‘Mob scene’ expected as real-life Goodfella Michael Franzese heads to Caesars; Matt Rife sharp at Ocean casino
What’s better than real-life organized- crime stories? Real-life organized-crime stories told by a real-life (ex-) organized-crime bigshot. And that’s exactly what’s on tap Sept. 23 as Caesars Atlantic City hosts an evening with Michael Franzese.
Franzese, 72, wasn’t just a wannabe wise guy or garden-variety Mafia soldier, but a caporegime (underboss) of New York’s powerful Colombo family. He renounced his criminal ways after Rudy Giuliani successfully prosecuted him, in 1986, on federal racketeering charges for devising and conducting a gasoline-tax scam that netted Franzese and his cohorts hundreds of millions of dollars (and which garnered him recognition as the biggest “earner” in organized-crime annals since Al Capone).
For his crimes, Franzese plea-bargained what could have essentially been a life sentence into a 10-year deal. He spent three years in prison, was released, and in 1991 sent back on a parole violation. He finally left federal custody for good in 1994.
During a recent phone chat, Franzese, who today is a successful motivational speaker, entrepreneur and YouTube star with over a million subscribers, admitted he never anticipated how the second chapter of his life would unfold. For starters, he recalled, his release caused major concerns among his former associates, which in turn made him wonder if he’d even have a future.
“I thought it was gonna be a quiet exit [from prison ],” he said, “but it was blasted all over the newspapers and Life magazine and then everywhere that I was walking away from that life and immediately, that caused people in New York to be suspicious that I was cooperating [with prosecutors].
“I was trying to make peace with the government and say, ‘Look, I'm out. Leave me alone. I'm not doing anything anymore.’ But they didn't take ‘no’ for an answer. They said, ‘You know, you can help us out.’ And they put my name on the witness list of trials that were going on in New York. And so everybody thought I was gonna be a major cooperating witness, but I never intended to do that, nor would I.”
Nonetheless, after he was paroled, Franzese--whose entry into the Mafia came through his father, Sonny, who was also a Colombo family underboss--had what he described as “a very difficult time.”
“The boss of my family put out a contract on my life; I had to move a few times,” he explained. “It was just a bad, bad, bad time navigating through all of this. Eventually, the government was upset with me because I refused to cooperate against people they wanted me to, and they threatened to indict me on another major case, and threw me back in prison and I did another three years--and I did it in solitary. They really, gave me the business.
“And then when I got out, even though people [in the mob] were upset that I walked away, the heat was off because they knew that I wasn't hurting anybody.
“It worked out eventually, but in the short run, you know, for several years, it was tough to navigate.”
As for what he’ll be doing at Casears, Franzese, who credits much of his life-reversal to being a born-again Christian, is scheduled to present a program on the history of The Mob in Philadelphia and Atlantic City. Those in attendance can also expect to hear his personal story. “Then,” he promised, “we’ll do a Q-and-A session; I let [audience members] ask me anything they want. I answer just about every question.”
Those who pay a premium admission fee are also offered the opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with Franzese at a post-show VIP gathering.
Franzese, whose life story will be told in an upcoming TV series currently in production, credited Hollywood for making organized crime such a fascinating subject around the world. So, what does he think are the best and worst gangster films of all time?
“I can say unequivocally that the most accurate movie was Gotti, the 1996 movie starring Armand Assante and Anthony Quinn,” he proclaimed without hesitation about the biopic of “Teflon Don” John Gotti. “It was brilliantly acted and so extremely accurate because a lot of the script was written off the surveillance tapes. And obviously that was my time. I knew what was going on back then, and it was just a brilliant movie.
“So that's number one. Obviously Goodfellas,” he added, shouting out the Martin Scorsese masterpiece in which Franzese is briefly mentioned in the nightclub scene that climaxes with Joe Pesci’s unforgettable “I’m funny? Funny how?” exchange with Ray Liotta.
“And Casino was great; A Bronx Tale was a brilliant movie. And Donnie Brasco, which I think was Al Pacino's best, best, best performance. And of course, the Godfather movies; they're, fictional, but just brilliantly done.”
When asked to identify the gangster films he least admires, Franzese suggested there were too many to name, but did single out two he finds particularly odious. One is The Many Saints of Newark, the full-length feature that served as a “prequel” to The Sopranos, which he described as “cheesy.” The other is the 2018 film in which John Travolta starred as Gotti.
“It was,” he insisted, “just horrible.”
For tickets, click here.
Rife with potential
Although he’s apparently unknown to most people over 30 or so, Matt Rife currently ranks as standup comedy’s hottest star: If his billion-plus TikTok views aren’t enough to convince you, then maybe his five sold-out performances last weekend at Ocean Casino-Resort’s 5,500-seat Ovation Hall will do the trick.
So, does the 27-year-old Ohio native merit such impressive stats? Based on the first of the sets last Friday, the answer is a qualified yes.
The first thing that stood out was the nature of the crowd: I’ve been seeing comedians perform live for more than 50 years, but never before have I witnessed an audience in which young women unaccompanied by boyfriends/husbands predominated. If nothing else, the curly-haired, boyish Rife is definitely comedy’s first bona fide sex symbol.
But comedy is not about looks, it’s about ideas and words and how they’re conveyed. And on that score, Rife is clearly a heavyweight. His mostly X- (or hard-R) rated material hit the bull’s eye repeatedly, igniting gales of laughter throughout his turn. And while his delivery is hardly Seinfeldian, it was energetic and well-paced. The kid clearly knows how to spin a yarn.
However, it’s in his choice of subject matter that Rife could use some maturity. There’s nothing wrong with joking about men’s predilection for sexual self-gratification. But he spent far too much time on the subject; it would have been nice to hear his takes on other topics.
But Rife displayed so much intelligence and stage savvy that it will be interesting to see how his career plays out when (if) he finally shakes his adolescent preoccupation with sex. Friday night’s performance suggests that when (if) he does, his current out-of-this-world success will prove to be anything but a flash-in-the-pan.