller coaster scream as their stomachs do a loop de loop. Families chow down on funnel cakes and hot dogs. At night, couples cruising on the Sky Ride have a front-row seat to the fireworks display. From June 20-July 7, experience 18 days of family fun at the land of amusements in the MetLife Stadium parking lot better known as State Fair Meadowlands.

Sights & Sounds

Hop on more than 150 rides and attractions and grab a bite from 50 food vendors. Enjoy free shows, live music, carnival games, prizes and fireworks.

  • During the Jurassic Kingdom puppet show, audiences get to see and interact with life-like dinosaurs.
  • The Paul Bunyan Lumberjack Show promises an action-packed competition featuring log-rolling, wood-chopping, axe-throwing, and a chainsaw competition.
  • For more than 20 years, Steve Bayner has hypnotized fairgoers. He’ll return this year to entrance more patrons.
  • Go hog wild as you cheer on your favorite pig during Rosaire’s Royal Racers.
  • On Wednesday, July 3 and Thursday, July 4 celebrate summer fun and patriotic pride with fireworks that can be seen anywhere on the fairgrounds.
  • Celebrate Batman’s 80th Anniversary by flying in the N3079G, the original Batcopter from the 1960s Batman TV series and movie.

Courtesy of Jean-Phillipe Photography

Fair Facts

  • In 1986, the first Meadowlands Fair was a six-day event.
  • Last year’s fair attendance was more than 400,000.
  • Annually, there are more than 185,000 zeppoles, 50,000 corn dogs and 17,000 bags of cotton candy sold at the fair.

Courtesy of Jean-Phillipe Photography

Courtesy of Jean-Phillipe Photography

Courtesy of Jean-Phillipe Photography

Price Tag

General admission is $12 and parking costs $5. Ride tickets are sold separately.

Wednesday, June 26 is Kids Go Free Night. Gate admission is free for ages 12 and younger and parking is free.

Monday, July 1 means Cheap, Cheap Night. Gate admission for all ages costs $5 and parking is free.

Check njfair.com for more bargain nights.

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Comedian John Poveromo Crafts Most of His Jokes on Stage


Courtesy of Peter Carter

For John Poveromo, every show is different. The comedian is likely to change his set on the spot based on the crowd and whatever is on his mind.

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Toms River, Poveromo says the fast-paced nature of Jersey living inspires his on-the-fly style. “You get a thicker skin being raised in New Jersey,” says Poveromo. “You’re able to take more and give more just by being around people who don’t have time for small talk.”

Poveromo rarely sits down to write a joke or an act, though he enters notes on his phone, capturing daily observations and thoughts that may work in his set. The spontaneity of his process is what excites him most about comedy.

Since childhood, Poveromo has enjoyed making strangers laugh. He has written comedy for shows on HBO and VH1, as well as his own book, Drawings From a Nobody, which features his comic-strip style drawings of scenes from everyday life. (He is working on a sequel.)

Whether working live or drawing scenes for a book, Poveromo says crafting a joke is much the same. “When you are a comedian and you’re on stage,” he says, “you’re basically trying to paint a picture with words.”

Poveromo will paint his comic pictures June 12 at the Hopewell Theater in Mercer County. He’d like his audience to relax. “I hope whatever they were worried about when they came into my show [is] gone the entire time,” he says, adding with a laugh, “I hope it comes right back after they leave.”

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Abstract Art Pop-Up Gallery at Bell Works


bell works artIt’s fitting that a new art exhibit at Bell Works, formerly a technology research and development campus, displays works created by former engineer Howard Schoor.

Through July 31, Schoor, 80, will work in a pop-up studio inside the historic Holmdel building. Bell Works is calling his residency an “Artnership.” Monday through Friday, Schoor will be on site creating his vibrant Triangilist pieces using acrylic paint, spackle paste and markers.

“I started as an engineer, hands on, using triangles and other implements of the trade,” says Schoor, an Asbury Park resident, in a video on his website. His work will also be on display and for sale in the Bell Works studio/gallery space.

bell works art

Dubbed a Metroburb by developer Ralph Zucker, Bell Works reimagines Bell Laboratories. The campus once bustled with engineers who created great advancements in communications technology. After it shut down in the 2000s, the facility was the largest vacant commercial building in the country. In 2013, Somerset Development Corp bought the campus. Now, the modern, 2-million-square-foot space boasts a food hall, indoor turf field, offices, shops and a forthcoming hotel.

Schoor’s art space, which is free to the public, is an additional bright point in the edifice. Bell Works is not just an office building with retail space,” Schoor says, “it has a unique, uplifting, vibrant feel.”

Visit the Artnership reception on June 20 from 5-7 pm. Sushi and cocktails will be served.

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Actor Jake Weary: ‘I’m a Jersey Boy at Heart’


Jake Weary Courtesy of TNT



Actor Jake Weary doesn’t shy away from dark material.

Weary and the highly dysfunctional Cody family are back May 28 for a fourth season of bloodshed and betrayal in the hit TNT drama Animal Kingdom. In September, look for the Glen Ridge-born/Montclair-raised actor in a small role in It: Chapter Two, the sequel to the 2017 creepy-clown movie.

“Working on It was super fun,” says Weary, 29. But he adds with a laugh: “I’m only in the opening segment. I may end up not making the final cut.”

Weary was raised in a show-biz family. His mother, Kim Zimmer, won four daytime Emmys on the long-running soap opera Guiding Light. His dad, A.C. Weary, is a director. Weary’s previous credits include the TV soap As the World Turns (as Luke Snyder) and the NBC drama Chicago Fire.

“Jersey gave me that ability to tell it like it is,” says Weary. “Jersey natives know who they are and are not afraid to show it.”

On Animal Kingdom, Weary plays one of the four Cody boys, who operate a criminal enterprise presided over by Ellen Barkin.

“Fans should definitely expect things to change a bit,” says Weary of the new season.

Weary’s character has gotten lots of attention because of his complex sexuality. “The stereotypical gay character on TV, it’s been done so much. I just hope I’m doing this character justice.”

When he’s back in Jersey visiting family, Weary always makes his way to Valley Road in Montclair for slices at Enzo’s, or Taylor ham sandwiches at Hot Bagels Abroad next door.

“I’m still a Jersey boy at heart.”

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10 Jersey Shore Theaters to Visit This Summer


Algonquin Arts Theatre Courtesy of Michael Franken Photography



60 Abe Voorhees Drive, Manasquan, 732-528-9211
This 500-seat nonprofit produces eight plays and musicals each season, as well as concerts and independent film events.
• Newsies (July 13-28; $26-$40)
• A Chorus Line (August 9-18; $26-$40)

100 Grant Avenue, Deal Park, 732-531-9106
A nonprofit, 500-seat arts center, which this year launched the Axelrod Contemporary Ballet Theater. From July 28-August 6, the center will host the 10th annual Israel Jewish Film Festival.
• Aida (May 31-June 16; $50-$64)
• Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (July 11-28; $50-$64)
• Alice in Wonderland, a ballet production (August 21-25; $26-$54)

405 Lafayette Street, Cape May, 609-770-8311
This former church is a professional Equity theater called the Robert Shackleton Playhouse. The company’s 2019 Gala is on June 2.
• Heisenberg (May 22-June 21; $25-$50)
• Sylvia (June 26-August 2; $25-$50)
• Sidekicked (August 7-September 20; $25-$50)

500 Hughes Street, Cape May, 609-884-5898
A professional Equity theater that opened in 1980 and is based in the First Presbyterian Church of Cape May.
• Summerland (June 12-July 20; $20-$35)
• The Rainmaker (July 24-August 31; $20-$35)

738 Bay Avenue, Somers Point, 609-653-0553
Once a silent-movie house, the 220-seat, year-round theater features musicals, plays, concerts and comedy.
• Company (June 14-23; $35)

1501 West Ave, Ocean City, 609-398-1118
A nonprofit that produces three to five musicals annually in addition to a children’s series and performs at the Ocean City Music Pier and Hughes Performing Arts Center.
• Mamma Mia (July 9-12; $25-$30)
• Newsies (August 6-9; $25-$30)

New Jersey Repertory Company Courtesy of NJ Repertory

179 Broadway, Long Branch, 732-229-3166
A year-round nonprofit theater founded in 1997 and dedicated to developing original productions.
• Voyager One (June 20-July 21; $30-$60)
• Memoirs of a Forgotten Man (August 15-September 15; $30-$60)

1 College Drive, Toms River, 732-255-0500
The company performs in the 464-seat theater in the Jay and Linda Grunin Center for the Arts on Ocean County College’s campus.
• Into the Woods (July 11-21; $17-$26)

300 Madison Avenue, Spring Lake, 732-449-4530
A nonprofit theater housed in the 350-seat Spring Lake Community House.
• Hello Dolly! (July 5-21; $25-$35)
• Matilda (August 15-25; $25-$35)

201 Engleside Avenue, Beach Haven, 609-492-9477
The year-round theater also offers comedy shows, concerts, and productions for children, as well as nightly carbaret performances at the adjoining Show Place Singing Ice Cream Parlour.
• Holiday Inn (June 6-23; $29-$39)
• Flashdance (June 25-July 14; $29-$39)
• Mamma Mia (July 16-August 4; $29-$39)
• Matilda (August 6-25; $29-$39)
• Ain’t Misbehavin’ (August 27-September 8; $29-$39)

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