I'm proud to talk about being Italian

...but I hope I'm no stereotype, says Giacinto Palmieri

Dan Brader raised a very interesting question in his Correspondents article Be Yourself, Not A National Stereotype. It's a problem that has been bugging me since I started doing comedy, even if that means just for a bit more than one year.

Brader suggests that it would be better for comedians not to mention their origins. Well, maybe that's easy for somebody from New Zealand, but it would be impossible for a heavily accented Italian like myself. But the concerns he raises are real and so is the danger of turning yourself into a caricature.

I have been watching the ways other comics tackle this issue. The first time I saw Henning Wehn doing a 20 minutes set, I was mesmerised. At his best, Wehn manages to adopt the worst stereotypes about the Germans while turning those very stereotypes into the butt of his jokes. So I went to see his show 1,000 Years Of German Humour and I was very disappointed. The risk, in fact, is falling victim of your own character, which I guess is what has happened to Al Murray. If you joke about how narrow-minded the reduction of everything German to war and football is, you can do it only for a while without falling into the same trap.

But apart from the impossibility of avoiding the elephant in the room there are also positive reasons to start from the ’Where I'm from…’ point of view. The comedy scene has always been full of outsiders and one reason for this is that they can see the funny side of things that to the insiders are simply too familiar to be funny.

Your cultural background is indeed first of all a background, it adds contrast and perspective to your observations. They say that all politics is local, in the same sense you can say that all comedy is local too. When you declare ‘I'm from Italy’ what you are really declaring is the point of view from which you'll observe whatever is around you. When it works, people will laugh at seeing the familiar shown to them in the light of this fresh perspective.

There is one extra variable that is very important to me, and that is language. The British comedy scene is full of people coming from abroad but most of them are Irish, Aussies, Kiwis, Americans and Canadians: native English speakers. This means that they can shed a new light on many aspects of British life, but not on the English language, apart from pointing out local differences and playing with accents. We non-native speakers can try to fill this gap. But to do so, however, we need again to declare our standpoint.

So, my show at the Fringe will be called Giacinto Palmieri: Italian Misfit and I don't feel apologetic about it. Just let me know in a few years’ time if I have fallen into my own trap.

Published: 23 Jun 2009

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.