Will Purpura Dares To Go Where Other Comedians Won’t
By Matt Levy
New York City comic Will Purpura is a true jack of all trades. Not many receive this badge of honor; this is because joke trade professionals choose to stick to one corner of the comedy world whether it be stand up, improv, acting, or writing. These comedians especially tend to treat stand up and improv as sacrosanct art forms; to even go so far as to even enjoy one form of comedy that isn’t yours can be considered crossing over enemy lines in an invisible turf war. Not for the do-it-all Purpura though. He defies expectations and dabbles in every single type of comedy (and then some). He’s one of the few that remembers why jokes are important- to create joy any way you can rather than limiting yourself.
Purpura, an introverted, only child from Long Island, lived in his imagination growing up. As the son of “loving, clingy parents’’ he was inspired by their artistic pursuits at a young age. His father was a screenwriter and mom is an award-winning harmonica player so the urge to create was there right from the start.
In high school, he wore suits to class and carried around a briefcase. Purpura confessed he had barely any friends, ate lunch by himself and “didn’t even make a good enough impression on anyone for them to hate him.”
“In short,” Purpura said, “I was a loser. There I said it.” However, by this writer’s estimation, he was the “cool loser with taste” who watched Robert Altman films, jammed to new wave and appreciated surrealism. He had a mysterious artistic potential locked within that was about to be unleashed.
In fact, right after high school, important institutions started paying attention to Purpura as he went off to study dramatic writing at NYU with a major in screenwriting. He cracked, “This is proof I’ve seen the movie Chinatown.” That is not to sell Will’s writing achievements at Tisch short; while attending the program, he completed the feature-length script for Class Clown, the story of an elementary school kid that goes through extreme measures to become the funniest kid in school. The screenplay ended up being chosen as a quarter-finalist in the 2012 BlueCat Screenplay Competition.
However, Purpura held off his comedy career until he was 27. He had always wanted to perform but utter fear held him back. Will drove a cab for six years after college, was depressed and not really sure how to get started. Then, in 2014 he began studying Transcendental Meditation which changed his life. After a year, he felt much less depressed and ready to pursue his goals making sure to try everything rather than hold himself back from any of the options comedy presented him. Will did open mics and improv classes and kept doing it even though he was “bombing terribly.”
That’s not entirely true. Purpura flashed signs of brilliance early on as a stand up and an improviser. However, Will’s brutal honesty and self deprecation about his early failures is what makes him special as a stand up. He isn’t afraid to let people inside. Soon, he began to find his voice focusing on the anxieties in his life ranging from childhood to sex to dealing with depression and an endless quest of self improvement and enlightenment. Will joked, “I haven’t found it yet, but I know it’s out there somewhere, probably Michigan.” His style is a mixed bag — he paces, shouts, sings and is decidedly not above a cartoonish act out. He also loves engaging with the crowd and involving them in the act. In fact, he welcome hecklers!
This looseness and comfort may descend from Purpura’s extensive acting experience (he really does do everything!). He studied acting with Wynn Handman, the subject of the Netflix documentary It Takes A Lunatic and studied the Meisner technique with Wendy Ward, founder of the eponymous Ward Acting Studio. The extensive thespian training led Will to acting in a lead role in a small Chapel Hill production of the challenging Sam Shepard play “True West.”
After all that, Will said he still just “likes making people laugh.” He continued, “Doing stand-up is when I’m happiest.” However, it should be noted that improv-wise Purpura was a member of PIT house team for two seasons and was selected after his first audition. He wanted more though. So, following his passion for making strangers laugh, Purpura trekked to North Carolina for the past two and a half years to manage the PIT Chapel Hill, connected with the PIT in NY (Will was also Associate Artistic Director at the NY Pit before moving to NC). The Chapel Hill PIT was a new theater so Purpura helped produce the show schedule from scratch and was the Classes Director further blurring the lines of comedy moving from improv, stand-up and sketch nimbly. In addition to all that, Will co-produced a live musical interpretation of his favorite book “Please Kill Me: The Oral History Of Punk” at the PIT as well.
While in NC, he and some friends co-produced the five-night Franklin Street Comedy Festival featuring 30 Rock’s Judah Friedlander, which was a rousing success. He was also a finalist in “North Carolina’s Funniest” at Goodnights Comedy Club (see the set here) and the “Ultimate Comedy Challenge” at the Idiot box in Greensboro. Both competitions had roughly 100 comics at the start; Will was there all the way to the bitter end for both battling it out with his jokes and loose, easy nature onstage. Purpura also wrote and performed a talk show in North Carolina called Live From My Tiny Wooden Desk. The show’s conceit is that its host (Purpura) deliberately doesn’t listen to his guests and doesn’t prepare anything. It’s hilarious and an excellent showcase of his comedic timing and ability to play off a scene partner while still delivering big laughs.
He moved back to New York in February and then quarantine happened so now he’s here for the indefinite future. To pass the time, he’s writing jokes, producing Live From My Tiny Wooden Desk online and working on a Christmas album. When not performing, Purpura volunteers at the Crisis Text Line twice a week.
In five years, when we’ve all hopefully moved on from this global pandemic, Purpura sees himself “with rock hard abs.” He added that he would love to do more of what he’s already doing and honestly just wants to be in a position where he can keep doing comedy and be happy. Not bad for a jack of all trades.