Growing Up Jersey: Entertainment

Actor Danny DeVito, comedian Demetri Martin, choreographer Savion Glover and more share tales of their youth.

Danny DeVito

Actor, director, producer
Born Neptune Township (1944)

Illustration by Raul Arias

“A few of my friends were going in a direction that would be a little bit dangerous for one reason or another and my father was worried about that and my mother was too…. That’s why I wound up [at Oratory Prep in Summit]. Someone would drive us up to Summit on a Sunday night. We’d stop for pizza. We could smoke. We could do anything that we couldn’t do when we were around our parents. We all made it work.”—NJM, October 2010, as told to Melinda Newman

Joe Piscopo

Comedian, actor, radio host
Born: Passaic
Raised: Belleville, Bloomfield, North Caldwell

Photo by Danny Sanchez

On getting his first laugh from an audience, at a piano recital in third grade: “I had to do some kind of Mexican theme, and I was in a sombrero, and they had this fake donkey. My father’s there, my mother’s there, it’s a full house, and I do my number, and I walk backstage, and my teacher goes, ‘Where’s the donkey? You left the donkey out there.’ So I walked back out onstage, and I did an Italian gesture with my hands put together, like ‘Eh, whadda you doin?’ Boom. Biggest laugh of my life. The whole room exploded. I went, ‘You know, this is not a bad thing.’” —As told to Kevin Coyne, fall 2017

Daisy Fuentes

Model, TV host, entrepreneur, animal-rights advocate
Born: Havana, Cuba (1966)
Raised: Harrison

Photo courtesy of Shelter Entertainment

“When I was 13, my friends and I would roller skate a lot. One day I was showing off by grabbing onto the back bumper of an unsuspecting car as it turned and drove down my street. I know, stupid move. Speed limit was 25 and there wasn’t much traffic. I would always know when to let go and have enough speed for a fun rush. But this time just as I let go, a pebble caught my skate and brought me to a dead stop. I fell flat, hard, then kept sliding on the road. I hit and skinned my chin to the bone, and broke a finger. All this a week before my first day as a freshman at Harrison High. I was hoping my brand new Jordache jeans would divert attention from my chin bandage and finger splint. I was wrong.” —As told to Denise Quan, fall 2017

Richard Lewis

Comedian, actor
Born: Brooklyn (1947)
Raised: Englewood

Illustration by Raul Arias

“I grew up only about three miles from the George Washington Bridge. When I got old enough to drive, I would park nearby and walk out to the middle of the bridge and stand there, legs spread, so I could straddle New York and New Jersey. I got a real kick out of that, so sometimes I would bring dates and say, ‘Listen, we can be in New York and New Jersey at the same time!’ To me, it was intriguing, though I don’t remember one woman saying anything other than, ‘Um, can we go get a milkshake?’”—NJM, December 2010, as told to Eric Levin

Savion Glover

Dancer, choreographer
Born: Newark (1973)

Savion Glover takes a breather from rehearsals for the new Broadway show Shuffle Along at the Music Box Theatre. Glover is choreographing the revival of the 1920s-era musical.

Photo by Brad Trent

“We grew up on Ms. Dee’s Famous Soul Food in Newark, and the Chicken Shack. These were places we would go after church. We’d also go to the Bridge Club on Halsey Street. They used to have a jukebox, and it was always a special occasion when we’d go there. We’d get dressed up and eat fabulous cornbread and meatloaf. That was at the time I was putting all kinds of marvelous food in my body. We’d put a quarter or 50 cents in the jukebox and listen to Gloria Gaynor and Lola Falana. And oh, we danced. That was our club. Wherever we went—my mother, my two older brothers and myself—we’d turn the place out. The way we enjoyed ourselves, you would have thought we were born with a zillion dollars.

“Growing up in Newark was the best thing that could have happened to me, given my role as an entertainer. Because the people I met and the food I ate and the places I traveled as an entertainer, living that lifestyle, made coming home to Newark so fulfilling. There’s such humility, such gratitude and respect around my family and friends in Newark. I’ve always loved to come home to get human love versus celebrity love.” —As told to Tammy La Gorce, fall 2017

Bill Maher

Comedian
Born: NYC
Raised: River Vale

Photo courtesy of HBO/Janet Van Ham

“I had the last Leave it to Beaver upbringing in America…. There were no race issues because there was no race [laughs] except the white one. I never did drugs in high school. I don’t remember drugs being an issue. I guess there were some degenerate kids who smoked pot, but I wasn’t in that cool group. It was so different then, since teachers were absolutely sacrosanct. Nobody ever spoke back to a teacher, let alone curse at them or have sex with them, like they do now.”—NJM, December 2015, as told to Ed Condran

Susan Sarandon

Actress
Born: Queens, NY (1946)
Raised: Edison
Given Name: Susan Tomalin

Photo by Michele Asselin/Corbis Outline

“I credit the experience of Edison High School with introducing me to the real world….My first day of school, two girls got into a fight and were rolling around on the floor. I just stood there. By the time I graduated, I knew enough to move.”—NJM, May 2010, as told to Melinda Newman

Demetri Martin

Comedian
Born: NYC (1973)
Raised: Toms River

Photo courtesy of United Talent

“It was a pretty comfortable suburban existence for us. We had a long leash. I could [bicycle] to the mall and other neighborhoods, to Seaside sometimes. We could ride all the way to the beach…. In high school, I went to this thing called the Governor’s School of Public Issues, and at the end of that month we all gave each other notes as our parents picked us up, and a lot of the notes said, ‘You’re one of the funniest kids I met.’ And at that time I thought, ‘Oh, I guess I’m considered funny to other people. That’s cool.’ ”—As told to Tina Kelley, fall 2017

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