MAHOPAC, N.Y. - A urologist, a pediatrician, and a pharmacist walk into a performing arts center—a delighted audience laughs raucously.
It’s no joke. Eight amateur standup comedians, most in the medical field, will take the stage for A Night of Comedy at the Chappaqua Performing Arts Center on Saturday, April 27, to raise money for Northern Westchester Hospital’s school-based health education program.
The pharmacist in this scenario is longtime Mahopac resident Ron Peragallo, whose anecdotal-style of stand-up is often based on his own experiences dispensing prescription medication for nearly two decades.
But for Peragallo, a father of three, life hasn’t always been all that funny. Five years ago, he lost his stepfather to cancer. Then, 12 months later, his wife lost her battle with the insidious disease.
“I lost my wife four years ago to cancer. She was a pharmacist right here in town at CVS,” he said. “That was a rough period, but I could always make her laugh and was always cracking jokes around her. She was my best audience.”
It was his stepfather, his mom’s second husband, who Peragallo said inspired his comedic style and delivery.
“I tell stories that have a punch line,” he said. “My friend said one-liners just seem to come out of me. I got that from my stepfather. He was great at telling jokes. He was a great storyteller. He made you comfortable and then all of a sudden you were consumed with his story. I think I got my delivery from him—a way of sharing experiences and getting people to take an interest.”
Peragallo was born in the Bronx and graduated from Cardinal Spellman High School. His family moved to Yonkers where, as a teen, he landed a job at Value Drugs making deliveries and sweeping floors.
“I was a stock boy,” he said, “and I became good friends with the pharmacist there. I looked at him as a regular guy doing this job and I thought, ‘I can do this.’”
Peragallo attended St. John’s University and graduated in 1995.
“I went right into their pharmacy program; it was a tough program, but I do enjoy what I do,” he said. “I ended up working for the same pharmacy I started with as a kid and became their supervising pharmacist.”
He spent 10 years at Value Drugs before taking a job at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco.
“At that point, I had three children and my lifestyle had changed and I couldn’t do the 12-hour days and weekends,” he said. “The hospital afforded me a more flexible schedule. It was a better fit that came at a better time. Now, I’ve been there almost 14 years. I love everything about the place.”
He had moved to Mahopac several years prior, so taking the hospital job also made his commute shorter.
“I had gotten married and our first child was on the way, he said. “My dad, who owned the Carvel franchise on South Lake Boulevard, was ready to retire, so I ended up buying his house on Locust Hill Road. That was 18 years ago.”
Five years later, with a third child on the way, a bigger house was needed, and he found one on Bullet Hole Road.
The family has a long tradition of taking vacations at a resort in the Catskills, which is where Peragallo experienced his first foray into standup comedy.
“They have this [standup] contest. I wanted to see what it would be like to be up on stage,” he recalled. “I think it’s the hardest thing in the world to make people laugh. You really have to put yourself out there. There were judges and one was a professional comedian who was really rough on me and that threw me off, so I didn’t do it again for a while.”
Two years later, Peragallo decided to try again at the same place. This time, there were no judges and his performance was markedly better.
“I put it on Facebook and someone at work saw it and put my name in for [An Evening of Comedy] show. They approached me and asked if I would consider doing it.”
Auditions were held and Peragallo ended up being one of the eight chosen to perform at the Chappaqua Performing Arts Center event.
“I went for the audition, which was in front of just four people and I was more nervous in front of four people than I was in front of a big audience,” he laughed. “But it was great and they made me comfortable.”
Peragallo, a longtime standup comedy aficionado, cites a wide variety of funny men, both old school and new school, as his major influences.
“I’ve studied them and the way they deliver,” he said. “George Carlin, Eddie Murphy, Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Pryor, Richard Jeni, Jerry Seinfeld, and the newer ones I love include Brian Regan, Jim Gaffigan, and Sebastian Maniscalco.”
When he was told he’d won a slot on the A Night of Comedy bill, Peragallo was elated.
“I said I was just happy to do anything for the hospital,” he said. “I was open to whatever they had. It sounded great; all amateurs, no professionals, very casual. They make you feel like you can do this.
“This is like my third time on stage,” he continued, “and I am preparing some new material—anything related to what I do professionally. I have some funny stories; some observations.”
The event was conceived and organized by siblings Lisa Schwartz and Scott Horwitz. Schwartz is a member of the NWH Board of Trustees and a community leader, and Horwitz has been making people laugh for years with his unique style of observational humor and will serve as the evening’s emcee.
“In the course of serious conversations at NWH, I noticed there are many people at the hospital who are hysterically funny. I thought we needed to harness this positive energy, and I realized I knew just the guy to do it—my brother,” Schwartz said. “Laughter has great therapeutic value. We thought a night of comedy would be a wonderful way to engage the community and raise money for a really important cause.”
NWH’s school-based health education programs provide free health and nutrition learning to pre-school, elementary, middle and high school students in over 36 Westchester schools.
Will Peragallo consider pursuing his standup dream after the Night of Comedy gig?
“I thought about going to open-mic night in the city,” he said, “but I haven’t gotten my nerve up for it. If this goes well, I might be willing to try something a little more risky. “I think it’s art form; it is one of the hardest things to do—to connect with someone and make them laugh.”
Peragallo’s mom has since moved in with him and the kids as the two have come together to overcome their tragedies.
“We’re there for each other,” he said.
Tickets for A Night of Comedy are $100 for general admission, $500 for VIP access, including a pre-show party from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. (the show starts at 8); and $750 for cabaret seats, including access to the VIP party and seats on stage with refreshments. To purchase tickets, visit www.nwhcomedy.com.