Here’s a true story: It was 2010, and I was living in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I was at the corner of 3rd and Bay Ridge Avenue when I saw someone I recognized exiting Lowen’s Pharmacy. I waved to the man, and started to run over to hug him like I would an uncle. But then I realized that this wasn’t someone I actually knew — it was Tony Sirico from The Sopranos, a guy I’d only seen on television. Once I realized what I was doing, I quickly slowed my gait, put my hands down and ignored his gaze as I walked by him.
Had I hugged Tony Sirico that day, I may not have survived. Whereas all the other mobsters on The Sopranos were just actors, Sirico was a real-life badass who was arrested 28 times and went to jail for four years before taking up acting. His rap sheet — which included robbing night clubs at gunpoint — no doubt informed the hilarious madness of his character Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos. But he’s arguably been even crazier in a less-remembered part of his career: his commercial acting. Be it tearing down billboards on behalf of Denny’s or nearly suffocating a man’s wife to convince him to get Netflix, Sirico’s commercials are totally insane.
So, here are Tony Sirico’s commercial campaigns, ranked from “Passibly Sane” to “Completely Fucking Walnuts.”
6) HBO Now
Verdict: Before HBO Max, there was HBO Now. To get the word out about the streaming service, HBO hired some of its biggest stars, including Sirico and Vincent Pastore. While Sirico has a few good lines in this one — including one about a viral Tweet being contagious — he’s pretty subdued here, only threatening a guy for a few bucks to pay for his HBO Now subscription.
Charges: Accessory to destruction of property, possible extortion
Verdict: Long before he tangled with that fucking Russian in the Pine Barrens, Sirico came face-to-face with that pudgy, lovable Dunkin’ Donuts guy. Seemingly playing a boss in this commercial, two of Sirico’s goons tear down the doors of a Dunkin’ Donuts before he goes in and forcefully demands a coffee. Overall, it’s pretty mild stuff, especially when compared to busting heads for Tony Soprano.
4) Stacker 2
Charges: Accessory to assault, carjacking and robbery
Verdict: In his multiple commercials for Stacker 2 diet pills, Sirico plays “Don Tony,” who mostly just yells at people about dietary supplements. In one commercial though, his goons rough up some guys in GNC, and in another, members of his crew are telling him about the different trucks they’ve just carjacked. He doesn’t directly do anything illegal in these spots, but the feds would likely try to get Don Tony if this turned into a RICO case.
Charges: Extortion, bribery, vandalism
Verdict: I don’t know what the fuck Sirico is doing in Sweden, but in a series of commercials for Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, he intimidates a newsstand proprietor like Paulie would the owner of a bodega in Newark. He walks into the store and proceeds to remove every paper and magazine on the stands and replaces them with Aftonbladet. He then turns to the clerk and, in classic Paulie fashion, tells him, “You’re selling this now, capisce?”
The story has a happy ending though. In a follow-up, Sirico returns to the newsstand to find that Aftonbladet is still the only paper they’re selling. He then slips the guy some money, telling him, “Go buy yourself some new clothes.”
Charges: Extortion, vandalism, destruction of property
Verdict: Easily the funniest of Sirico’s commercials, his campaign for Denny’s is delightfully unhinged madness. Not only that, but it may have stemmed directly from a line in The Sopranos. In the episode “Pine Barrens,” after Paulie and Christopher spend the night in the freezing woods of south Jersey, Paulie turns to Chrissy and says, “First place I’m hittin’ is Denny’s!” The two then proceed to talk about Denny’s delicious Grand Slam breakfasts.
The Denny’s commercials are prime Paulie Walnuts. In the first one, he tries to pay for a shitty breakfast with Monopoly money, before giving the Paulie death stare when the clerk refuses. In another spot, Sirico defends the honor of Denny’s by tearing down a sign for a diner falsely claiming to serve the “Ultimate Breakfast” (the real ultimate breakfast is, of course, the Grand Slam).
The only reason why these ads don’t take the top spot is the 15-second commercial above. In it, Sirico is with a pedestrian and a police officer, and all three are looking at a police lineup. The pedestrian points out, “There’s the guy that sold me the fake breakfast,” and Sirico replies by saying, “He can’t harm you no more.”
At first, it just reads like a regular ad, but then I realized something: If Sirico is on that side of the lineup, is Denny’s suggesting that he’s cooperating with the police?
Paulie? A fucking rat? Fuggedaboutit.
Charges: Breaking and entering, trespassing, extortion, kidnapping and possible attempted murder
Verdict: A man arrives home, flicks on his lights and randomly finds Sirico in his living room. This was during the Netflix mail-away DVD days, and Sirico demands to know why the man is still not renting his movies with Netflix. He then explains how Netflix works, tells the man to “shut up” and assures him that Netflix has no late fees.
All that is bad enough, but the commercial ends by revealing that Sirico has wrapped the man’s wife in a carpet. Was he about to kill that poor woman because her husband rented from a Redbox? It’s unclear, but even for Paulie Walnuts, that’s a little bit extreme.