The Italian Misfit : Giacinto Palmieri
“Italian misfit” as he calls himself, Giacinto Palmieri is one of a few foreign comedians and non-native speakers performing stand up comedy in London and other British cities. As Aga Mytkowska found out, his shows led him to a big success and having many English and foreign fans in the country.
Giacinto, why did you leave sunny Puglia in Italy and come to England?
I moved in March 2001. I just wanted to do an experience abroad and I had always liked London, so I gave it a try. I came here without a job, arrived on a Monday and got a very good job offer on the Friday of the same weak. It felt great.
When and how did your journey as a comedian start?
Three years ago. One evening I discovered one of those comedy clubs in the function room of pubs and I was mesmerized. I was simply amazed by the level of energy and creativity. But at first I really struggled to understand the jokes, even if I had been living in the UK already for six years back then. Comedy is full of topical and cultural references, puns and exaggerated accents. So I started going to comedy clubs as a challenge and as a way to improve my English comprehension skills. With time I started to understand more and more and so to enjoy it more and more. Meanwhile I wrote a short satirical piece, a mock anthropological study on the British tradition of the corporate Christmas party. I wanted to send it to a friend called Adrian but by mistake I sent it to the MD of the company I was working for, called Adrien. He liked it very much so, instead of firing me, he read it in front of everybody during the actual Christmas party, getting big laughs in response. He said that he had received it from an employee, but he thought it was better not to say who that employee was. I was flattered by the response but I also felt deprived of the rightful recognition. So I thought: why not start writing this kind of stuff as a stand-up material set and perform it myself? I put two and two together, the discovery of the comedy clubs scene and the discovery of my comic writing instincts. The only thing I needed was the confidence to perform, so I joined a stand-up comedy course, after which I started doing my first open spots.
What is your profession and how do you manage to find time for your hobby?
When I started I had a permanent job as a software developer. Now I have moved into contracting and one of the reasons is that I hope it will offer me more flexibility. Fortunately comedy is an evening activity and you don’t really sit down and write. Ideas can come at any moment, even at work.
Where do you perform and how often?
Outside festivals I perform short sets at comedy clubs. The frequency is very irregular. The biggest chance to perform longer sets in a regular way, however, is offered by festivals such as the Edinburgh Fringe.
What was your first performance and what memories of it you have?
It was the showcase of the course I attended. It was at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden and the MC was some sort of very camp drag queen. A weird evening, but the audience were of course made mostly of friends and it went well. It’s from the second gig onwards that things start to become tough.
How many times did you participate in Fringe Festival?
This year was my third year. For a non-professional like myself, it’s a unique opportunity to perform every day for almost a month and to learn from the other comedians. And it’s also good fun, although the competition is very tough and you have to work very hard on promotion.
Do you perform in Italian too?
It’s an interesting question. I performed in Italy only once but in English, as part of an international conference on translation. Now I have two invitations to perform comedy in Italy in Italian but I’m quite scared, to be honest. Not only is all my material in English, but after living for ten years in the UK I’m afraid of having lost the common ground of experience with those who live in Italy. I could try Italian material in front of my Italian friends in London, but their frame of reference is different from that of an Italian audience in Italy. And I think in Italy people are more used to character and sketch comedy than proper stand-up. So, I don’t exclude I’ll do it, but I see it as a very difficult challenge and this, of course, is a bit of a paradox.
Do you always perform on your own?
When you perform in comedy clubs you always share the bill with other comedians. I performed solo only during the festivals. This year, however, I shared the Edinburgh Fringe slot with other two comedians, actually comediennes, and really enjoyed it. I think there is a lot to learn from working with other people.
How do your ideas come to the light and what influences your comedy?
I found my first source of inspiration in the experience of being an Italian in Britain. Being a foreigner helps you to see things with fresh eyes and that is a very good source of humour. Regarding my influences, my comedy education consisted in watching people on the London live scene, trying to learn from comedians who were just two or three steps above me and who were playing the same type of room as me. It’s only recently that I have started watching the DVDs of the great masters and to go to proper theatres to see the big names.
What are your performances about?
At the beginning there was a lot of material about cultural identity but now they are more and more about language. There are very few comics who are non-native English speakers, so they can see many things with fresh eyes but not the English language itself. So I decided to focus more and more on how surprising, wonderful and weird the English language can be for those who have to learn it as their second language.
How long do you prepare for a performance, new and old one?
The only way to prepare for a performance is to do more performances. You have gigs where you know that you need to give your bests shots and gigs where you know that you can experiment a bit, for instance with trying new material, so you use the latter gigs to prepare for the former.
What is your best and the worst memory of a show you did?
My best memory is performing in front a packed Hackney Empire in the final for the New Act of the Year 2010 competition. It’s such an amazing theatre with a great place in comedy history, performing there was a great experience. My worst memory is reading a very bad review of my show at the Fringe two years ago. When performers say that they don’t care about reviews they are lying.
What do you think about the English humour?
I love it, it tends to be more based on language and puns than other national humours and I think that plays well with my interests and my mindset.
Who is your favourite comedian?
It depends on the moment. Probably at the moment it’s Dylan Moran.
What do you like so much about performing?
Of course being at the centre of other peoples attention and making them laugh is very exciting. Seeing that something that was born in your brain can produce such a pleasurable effect on other people makes you think you’re connected, it’s a great sensation.
How do you deal with the stress before performances?
I tend to cultivate it, for instance by drinking coffee or a Coke instead of more “relaxing” alcoholic drinks. You need to feel a bit stressed to do your best, but it’s a difficult balance, if it’s too much it can harm your performance.
What are your plans for the future as a comedian?
I’m going to do a new solo show at the Adelaide Fringe Festival in Australia. I’m very excited about it!
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