Tammy will be performing at Carolines in NYC from Feb 3. – Feb 6. Tickets here.
Once upon a time, in a comedy club far, far away (or very close by, if you happen to share neighborhood zoning permits with the Comedy Store in LA), Tammy Pescatelli had a dream about escaping from an alligator (more on that later). Being of comedic mind and witty disposition, she immediately latched on to the humorous prospects of an outwardly horrifying circumstance, and went on to perform a bit about being bit up on the stage of the legendary venue.
By her own admission, the routine on subconscious alligator avoidance went over about as well as an actual escape attempt from the jaws of the beast; but while the joke in particular may not have persevered, the comedian who told and dreamed it has gone on to embark upon a brilliant career, set upon a foundational basis of personal, hilarious material and a cunning comic timing most gators on the prowl would be envious of.
Such is the life and livelihood of Pescatelli: a bubbly, friendly, no-nonsense Italian broad with comedy chops to match the bite of the best. With a wide array of career highlights that include a place in the Final Five on Last Comic Standing, performances on the Tonight Show and Comedy Central Presents, this self-described “girl from the neighborhood” has handily proved herself funny as she is fierce.
It’s a mantra which lends itself well to the comedian wunderkind’s latest and greatest project: playing wife and mother to Luca and Little Luca, respectively, both in the realm of reality and in her upcoming TV show, A Stand-Up Mother, premiering on the WE network Jan. 25. Following Tammy and her family’s new life in tiny Meadville, Pennsylvania – one of the “pro-America” parts of America, as Madam Palin would say – the show chronicles the day-to-day life of one of the nation’s most inspiring comic voices.
Checking in with Punchline Magazine for a rap session, Tammy talks tough on transitioning from LA to Smalltown, USA; how growing up with all brothers impacted her comedy; and why she’ll never talk about her dreams onstage again.
Would you say that growing up with all brothers helped prepare you for the “boys club” elements of the comedy world?
Absolutely. My mother’s mother, she passed away when she [my mother] was nine, so she was raised by her father and two brothers – she had two brothers. I have all these male cousins, so I grew up in a very estrogen-deprived existence. [Laughs]. I was as masculine a cheerleader as could be.
What does being a girl “from the neighborhood” really mean?
I like to think I’m a ballsy broad is what that is. I don’t care about being prissy: as you’ll see in the TV show, after the first episode, I never even had a wedding. When I got married, all I really wanted was the Justice of the Peace. I didn’t spend my whole life wanting the dress or the venue; I didn’t care about any of that. I had never even been to a baby shower until I was seven months pregnant and it was my own.
My entire adult life, I have been on the road as a comic. A lot of things that are really important to people around the country aren’t important to me. I had a friend recently who just called me and said, ‘I got the day off of work for my birthday.’ And I’m like, ‘Why?’ She says, ‘It’s my birthday and I’ve got to have a big party!’ But, ‘…you’re 38 years old.’ There were several times I was on the road and it was my birthday, and it took forever before I remembered what the date was. A comic’s life is completely different from a regular citizen’s life.
To what degree is that brassy Italian persona – your girl from the neighborhood – hyperbole? Is it at all?
Well, I think I’m always Tammy to the 10th power onstage. When I first started, that’s what I talked about all the time: being Italian. You just talk about what you know. And people would give me a hard time, being all like, ‘Ugh, what’s all this stuff about being Italian?’ But I would actually take that as a compliment, because I was a woman talking. I didn’t talk about my period or having anal sex with somebody. So I took it as a compliment. I just wanted to write jokes and be a comic, not a chick, so what’s really weird now is that I’m on an all women’s network. So, it’s always me onstage, it’s just me to the 10th power.
Was transitioning, then, very difficult? Do they conduct business at WE differently than you’re accustomed to?
It’s business. Business! I dunno, I never had a real job. What I realized, having a television show on a network, is that I don’t talk to people – I talk at people. I’m so used to talking at people that I have no social skills. I’m so totally retarded that I never would have made it in the real world.
People have structures of power. It’s really hard for a comic to adapt to that. ‘No you can’t.’ ‘Oh yes I can!’ When they tell you not to do something, it’s the first thing you want to do, right?
Would you say that’s the foundational personality trait for most comedians: You can’t do that/Yes I can?
Yes, I do. I think it’s a fundamental need that we have to prove ourselves. I think that’s why every comic – I don’t care who you are – will all agree that you’re always playing to that one person in the room who isn’t paying attention. It doesn’t matter if 499 people think you’re the funniest thing to hit the stage. If that one person isn’t paying attention to you, you’re trying to get them to laugh.
Was it your idea to have a reality show?
I’m a co-creator. With Carla Kaufman, we created it. We have parallel lives: she also got married, had a baby, and left Hollywood. We just figured that a lot of women aren’t giving up their careers anymore. There was this whole situation where I got pregnant, and people had never seen a pregnant woman onstage. I’m still a comic, I’m still going to be funny.
So we shopped it around, and WE responded. There was a little bit of a bidding war, and we decided to go with WE, because WE gave us a little bit more autonomy.
How does the concept of a simple small town like Meadville manage to coexist side-by-side with the natural press and glitz that come with filming and airing a TV show?
They just don’t get it. They just couldn’t comprehend what was happening. They’ve never had anything like that here – the closest they’ve had before was To Catch a Predator. Hopefully it’ll all play out. We’ll see if I’m still allowed to live here after the episodes air.
It was great for the economy. I don’t know how I tricked Hollywood into coming to Meadville, Pennsylvania. The need for a film crew helped spark the presence of the economy.
As an individual, do you feel you connect with the Meadville climate more than you do LA?
I think I found my way in Hollywood. I found my friends, I found my comedy clubs, but Hollywood represented for me a different life. I was single, I didn’t have a kid, but I grew up in a small neighborhood – a suburb of Cleveland. I grew up in a different life, so I can understand this mentality. I worked my whole life to get out of a town like this; who the hell knew I’d come back? [Laughs]. I didn’t have the wherewithal to save enough money for therapy to relocate in Hollywood.
What sort of impression do you want the watchers of A Stand-Up Mother to have of you?
That I put my son first. That’s it, that’s it, you know? Comedy used to be my life, but then came my husband, my son, my family. I’m not doing anything special that other people aren’t doing, being mothers and wives and everything else. I just have a forum to talk about it now. My jokes are better because my life has expanded. Being onstage is the only time I’m alone. No one’s going to take that from me, no.
How old is your son, by the way?
He’ll be three next month. You know what’s so funny? I’d kept him so private for so long. Wouldn’t put up pictures of him on my Facebook. And now we’ve had the camera [pointed at him], and that’s the whole thing: because I’m afraid to expose him, but, on the other hand, he’s like Little Ricky on I Love Lucy. He just comes in, he does a few minutes, and he’s out of the show. The show isn’t about him.
Is his name really Little Luca?
No, he’s Luca. [Laughs]. He’s Little Luca because my husband’s name is Luca. He’s little compared to my husband, who’s big, and his name is Luca James, so we call him LLCoolJ.
Is he really aware of what you do for a living?
He does I do stand-up. I literally was on the stage on Long Island, the night before I gave birth to him, and I thought I had a really bad backache when it turned out I was in labor. Onstage, he would jump every time there was applause. He’d just go crazy, and he just loves it. He tells jokes now. I have a hard enough time writing my jokes without giving them away to my kid.
How does your mother-in-law respond to the material that you do about her?
I don’t do too much about her. I just do one really poignant joke, and I think that gets the point across. She just lives a different life. She’s happy that her son found a nice Italian girl, but she doesn’t understand the comedy. When I go on the road – say I’m going out to San Francisco or Lexington, Kentucky – she’ll be like, ‘Enjoy your vacation!’ I’m a traveling comedian: my vacation is home.
This is sort of your trademark: when people ask you where you get your jokes, you say, “I wake up!” Have you ever had a truly hilarious dream? Ever gotten material from being asleep?
I actually did one time. I thought, boy this is the funniest joke ever! I wrote it all down, and I went on at the Comedy Store in LA, and I jumped onstage and it was the dumbest thing ever. It seemed like I’d smoked a vial of crack before getting onstage. It was the dumbest joke ever. [Laughs]. It seemed really funny in my dream.
What was the dream about?
It was about how you would escape an alligator. It was so stupid, oh man. Alligators scare the hell out of me.
|Tammy Pescatelli – Trampoline Accident|
Is that the one fearful point in you that’s so prickly you don’t feel like you could find the comedy in it?
You know, I don’t think anything is off-limits with comedy. Incidents in time can be found funny, and it depends on how peripheral it is to you. I tried to leave my son out of my act originally when he was first born, but now I’m starting to write jokes more and more. But I don’t want to write so many jokes that he’s embarrassed to go to kindergarten.
You have a lot of really impressive resume highlights and accolades. Are there any that you felt like you poured the most blood, sweat, and tears into accomplishing?
I think one of the best things was my very first Tonight Show, because it was my first appearance on television. It was the most nerve-wracking thing you could imagine, and for me, it was the Tonight Show. But it turned out to be one of the best things.