bill bodkin interviews Goumba Johnny, stand-up comedian and the popular drive-time jock on KTU 103.5 in New York …
Before The Situation and DJ Pauley D ever hit the beaches of the Jersey Shore, John Sialiano — a.k.a Goumba Johnny — was the “OG.” The original guido.
For the past 15 years, Goumba Johnny has been entertaining the tri-state area as of one of the top personalities on New York dance station WKTU 103.5-FM, as well as comedy clubs around the country for over 20 years.
Recently, B&B’s Bill Bodkin spoke with him about his career as a football player, his debut as a comic, his radio career, his charity work and his upcoming show at Uncle Vinnie’s Comedy Club in Point Pleasant, N.J., on Thanksgiving Eve, Nov. 24.
B&B: Most people know you as one of the main guys at KTU. However, some people might not know that you played for both the New York Jets and New York Giants. Can you talk about your time with both teams and your experience?
Goumba Johnny: I was signed out of a small college (State University of New York-Brockport) as a free agent by the Jets and the next year by the Giants. I played in ’79 under Walt Michaels for the Jets and ’80 for the Giants under Ray Perkins. I never made the teams. I just played in training camp. Being born in the Bronx, just the opportunity to wear a uniform for both teams was amazing. I came from a small Division III school and I was the first player, at the time, to sign a pro contract. I was used to seeing 500 people at our games. When I came to the first Jets practice, there were thousands of people there. I mean, it was weird to compete against guys who played at Penn State and Michigan, who were used to seeing 80-90,000 people at games. It was a great opportunity that I never thought I would get.
B&B: Since you played for both teams, who do you root for?
GJ: I root for The Jets. I like both teams, but I like the Jets’ brand of football. They impose their will on other teams, and I enjoy that. A lot of it has to do with the coach [Rex Ryan]. He has such an infectious confidence. The most that team has had since Joe Namath. It’s a fun team to watch.
B&B: After football, you went to work as a bodyguard for Broadway Bodyguards. How did you transition from such physical jobs like football and bodyguarding to comedy?
GJ: Bodyguarding was simple. After football, I still had quite a large frame, so I was just making use of my oversized body at the time. Eventually, I ended up managing a comedy club [Shooting Stars] in Yonkers, N.Y. While I was managing, I would be backstage, and as comedians would come off stage, I’d write a few jokes. Then one night, an opening act came up to me and asked, ‘How’d I do?’ I told him I’d rather not say. He then said, ‘No, no I could use the constructive criticism.’ I told he was terrible, that he didn’t set the table for the other comedians. He said, ‘Maybe you could do better.’ And I said, I could do better. I started hosting my own shows at the club, and I got the bug. As a comedian, you go up on the stage for the first time, you get the bug.
B&B: Can you talk about that initial show?
GJ: I’ll never forget it. I told a joke, and no one laughed. As a comedian, [when you don’t do well], you start sweating from places you didn’t even know you could sweat from –- behind your ears, the back of you knees. I then told the audience to try and not commit suicide –- just do five minutes of stand-up comedy, you’ll get the same result, but at least you’ll live to the story. People laughed, and I settled in after that. The audience knew what I was going through. Then I just tapped into whatever talent I have, telling a joke and making people laugh.
B&B: You did a lot of freelance writing for radio. How did you score this job?
GJ: I got involved in radio thanks to my [current radio] partner Sean “Hollywood” Hamilton. I was hosting a dance contest at a nightclub, and he came up to me after the show and asked me if I ever thought about radio. I asked why I would want to do radio, and he said I had a good voice and the right type of humor for the job. So I went over to [top New York pop radio station] Z-100 with and started doing voices, comedy and some bits for them. I worked for seven years before I got my break being on the radio.
B&B: I’ve never heard of radios employing people to write comedy for them. Is this a common practice?
GJ: Years ago, radio was much more content heavy. Today it’s very music heavy. Jocks are told to get out of the way of the music now. Back in the ’80s and ’90s, there were more breaks, more time for jocks to talk, so sounding local and being funny was important. There was a lot more room for content, so you were constantly trying to come up with the next big bit.
The radio business is like a pendulum — it swings back and forth. It used to be about content and sounding local. Now it’s all about how many songs you can play in an hour. It’s not even the same business as when I started. It’s totally different.
That’s why I’m very lucky to be at the same station for the last 15 years. I have built up a good relationship with listeners and advertisers. I’ve been out in the community for 15 years, doing about 120 appearances a year through charity work and comedy clubs. I’m extremely accessible. I’m still out there shaking hands and kissing babies, building relationships. It’s really helped listener loyalty and our advertisers. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s all paid off. It didn’t happen by accident. I’ve worked hard. Being at the same station for 15 years is a great accomplishment. I’m still in good standing with the station to the point where I don’t have to worry about my job, which is more than I could’ve ever dreamed of.
B&B: You wrote a book in 2008, So You Wanna Be A Mobster: Get Made, Get Paid And Get Babes. How did that opportunity come about?
GJ: The opportunity came when the publisher [Citadel] approached me to write a book about being single, love and dating. I wrote an outline, but I wasn’t real receptive to the idea. Being single [at the time], I wasn’t too successful in dating or love, but I wrote the outline and submitted it. The publishers came back to me and said, ‘We didn’t dislike, but we didn’t like it either, but you definitely have writing talent.’ They asked me to write another book for another idea they had [You Wanna Be A Mobster]. I originally said no, since this was touchy subject for me [Saliano had been arrested in 1998 with notorious mob boss John Gotti in a situation involving famed New York adult nightclub Scores], but at the end of the day, I did it. I did to see if I could write a book. It was a great accomplishment. I was the person in my family to be an author. I wanted to see if I could write a book and get it published, and I did. I am very proud.
B&B: The everday person probably knows you as a radio personality as opposed to a comedian. For someone who’s never seen you live, what can they expect from a Goumba Johnny show?
GJ: I have fun with everyone in the audience. I get to poke the kind of fun at a comedy club that I couldn’t on the radio. There’s a filter [for comedy] on the radio. You can only say so much. You have to be very conscious of what you’re saying [because] our [show’s] cume [cumulative rating] is 2.3 million people –- there’s moms, sons, daughters, senior citizens, teens, etc., listening to the station. Comedy on the radio is much broader, more good-natured, more self-deprecating. At a comedy club, there’s different expectations. You can say things without the people possibly getting offended. The gloves come off.
B&B: You do a lot of charity work. Anything you’d like to promote?
GJ: On Nov. 13, I will be hosting a Multiple Sclerosis Poker Tournament in Westchester, N.Y. This cause is very important to me because my mother-in-law has MS. [Charity work] is part of a responsibility of being on the radio. I have a platform to create awareness –- to promote charities or fundraisers for people who need help paying the bills or hosting a walk. It’s my responsibility to create this awareness.
I tend to gravitate towards smaller charities. They need the help the most. I tend to stay away from black-tie affairs — they don’t need my help. They’re a lot more glamorous and have big celebrity attached to it. I never considered putting on a tuxedo and having a dinner doing a great deal. I like getting out there and helping those who need it, whether it’s hosting a PTA fashion show in Howard Beach or showing up parades. I like grass roots stuff.
B&B: Anything else you’d like to add?
GJ: I’m very grateful for the support and success I’ve been able to have. I’ve been very lucky and am very grateful to all the listeners in the tri-state area. Show business is very humbling. My father had this saying which has helped me: ‘Be humble or be humbled.’ I’ve always kept that in the back of my mind. I’m very blessed to do what I do.