As mentioned in my blog yesterday, I had a drink with Italian-born British-based comedian Giacinto Palmieri – after seeing the first try-out of his show Pagliaccio which he will be performing at the Edinburgh Fringe in August.
Giacinto is one of life’s natural quotables:
“It’s a love story,” he says, “but it’s a double love story because it’s also a love story for the Edinburgh Fringe itself.
“The Fringe is an intense experience. It is like those war veterans who spend the rest of their life talking about what they did in the War. People think Why? The War is a horrible thing – but it’s the intensity they are missing. Once you have done the Edinburgh Fringe, the rest of your life just looks bland.”
This will be Giacinto’s fourth year at the Fringe.
“This is my first attempt to do a thematic narrative show,” he told me in a Soho pub. “I was doing joke-joke-joke comedy but, as a member of the audience, I started to discover and love thematic shows. There was a mis-match between what I was doing and what I really like. So I set myself the goal of writing a thematic show.
“Edinburgh is such a strong experience, it really stimulates your writing. I started to write this year’s Edinburgh show the day after the Fringe finished last year; some material I even wrote during Edinburgh itself. I wanted to start writing fresh from the Edinburgh experience without waiting for January or February like most comedians.”
“Most comedians seem to start writing around 25th July!” I said.
“Yes,” he laughed. “Or on the train up to Edinburgh! It’s true.”
“But I really wanted to express the intensity of being there and the fact that people are up in Edinburgh to express their emotions, so anything can happen there. Once you open the bottle, you don’t know what comes out. Once you go there to express yourself every day for three-and-a-half weeks, you don’t know what you will discover about yourself.
“My show is about comedians living together and sharing a show and working together and it is a true story of unrequited love and jealousy between the comedians and I play with the similarity between that situation and the plot of the opera Pagliacci which is about a travelling group of clowns.
“So it is a love story about another performer I became romantically interested in at last year’s Fringe, but also about the craziness and intensity of the Fringe itself.”
“The Pagliacci cliché,” I said to Giacinto, “is that all clowns are sad.”
“There is clearly some truth in that cliché,” he replied. “One of the best responses I have ever seen on the comedy circuit was when a comedian asked a member of the audience What do you do for a living? and the reply was I’m a therapist and the comedian simply asked So why am I doing this?
“You do need to wonder why we are all doing this.”
Giacinto has been in the UK for eleven years (and is now a British citizen) but he has only been performing comedy for the last four years. Before that, he was a full-time I.T. consultant. That seems a bit weird to me – coming to a foreign country, pursuing your career for seven years, then becoming a stand-up comic.
“It is even weirder than that,” he tells me. “The first time I went to Edinburgh was as a member of the audience. I absolutely loved it and saw 30 or 40 theatre shows but only one comedy show which I did not even like. So I did not know comedy at all. I discovered it later. I was in a pub in London and saw there was a comedy show upstairs and I went and I was mesmerised because I discovered how much creativity and energy there was in it. It looked very fresh. I was fascinated by that level of comedy, not by the professional level on TV.
“When I started, my models were the comedians who were one or two levels above me on the London circuit, not the Big Names.. I discovered the Big Names quite late.
“I had always liked writing. I started writing a fake, mock anthropological study of the British tradition of the corporate Christmas party and – completely by mistake – I emailed it to the MD of my company and he liked it so much he read it in front of everybody during the Christmas party. And it worked very well. People liked it. People laughed. But he did not mention my name. He thought he was protecting me. But I would have liked the recognition.
“So, at the same time, I discovered the comedy club scene on the one hand and my comedy writing instinct on the other hand. I put the two things together. I thought why not take my material and convert it into a stand-up comedy form and perform it myself?”
“But,” I asked Giacinto, “people from I.T. have a different mindset to comedians, don’t they?”
“Ah, of course,” I said, nodding sagely and hoping Wikipedia had an entry I could look up later.
“Philosophy,” Giacinto continued, “is what I studied at University, so there is a connection between my interest in logic and philosophy which can be brought into the I.T. arena because computer programming is applied logic and many jokes are based on paradoxes and self-reference. So, if you like logic, you will probably like word gaming, paradoxes and so on.
“That is why, until now, as a comedian I have always been very academic, very much inside my head, very much philosophical – it has been about language and so on. Which, of course, is very much part of my personality and my way of looking at things.
“The fact that English is not my native language is a difficulty – an obstacle of sorts – but it is also a great opportunity, because you can play with it. I can see in the English language things which a native speaker cannot see. Every foreigner is able to see cultural things which a native cannot see.
“Most foreign comedians in Britain are foreigners but still native English-speakers. They are Australians, Americans, New Zealanders and so on. I have the advantage, as a non-native English speaker, of being not only able to see British culture but the English language itself from a fresh point of view.
“I played with that as part of my act for a long time. This new show Pagliaccio does not play with language so much. It is a love story, so is more universal.
“My comedy was very abstract, so I decided to try to be more personal, to go more into the emotional side of things. And people told me one of the reasons I always had problems with women was because I am too much inside my own head.
“It is true comedy is a journey of self-discovery, in a sense. I am trying to discover the emotional side of me. It is frightening. Once you open the bottle, you don’t know what kind of genie will come out. It might be a good genie or a bad one.”
“One great cliché,” I suggested, “is that the way to get a woman into bed is to make her laugh.”
“Well, it hasn’t worked for me!” laughed Giacinto.
“The comedian Andrew Watts – a very very clever guy – wrote an article. His theory is that women use laughter as a way to communicate a sexual interest in somebody. In a comedy club situation, maybe onstage I can get a bigger laugh than a very good-looking comedian but, if you go for drinks with the girls afterwards, I am pretty sure the good-looking comedian will get bigger laughs in the bar. Pretty sure. Because women are sending signals.
“Getting a woman into bed by making her laugh… That was my hope, but I lost that hope: I don’t think it’s going to work for me.”
“The press will love your show in Edinburgh,” I told Giacinto: “A love story with laughs actually set during last year’s Edinburgh Fringe.”
“Perhaps,” he mused.
“Maybe you should call it Pagliacci – An Edinburgh Fringe Love Story,” I suggested.
“Perhaps,” he mused. “Perhaps. Perhaps women will like it.”