“Like your sister that won’t shut up” is how star comedian Tammy Pescatelli described her brand of comedy in a recent phone interview. She begins a three-day stint at the Pittsburgh Improv tonight.
Family is a source of both humor and angst for Pescatelli, who was raised outside of Cleveland, in a large Italian household, the daughter of a (former) pro-football player and devoted mother. She also endured several brothers.
After graduating from Kent State University, Pescatelli saw a female comic perform that she didn’t find particularly funny. Nonetheless she was inspired by the comic’s overall performance and thought “if this woman can make a living at stand-up, then so can I.” Her brothers dared her to try. She took the bait, appearing at a local open mic night, and her comedy career was born. According to her dad, on Pescatelli’s TV show “A Standup Mother,” Tammy’s first performance was far from stellar.
Although her road to stardom has had some bumps, she’s always been able to find work as a comedian. She has supplemented her comedic career with day gigs that have included working as a radio morning show host at a station in the Quad Cities area (Illinois) to picking up an occasional shift as a server at a country club to pad her purse. Being familiar with Pescatelli’s sharp wit, I pity any customer who complained to her about bad food or service.
However, Pescatelli artfully cushions her delivery and “rips” with a good-natured twinkle in her azure eyes, a wide, winning smile, and a funny staccato laugh. Her hilarious material is augmented with a well-timed vocal delivery characterized by a rich combination of Midwest and Italian family dialects, delivered with a somewhat streetwise, nasal tone. Pre-show rituals vary depending on the event, but usually involve a cup of coffee and a few moments of quiet contemplation, allowing her to get super-focused and fired-up.
Pescatelli’s body of work includes an impressive array of shows and events, including “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Last Call with Carson Daily,” Bravo TV’s “Rocco’s Dinner Party,” NBC’s “Last Comic Standing: The Best of The Best,” and Comedy Central’s “Stand-Up Showdown,” “Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon,” and her own special “Comedy Central Presents: Tammy Pescatelli.” She has also gone overseas many times to entertain our armed forces as part of USO trips.
Eddie Murphy and Rodney Dangerfield are singled out as her two biggest comedic influences. “I know all of Eddie Murphy’s material by heart,” Pescatelli proudly states. “Waking up” is the bedrock of her comedic writing process, as she finds humor in family, friends and everyday life. Pescatelli loves Pittsburgh and has made it her adopted hometown. Her comedy is often featured on WDVE 102.5 FM’s Randy Baumann & ”The DVE Morning Show” and has played Pittsburgh comedy clubs many times. “Pittsburgh audiences are always amazing,” she fondly relates.
In 2008, she and new husband Luca moved to Meadville, PA (they now also have a home in Brooklyn) in order to be closer to her parents. Soon after the move, Tammy became pregnant and baby Luca was born. Raising their baby amidst her “red-hot” comedy career while living in a small town provided abundant new material for her show “A Standup Mother,” for which she was co-creator and executive producer. One of the funniest episodes was when Tammy and Luca combined their wedding reception (they were previously married by a justice of the peace) and their son Luca’s baptism reception and called it a “Wedtismal.” “A Standup Mother” aired on WEtv for several seasons and recently ended its successful run. Pescatelli is currently on tour promoting her new comedy album Finding the Funny. She co-starred in several movies including Everyone Wants to Be Italian, Single, and Made In Brooklyn. Pescatelli mentioned to me that she is impressed with Pittsburgh’s emergence as a film production center and is interested in pursuing acting roles here, in addition to Hollywood.
Pescatelli shot to a higher level of fame as one of the final five contestants on the NBC TV’s 2004 show “Last Comic Standing 2. ” I was on the road right before the series aired. I went from nobody recognizing me on a Monday, Tuesday night the first show aired, and by Wednesday I had a huge following, people recognizing me and asking for autographs. That’s the effect of an audience of 17 million people watching our show!” enthused Pescatelli.
Some comedians derive humor from personal pain, trials and tribulations, but Pescatelli says that is not the source of her humor. She says hers is mined from a rich vein of “being in a crazy Italian family.” Pescatelli struck comedic gold again when she married Luca, who is from a Brooklyn Italian family with a slightly overbearing mother (as seen in her role on “A Standup Mother”).
Pescatelli has a genuine love and respect for her extended family, but notes that this doesn’t mean their words and actions can’t be fodder for her entertaining comedy routines.Watch a Tammy Pescatelli performance.
Thursday, September 5th, 8 p.m.; Friday, September 6th, 8 and 10 p.m.; and Saturday, September 7th, 7 and 9 p.m.
166 East Bridge St., The Waterfront, Homestead. (412) 462-5233.
Photos courtesy of Tammy Pescatelli and Ani Istanboulian.
Rick Handler is an experienced Pittsburgh writer and owner and executive producer of Entertainment Central.