Stand-up comic Tammy Pescatelli spills the beans on her stage secrets, her experiences on Last Comic Standing and why — despite what you may think — laziness does not a good comic make
By Jessica Agi
Having grown up in a small Italian suburb with all brothers outside of Cleveland, stand-up comic Tammy Pescatelli, a 13-year veteran of the business, has spent her entire life defending herself with barbed quips and gathering material for her stage show. Though she’s already scored her own Comedy Central Presents, was a contestant on the second season of Last Comic Standing, and appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno twice, she still has plenty of big plans.
Calling from Los Angeles, sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s exhausted but thrilled to have so much going on. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one meeting to the next meeting, but as they say, this is the job that I chose,Ã¢â‚¬Â she says, Ã¢â‚¬Å“but IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m really happy.Ã¢â‚¬Â Her smile is loud and clear through the phone, as she took a few moments to chat with Punchline Magazine.
To someone who has never seen you onstage before, how would you describe your style? Are you offstage the same person as you are onstage?
Me onstage is Ã¢â‚¬Å“Tammy to the 10th power.Ã¢â‚¬Â I say things onstage that I wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t necessarily say, like, Ã¢â‚¬ËœOh, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re a lazy bastard.Ã¢â‚¬Â However, I do tell people in real life that my sister-in-law is a whore. I think IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m just kind of outspoken. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not for everyone, but I bet everyone knows someone who will like me. I think a lot of people think what I say. A lot of the stories and people I talk about are not necessarily stories; itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s real life, like my family really did get kicked out of Disneyland, so I think you can feel better about your life if you see me.
Comics are like modern-day philosophers; what philosophy would you like to be remembered for?
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m working this whole bit called What the Hell is Wrong With You. The fault lies with you, like the old saying of when someone breaks up with you, Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not you, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s me.Ã¢â‚¬Â No, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s you, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s always you and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s always been you. Half the problem is you, and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the problem with the country. Sorry something happened to you at a family reunion when you were seven, but youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re 48 now and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s time to move on.
How did you get into stand-up comedy?
I grew up in family that wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t necessarily the funniest family, just funny things always happened. They were very sarcastic, so in order to fend for myself I had to come up with a smart mouth. I grew up with all boys, so when theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d start punching and hitting, I knew how to say something that hit below the belt. I was the best at Ã¢â‚¬Å“yo mommaÃ¢â‚¬Â jokes, but the only problem was that we had the same mother.
Do you ever wake up and wish you had taken a more Ã¢â‚¬Å“normalÃ¢â‚¬Â or Ã¢â‚¬Å“expectedÃ¢â‚¬Â career path instead of an entertainer?
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a loaded question; yes and no. There are times when I sit here trying to make the next thing happen in my career. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been doing this for 13 years. In a real job, in another seven, I can retire. But I love what I do. I love the pure art form of stand-up. Grabbing a microphone and just talking at people, not talking to peopleÃ¢â‚¬â€ thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s called heckling and youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not gonna win. (Laughs) I love being a stand-up. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m blessed I found the right path. At least I hope so. People who buy tickets to see me might feel another way.
How is it to be a female comic in the still male-dominated field?
At this point, it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t make a difference. In the beginning, it hurt. Once you get funny, funny is funny, people are gonna see you whether youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re a man or woman. When you first get onstage as a woman, a lot of people, for whatever reason, have that stereotype. They say that women arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t funny or always male-bash or talk about their menstrual cycles, and I guess thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s true for some.
But Kathleen Madigan, sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one of my best friends and one of the reasons I became a comic, sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hilarious. Brett Butler, Carol Leifer, Sarah SilvermanÃ¢â‚¬â€ you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t tell me that these women canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hold their own with any guy you put them onstage with.
Who are your influences?
Money, bills, Internet, pressure, parents. Actually, my boyfriend is very funny, and is stand-up writer, Luca PalancaÃ¢â‚¬â€ heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s obviously influential. Rodney Dangerfield, Uncle Lar. People who are sarcastic and say whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s on their mind and say the things everybody thinks but in a way they didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think it.
Stand-up seems to be one of the most underappreciated. Why do you think that is?
Because everybody thinks theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re funny. If you knew how many times I spent over a decade cultivating my act before I got seen on national TV, and you get offstage in some theater and some guy says, Ã¢â‚¬ËœHey, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m really funny, I could be a comedian, too!Ã¢â‚¬Â Really? Because you make the four people in your family laugh? You think you can make people pay $22.50 for a ticket and to hire a sitter and pay for a full tank of gas?
Tell me a bit about your Last Comic Standing experience.
For what it was, it was a great time. I made some lifelong friendships that last forever. Ha, are you sure IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m a philosopher? Lifelong friends for life? But I had a great time with some of my friends, with Ant and Kathleen and John Heffron and Alonzo and GaryÃ¢â‚¬â€theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re some of the best comics out there and I was glad to be part of it. Jay London, I had a really nice conversation with him the other day. It was an exciting time. I felt like it was gonna be something special and it was. I appreciate the other seasons, but I think we had some magic that season.
What do you hope to still accomplish in your career? Where do you want to be this time next year?
I want to get another Tonight Show in the canÃ¢â‚¬â€that will be my third and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be great. I have two movies coming out: Made in Brooklyn and Everybody Wants to be Italian, which I hope are well received. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d like another part in a movie and if I can get somewhere on a sitcom, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d be good. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want a lot, do I? But really, I love going out on the road and as long as that stays strong, I think the rest will come.
Do you have any advice for aspiring comics?
Be funny. A lot of comics think itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just the audienceÃ¢â‚¬â€ no, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s probably you; itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬Å“what the hell is wrong with you?Ã¢â‚¬Â Rewrite the joke. People think the American public is stupid but theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re smarter than you think. Seriously, if someone tells you to quit, keep trying. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not the secret. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have the secret to life, like that book. If you weigh 500 pounds and visualize yourself being skinny, that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t make you skinnyÃ¢â‚¬â€ the power of positive thinking is great, but you gotta get off the couch, you lazy bastard.