Gianmarco Soresi’s comedy has inspired some notable events. His pandemic comedy special Shelf Life, available on Amazon Prime, was nominated for three Emmy awards. Billy Crystal rewrote a movie scene for him. And worst case scenario, he once had to figure out how to keep an audience laughing at an election night comedy show … in 2016. What’s his secret?
Gianmarco explains, “Comedy comes from a unique perspective. When you have a different vantage point, you can see an angle that other people are not seeing.” Gianmarco’s life has provided many unique vantage points. He’s also been flung across a grassy field in South Africa and he’s lit up small screens as the spokesman for General Electric.
Gianmarco identifies as a pessimist and enthusiastic complainer, but to watch him on stage is to be captivated by his warmth and energy. His Italian father and Jewish mother divorced when he was a baby, but that experience only forged his ability to transform pain into critically acclaimed comedy – and the ability to deliver it with verve.
Watching Gianmarco’s Shelf Life, I was awestruck by his ability to gift pandemic-weary New Yorkers sitting on hard chairs in an outdoor courtyard, with nonstop laughter and optimism. Sure, he was interrupted by a sudden downpour and a parallel parking calamity across the street – surprise situations which were eerily on-brand – but he just recast them into instant opportunities to make even more comedy.
He also hosts the The Downside with Russell Daniels, a podcast where complaining is encouraged and celebrities reveal their lives’ unseen dark side. Gianmarco was the winner of Amazon’s Comics Watching Comics Season 8 and has appeared opposite Jennifer Lopez in the movie Hustlers, Billy Crystal in Here Today, on TBS’s The Last OG with Tracy Morgan, CBS’s Blue Bloods, ABC’s Deception, Comedy Central and more.
Like the New York fans who gave him a standing ovation, audiences attending Gianmarco’s show at the Lincoln Lodge this Thursday, February 17 will depart super-charged and ready for whatever this world throws at us next.
Gianmarco kindly spoke with me by phone about his upcoming Lincoln Lodge appearance and how he created a comedic perspective that is original, relatable and therapeutic for all.
A CAPITAL BEGINNING
Teme: I heard you’re from Potomac, Maryland! I grew up in D.C. and almost never meet anyone else who grew up there.
Gianmarco: Well, sometimes I lie. I tell people D.C because Potomac is so bland. I don’t know what the culture is other than people getting divorced.
Teme: What did you love or not love about growing up in the D.C. area?
Gianmarco: I’m a city kid and I can’t drive for shit. I have a driver’s license, but I’m so terrible I had girlfriends in high school who drove me. But I love D.C. I could get around on my own. There was theater. There were comedy clubs. D.C. taught me that I wanted to live in New York City and not New Jersey.
Teme: How did you get started in comedy?
Gianmarco: I guess just by failing as an actor. I moved to New York City determined to make it in theater, TV and film. I was the spokesman for General Electric for a year, but otherwise was hitting a wall. So I wrote a play for myself. I said, “If no one’s going to make me the star, I’ll write a character with my actual name so they have to cast me.” I spent a lot of the play talking to the audience. A friend saw it and said, “You should focus on this.” After the shows, too, people never complimented me on the scenes, just the part where I was talking to the audience. I’m stubborn but after a year or two of that, I was like, “I’m noticing a pattern.” That’s when I decided to pivot to standup comedy.
Teme: What experiences shaped you as a comedian?
Gianmarco: I think my biggest one is my parents divorced when I was a baby. I grew up going back and forth. I think that gives you a very unique perspective because my role in the world was constantly shifting. When I was at my dad’s house, I was the apple of his eye. I was number one. Then I’d go to my mom’s house where I had siblings. I had a stepfather who was a stark contrast with my own father, very strict, very stern. I was very much not the one celebrated. Then my father would get married and that relationship would shift. Then my mom got divorced and that relationship shifted. Whenever you have a life that has different, unique circumstances, it gives you access to a bird’s eye view that lets you make commentary on life as it is.
Teme: What inspired your podcast The Downside?
Gianmarco: I knew I wanted to do a podcast, but it took me a long time to come up with an idea. I kept coming back to the question: “What would I be willing to do on my worst day?” because whenever you do these projects it’s a lot of work. My answer was, “On my worst day, I would still want to complain and take the piss out of things.”
Teme: I thought of you last week. I eavesdropped on a friend at an online networking event. Everyone was greeting each other, “How are you?” and every single person answered, “Everything is great!” I thought, “These people are full of it. I know an honest, funny podcast called The Downside that they need to hear!”
Gianmarco: People lying about how they’re doing is nothing new, but I think social media encourages a very specific kind of response and it’s bleeding into our lives. No one likes it when you’re like, “How are you?” And the response is, “I’m terrible.” But in comedy, there’s a way you can express these things that’s fun and enjoyable.
As a Jewish man, I feel that in Jewish culture there’s an understanding that complaining doesn’t mean you’re miserable. I say complaining is just a way of communicating. I could be having the time of my life, and I’ll still want to complain or point out things. I have a girlfriend now, but I could always tell a date wasn’t going to work out when she would say something like, “Oh, you sure like to complain!” And I was like, “Oh, you better believe it. This is just a warm-up.”
Teme: I’m Jewish, too, and totally get that. It’s just being a realist. Also, if you can complain to someone, you will never feel alone.
Gianmarco: Yes. When people have to put on that false positivity, they do feel lonely and everyone is convinced that everyone is doing better than them because no one says they’re not. It’s a fun thing to fight against.
Teme: How did you and Russell begin working together?
Gianmarco: Russell and I were in this dreadful Off Broadway show called That Bachelorette Show. It was very degrading, a horrifying acting experience. I played some Italian stereotype. I got replaced by Vinnie from Jersey Shore. But then Russell and I became part of a sketch team called Uncle Function that’s still in practice today. We fell in love as a group.
Russell and I are both very shy at first, but we both have very dark sensibilities. We found ourselves texting each other about specific kinds of complaints and just the ways people were full of shit. He’s my go-to for all the comedy thoughts I would never say on stage. There are so few people where I’m like, “I want to talk to them about these things every week.” And he was one, and I’m just so lucky he was willing to do it with me.
DIE KRAUTERFRUCHTIGE LIMONADE AUS DER SCHWEIZ (the herbal fruity lemonade from Switzerland)
Teme: You’ve done so many cool, interesting things on big and small screens. Do you have a favorite story that stands out for better or worse?
Gianmarco: I did a German soda commercial in Cape Town, South Africa. I auditioned and the next day I was flying out. They were basically ripping off the Old Spice commercials where random things happen and then they show you the product. It felt very dangerous. I take a sip and then all of this wild stuff happens to me. There was one scene where I’m soaring through a grassy field in Cape Town. It’s 4:00 in the morning in America. They’re like, “Alright, you’re going to grab onto some poles and we’re going to drag you through this field.” And this grass was high. I’m stepping around looking for rocks and they were like, “Oh, you’ll be fine.”
Thank God I only ate a couple bugs as they dragged me through this field. Then there was something where a little person hit me with sticks. I’m sure it would no longer be allowed in contemporary society. My face was bleeding from the sticks and I had to ride a mechanical bull and I almost got very hurt. Listen, it was a great gig. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Actors will sometimes seem a little overly precious about their safety but when you’re on set, your safety is the last priority. It’s about getting the shot. You’ll come off like such a wet blanket, but you have to advocate for yourself. But the commercial itself for Rivella, it’s a fun one.
A BIG IMPRESSION
Teme: What was it like to be in the Billy Crystal film Here Today?
Gianmarco: It was very cool. I’ve always been a Billy Crystal fan. I got rewrites one day where my character does a Jeff Goldblum impression. My jaw hit the floor. I’m not good at impressions, but I have one and it’s Jeff Goldblum. When I read it, I said, “Oh my God, what are the odds?” I saw Billy at the next rehearsal and he said, “I was looking up your name on YouTube. I saw you had videos doing the Jeff Goldblum impression, so I put it into the script.”
What’s so wild about that is the Jeff Goldblum videos I had on YouTube were from a Tonight Show parody that I was just a guest on. It must have been in 2016 for an audience of four people in a very large theater. I remember doing that show and feeling like, fuck, I put so much work into this goddamn impression and there are four people here! And yet, somehow four years later, there’s Billy Crystal watching YouTube and writing a script where I get to showcase it because of that moment.
THE CHALLENGE: WRITE A COMEDY SPECIAL IN A PANDEMIC
Teme: I loved your special Shelf Life! How did you stay so funny when 2020 was so unfunny?
Gianmarco: Shelf Life was driven by not knowing what the future of standup comedy was going to be. There were people saying stand up won’t come back for three years. Some people theorizing that we would never have gatherings in person again. It was very scary because I’d put all my eggs in that basket. It became a necessity to figure out how to use those skills of being funny on Zoom and then doing outdoor shows. I was really freaking out. I remember a couple months of being like, “Man, am I fucked? Am I never going to be able to pursue my dreams? Is it over?” I felt angry almost at older comedians. I was like, “You got to really do it and I’m never going to get to do it.”
So the comedy was comedy out of necessity. The thing that also made that special possible was that we were all unified. Everyone was in lockdown. Everyone was looking at the news. It gave you a common ground to play off of. So it came out of, “Fuck, we’re outside. New York is about to get too cold to do outdoor shows. I have got to make the most of this moment.”
If I were to film this special now, I would run it in full every headlining weekend for months. But because there were only outdoor shows, I ran that whole set one time featuring for another comedian in Altoona, Pennsylvania. It was wild because I’m a perfectionist. I’m trying to move past that. Because of the pandemic, I have to force myself to be like, look, you just got to make something right now. Everyone understands that it’s a pandemic, that yes, it is only twenty people outside with street noises. And that kind of gave me permission to be okay with not being perfect.
FUEL TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY
Teme: One of the many things I love about your comedy is that you identify as a pessimist, but you have great energy that is actually really uplifting. How do you maintain that energy and resiliency?
Gianmarco: As an actor, you don’t necessarily get feedback. You can be unemployed for an insane amount of time and you don’t know what to do about it. Is it you? Is it your talent? Is it your agent? As a standup comedian, you still have all those [questions], but I still work every night.
I can be in the shittiest place career-wise where nothing’s working out and I’m in a very dark place and I’m losing motivation. Then I will perform, maybe even at one of the worst comedy clubs in the world, for an audience of twenty people who are decent audience members, and I’ll do a new joke, and I’ll crush. That’s enough fuel to fight another day. It recharges me in a way that’s hard to get in other artistic professions. It’s very visceral. That’s how I knew that standup was the right thing for me. When I was doing plays, there were some nights that I was like, “Pursuing this sucks. I’m not even having that much fun.” But that’s just how much I love standup. There’s so much social media work you have to do these days and it’s very tedious. But when I get on stage at night and there’s a bunch of people there, I just feel ready to do it all over again, and it all feels worth it.
Teme: What does your comedy say about you?
Gianmarco: I think my comedy says that I’m aware of my own faults and narcissism and selfishness and I’m trying to do better. I think it says about me that I can see the ways people are full of shit, but I don’t think of myself as above those people either. I am of the world of which I speak. I have a lot of stuff about being what I consider a failed actor and a dreamer, and the fact that I’m still on stage and performing shows that I think there’s value in talking about it. Even as pessimistic as the comedy might be, the fact that I’m doing it is a testament to the belief that I still think the art is worth making. I still think that we should gather in groups and laugh about these things. So I think my art is very cynical, but I think anyone who makes art is quite the optimist.
THURSDAY NIGHT AT THE LINCOLN LODGE
Teme: Of course, I want to ask you about your show in Chicago! What would you like people to know?
Gianmarco: It’s going to be very sharp. It’s going to be dark. It’s going to be a fantastic show. If you’re into the Anthony Jeselnik type humor and twists, Mulaney and Sebastian Maniscalco, I got plenty of that. It’s going to be the best that I have. So if you got a fucking sense of humor, you like to complain, if you’re Jewish of course, or if you identify as Jewish, even if you’re not, it’s going to be a very fun time.
Teme: What’s your favorite thing to do in Chicago when you’re not on stage?
Gianmarco: I’ve only spent a little bit of time in Chicago and that’s why I’m dying to find what else to do there. Every time I go there, I try the pizza and I ask myself, “Okay, which is better?” So I’m definitely going to get another deep dish pizza while I’m there, but I’m just trying to stay warm. That’s all I think about when I go there, I’m like, “Fuck, why did I go here in February? I’m out of my mind!”
Teme: I know! I ask myself that same thing. What are you doing or thinking right before you go on stage?
Gianmarco: Part of me is just trying to get out of my head. I listen to music just to leave my thoughts, but I’m usually thinking about a couple new jokes and I’m like, “If this doesn’t work, I will refuse to enjoy the night.”
Teme: Do you have a most memorable encounter with a fan or audience member?
Gianmarco: Well, there’s one or two back in my single days that I won’t mention for this. It’s been a weird time with COVID. One woman at a casino was celebrating her 70th birthday and she wanted a picture. She was annoyed because I wanted to keep my mask on. I was like, “I’m doing this for you. I’ll be fine. I’m in my early thirties. This is your 70th birthday. What are you doing out? Are you out of your mind?”
Once, when I joked about a pharmacist telling me that I could mix the booster and the original [vaccine brand], this audience member said, “Oh, I didn’t know you could mix. I’ll go get my booster tomorrow.” I was like, “I’m glad, but is this how you get all your medical advice? At comedy shows? I’m right. But this is wrong.” I felt like I was the anti-Joe Rogan in that moment.
Teme: What is something unexpected about you that people might be surprised to know?
Gianmarco: Other than I have a girlfriend willing to put up with me, I have plenty of fans that are surprised that I’m straight. Every time I post a picture with my girlfriend, I swear I lose a couple hundred follows on Instagram. Hmm. I love doing escape rooms. That’s definitely what I’m going to do while I’m there, if I can find enough people to do one with me. Despite how negative I can be, I love group activities. I love social interaction with a common goal. I think it curbs my social anxiety. So that’s what I’d say, that I’m always down for an escape room and I hope someday I’m known for that so people invite me to do it with their friends.
Teme: What is a question no one’s ever asked you, but they should?
Gianmarco: I don’t know if I’m in a place to say it, but fuck it. Based on my parents’ divorce, I would say the key to a successful marriage is to arrange a life so if you got divorced, you would both be okay. Whenever there’s not a sense of independence, it creates shaky ground. Then if there is a divorce, it’s chaos, financially especially. Chaos.
If you are not preparing life for the worst that can happen, you’re not preparing yourself for the reality and so you’re not able to enjoy it fully. People think cynicism means you can never enjoy anything. But cynicism, I think, can be about being able to prepare for the future. I have a lot of friends getting married, having kids, and you see them believing that they’re somehow special and so they don’t prepare for the worst that life can bring. But cynicism is not about not enjoying life. It’s about being ready when life is not enjoyable.
Teme: Awesome advice. Absolutely anything else we should include?
Giancarlo: Check out my comedy online. Check out my Comedy Central clip if you want to see what I’m about. If you like jokes, if you like a lot of punchlines, I’m your guy and it’ll be a really fun Thursday night.
Gianmarco Soresi is at the Lincoln Lodge on Thursday, February 17 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets and more information here.
Gianmarco’s comedy special Shelf Life is available on Amazon Prime and as an album released by 800 Pound Gorilla Records.
Listen to Gianmarco and Russell on The Downside.
Follow Gianmarco Soresi at: