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Boston Comedy Festival honoring a local legend (but please don’t call him that)

Tony V will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award in stand-up from this year's Boston Comedy Festival.Virtual Comedy Network

Tony V hates the word “legend.” Especially when it’s applied to him. He thinks of it as an empty sobriquet frequently attached to someone whose career is over or stagnating. After more than 40 years in stand-up, Tony V is far from done. He’s still writing new material at a stage when some comics coast. He works constantly, headlining his own shows while occasionally taking an opening slot, as he did for Bill Burr at Fenway Park in 2022. And where others might be jaded, he still loves what he does.

Unfortunately for Tony, he’s likely to be called a legend a lot in the coming week. He is getting the Lifetime Achievement Award in stand-up from the Boston Comedy Festival on March 30, and he’ll be present for a celebration of his career at City Winery Tuesday. It’s part of a festival schedule that includes a weeklong stand-up competition, headliners in Lenny Clarke, DL Hughley, and Kevin Nealon, and an all-star show featuring Learnmore Jonasi, Drew Dunn, Erin Maguire, and Kate Sisk. The festival will also be honoring Adam Ferrara as Comedian of the Year, and Michael Gross (”Family Ties,” “Tremors”) will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award for acting.


“Behold the legend,” Tony says, sarcastically, laughing. “This is what we all look like. Yeah.”

He will gratefully accept his award, but he refuses to see it as a career capper. “There seems to be some sort of hope of finality in this: ‘We’ve given you an award, go away.’ I don’t see myself going anywhere. I really still like what I do. I can still write a good joke. I try to update my act and keep it as relevant to me as I can.”


The humble everyman persona isn’t an act for the stage. Tony typically eschews the green room wherever he’s playing for some peace and quiet, smoking a cigar by the nearest dumpster. He’d prefer a nicer room somewhere, but there aren’t many places to smoke indoors anymore. Anyway, he enjoys the aesthetic. “I like the juxtaposition of perceived success on some level, but still smoking by a dumpster,” he says.

Tony V typically seeks some time to himself wherever he's performing by lighting up a cigar out back, where they keep the trash bin.Courtesy Tony V

On paper, Tony V has the resumé of a legitimate legend. He’s part of the group of comics from the Ding Ho club who helped kick off the Boston comedy boom in the 1980s. Then there are his industry credits — a “Seinfeld” appearance, a Super Bowl commercial, late-night stand-up appearances. Going back to the ‘80s, he was the guy in the gorilla suit in the American Tourister luggage ads. There’s not a lot he hasn’t done in comedy. What really sets him apart is his willingness to mentor generations of younger Boston comics.

“What I like to do if people ask me advice is go, ‘Look, I’ll answer the questions for you that it took me 15 years to stumble around and figure out for myself,’” he says. “And I think that’s all you can do for people.”

“I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a bad word spoken about Tony,” says Boston Comedy Festival founder Jim McCue. “In all my experience, everyone kind of looks up to him because his act at 40 years is still changing. It’s still evolving. That’s a rare breed right there.”


As much as the festival is about honoring local comedy, it’s also about drawing comedians from around the country — and beyond, as is the case with Zimbabwe native Learnmore Jonasi, who plays the all-star show Friday at Berklee Performance Center. Jonasi won the festival’s stand-up competition in 2023.

“It was such an amazing experience. It was also an assurance that, yeah, I might have something in America, because coming from Zimbabwe to a totally different country, it’s always a risk. You don’t know if they’re going to understand your humor, you don’t know if they’re gonna accept you. You just have to go and do it.”

Learnmore Jonasi won last year's stand-up competition at the Boston Comedy Festival. This year he returns as an "all star."Amir Megherhi

Jonasi established himself as a comic in South Africa, after starting out in 2011 in Zimbabwe, where there wasn’t much of a stand-up scene. He played shows in Africa and Europe, and won the People’s Choice Award in Steve Harvey’s Standup Spotlight contest in 2019. Jonasi moved to Pittsburgh in 2022 looking to get a foothold in America; winning in Boston last year helped get him into more clubs.

“It definitely opened things up for me,” he says. “People started taking me seriously in the industry itself.”

His comedy draws mostly from his experiences as an immigrant and growing up in Zimbabwe. “I talk about how things are different from what I thought,” he says. “Culture shocks. And also I educate about where I come from. Because most people have a perception of where I come from, so I kind of paint the picture.”


Jonasi will get another boost in visibility when he appears in the upcoming season of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” premiering May 28. “My dream is always to be a global African comedian,” he says. “And the US was always on my bucket list, to move here and actually be part of the industry. Everyone around the world watches American comedy, and I wanted to be part of that event with my African story and how I grew up.”


March 25-30. At City Winery, Berklee Performance Center. bostoncomedyfest.com

Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at nick@nickzaino.com.