Giulia Rozzi and the Art of Making Comedy That’s True to Yourself

Giulia Rozzi is a true comedic factotum – a jack of all trades – who has a well-developed talent, crucial in comedy, for making virtually any story extremely relatable. But beyond being merely relatable, Rozzi’s humor is often deeply cathartic. In fact, she has so passionately explored the cleansing nature of comedy that she even had the honor of delivering a TEDx talk on the subject.

She has already run two successful solo shows: Stupid Foreigners (which examined her experience growing up in a fairly stereotypical Italian household) and Bad Bride (which explores the finer points of monogamy, love, and especially her own divorce and ultimate perspectives on self-love). Together with Brooke Van Poppelen, she is continuing to develop a new web series, Seeing Other People, which follows the humorously pathetic attempts of two couples to find replacement couple-friends. In addition to this, she is planning to record her second comedy album this summer, tentatively titled Great Set, which promises to be even more personal than her first album, A Very Pretty Name.

I had the opportunity to chat with Rozzi about the complications of body image in comedy, the virtues of leaping from art form to art form, and what we can expect to see from her next.

Let’s start with Seeing Other People. How’d that come about, and what inspired you to do something specifically on relationship couples?

Well, Brooke gets credit for the concept. She definitely was the one that kind of came up with it. Brooke and I have been working on stuff together for years. We’ve written sketch comedy together, and we’ve written a couple other scripts together. We knew that we wanted to create a web series, and she had the idea, and then we just kind of ran with it from there. We knew we wanted to do something that was a little different, like a different take on a familiar topic, so that’s what happened. But yeah, she definitely very clearly gets credit for the initial idea, and then everything else, we did together.

Are you guys already developing another season?

Yeah. We just started writing season two, and we’re hoping to – we’re going to make it, no matter what – but we’re hoping to maybe sell it or co-produce it with a website or a network. Maybe eventually, hopefully, it could be a TV thing. But yeah, we’re definitely working on season two.

When you’re working on web series, standup, and solo shows, do you find that they all sort of overlap, creatively?

For me, personally, I think they all intersect. With a lot of my stories that I do, I’m storytelling and my solo shows cross into standup. Then a lot of my standup stuff will cross over into sketch. Then a lot of that stuff will cross over into scripts. For me, my process goes: I think of something that is funny or interesting, and I’ll try to figure out which place it best serves. There are things I’ve done on stage with standup that didn’t really hit, but then when I wrote them into a script, it was just better, because there was more space to explain it. Bad Bride is a good example of a longer piece where I get to explain things more. I also just wrote a pilot based off of Bad Bride and I eventually want to turn it into a movie that I’ll probably make on my own. I’m really in this mode right now of just trying to make as much stuff as I can.

With Bad Bride and Seeing Other People you seem to be very interested in the topic of relationships and, I guess, being on your own. Would you say relationships are your current focus?

Relationships would be pretty accurate. I’d say I try to be inclusive of all types of relationships. I really like sociology; I studied it in college. Well, I studied drama and sociology, but I found myself actually more drawn to the sociology stuff, in the sense that whether it’s romantic relationships, friendships, family relationships… I just really, really love focusing and sort of studying how people interact with each other. Probably the part of me that I used to want to be a therapist. That didn’t happen. Also probably why a lot of my comedy tends to have a very personal, sort of therapeutic side to it. I really like talking about mental health and anxiety. I guess a lot of my comedy is about feelings, which, you know, doesn’t always work on a Friday night at a club. I guess “relationships” would be the best way to describe it, but that also includes the relationship you have with your own brain – not to get too heavy – but yeah, relationships, and how the brain works, and that sort of thing. You know, pop culture stuff.

[Laughs] Right. Not so heavy on pop culture?

Well, it depends. I like Tweeting about current events but I usually try to figure out how to make it personal. I wouldn’t say my passion is writing quick quips about… like, the Kardashians or whatever.

You’d rather the topic make a sincere connection with people.

Yeah. For me, it’s all about connections. Someone saying to you after a show, “You’re really funny” feels great, and I love it. But when someone afterwards says, “God, I feel so much better about myself,” or, “I really relate to you,” that gets me really excited.

And I think that’s pretty evident. I was really impressed that you managed to make your stories on This Is Not Happening, stories about pooping in tupperware and getting someone else’s mystery-poop on your hand on the subway, relatable. How do you go about taking stories like that and turning them into relatable experiences?

Thank you! I think what I tend to do with stories is focus on the feeling, rather than the actual event. For example, with that, I’m sure not everyone has gotten shit on their hands, or shat in a Tupperware, but I think we can all relate to the experience of being horrified by something that’s happened to you, or being horrified by something you didn’t realize you had the capacity to do. I try to focus more on that, because when I teach storytelling I always say that it’s not as much about how crazy of an experience you’ve had; when someone is sharing a story, and their whole story is, “Oh, my God, it was so crazy. I did this, and it was crazy, it was crazy,” it kind of alienates you, because it just sort of seems like, “Hey, I had this crazy experience that you can’t even comprehend.” Whereas you could take a really mundane event, but if you really kind of explain it from the point of view of your feelings, desires, the embarrassment, all that kind of stuff, that’s how people really relate.

And clearly you have the experience under your belt. I saw that, a while ago, you had a show called Mortified, where people go up and read from some dramatic high school journal of theirs or just tell a story along those lines. Are those the best moments, for you? When you’re just completely in awe of what is going on around you – for better or for worse?

First, I love that you did research, because so many people don’t. And just to clarify, I just helped co-produce Mortified. I didn’t come up with the idea, so I very much want to make sure thatDave Nadelberg gets credit for that. But yeah, I mean, I guess it doesn’t have to be, necessarily, moments where I’ve been embarrassed. It sort of goes back, I guess, to that therapy place, of that confessional kind of comedy, because I think that is when you are the most genuine in your emotions, if that makes any sense. But I don’t think all stories have to be about embarrassing stuff, I just think that’s the stuff that makes you the most human. You can go up there and share a story where your event was flawless and you did everything perfect, and that can totally be interesting and entertaining. But if you add in the piece where you fucked up, or doubted yourself, or you were really afraid, or you embarrassed yourself, that’s where the humanity comes in, and that’s when I think people can relate to you. If you’re just standing up there and bragging about something you did that was awesome, that’s totally cool, but it might be a little bit harder for someone to connect to that.

Because of that, do you feel like you tend more towards one type of performance? Do you find storytelling easier than standup, which usually has to be a little bit punchier, or sketches and so forth?

You know, I wish that one form interested me more than another, because sometimes I have this feeling of being a sort of jack of all trades, master of none. I really do like all of it, and it really… I don’t know, I could be doing a storytelling show, and be like, “Yes, this is where I belong.” Then I’ll do a standup show and have the same feeling. Then I’ll do web series stuff. I can definitely say, for me, acting and writing scripts is something that I truly, truly love, and I don’t think I’ve done enough of it. I think it’s a little bit of a symptom of, well, with standup and storytelling, I can do it every night. I’m in control, and I get my voice heard, and it’s something I can do immediately. Whereas, writing a script, I have to shoot it, and then there’s a director, and then there’s an editor, and there’s a whole long process.

The same with acting. I don’t think I could ever – and I don’t mean this as an insult to actors – but I could never just be an actor; the idea of waiting around for someone to cast me would drive me crazy. I tend to lean more toward live standup or storytelling performances because of the immediate gratification and the control. But I’m definitely craving and pushing to do more stuff like Seeing Other People right now, because I forgot how much I loved it. It’s also less lonely. God, solo performance can be so lonely.

You’re not sitting around for hours, waiting to go onstage, and then bumbling around afterwards, or going to another place.

Yeah. There’s the whole thing that – I don’t know who said it – when it’s good, you get all the credit and it’s wonderful, but then when it’s bad, you get all the blame and you really have no one to commiserate with, because it was just you that felt it. After a bad set, I’ll say to my friend, or boyfriend or whatever, I’ll be like, “God, I feel like garbage.” They’re like, “What? It was great.” I’m like, “Oh yeah, you weren’t on my end.”

Word is that you’re going to be taping your second album this summer! Have you landed on a name for it yet?

I have! The name is going to be Great Set, a double entendre, like, “great set,” joke-wise, but also a “great set” as in… You get it.  And yes, I do want people to think both my sets are great. I don’t care if that breaks someone’s rule about female comics should be, like, “Wow, oh, that’s so terrible. You think I’m funny and attractive?” You know what I mean?

I definitely agree, people do get maybe too defensive of being appreciated physically as a comic at times. There’s stigma against it, or something. Although, somebody, I don’t remember who, pointed out that a lot of the album covers and specials for female comics are hyper-sexualized, whereas most guys’ specials and albums are just them doing something silly, or making a weird face, or whatever.

Well, I think everywhere women in general are more sexualized. That’s a society issue not just a comedy issue. However I think with comedy it’s tricky. I can’t speak for all female comics, let’s make that very clear, but I think it’s hard for some women to find a balance. I like wearing short dresses, I like taking sexy photos, I don’t think that should minimize me as a comedian. Meanwhile, I knew a female comic that told me she started dressing down and cut her hair short so people would take her more seriously as a comedian. I think women sometimes get faced with the choice of, “Well, you have to choose one. Either you’re attractive or you’re funny.” An agent once said he “only repped sexy skinny female comics or fat funny-looking female comics because he didn’t know what to do with the rest.” It’s stuff like that that fucks with our heads. What it should be about is about being true to yourself; if you think you’re best represented by an album cover of you in lingerie, fine. If you think you’re best represented by an album cover of you with your unibrow grown in vomiting on yourself, fine. Just make sure it represents you and not what you think you should be.

Will that be the focus of the album? Or is that a theme you’ll be touching on?

Yeah there will be a lot on gender but also other stuff. When I first started doing standup, I was fresh out of college, a sociology major, doing a lot of stuff about feminism and inequality, and social commentary, and about my family… For whatever reason, in the middle of my career, I decided that talking too much about my gender was alienating to guys, and I wanted to be relatable to guys. I decided that talking about being Italian was hacky, and I kind of made all these assumptions in my head. Meanwhile, those were the things that people would tell me, “Oh, I love it when you talk about your mom,” and, “Oh, I loved that thing you said about being a woman. I really related to it.” I guess I was going through a comedy identity crises.

I’d say, out of all of the forms of comedy that I’ve done, standup has definitely been the one that I’ve had the most love/hate with. I love the freedom; I love it when I’m on stage. I think I connect to people really well, and it’s been wonderful and it’s led me to everything else that I’ve done. I think I’ve hated it at times because it’s the art form that, for whatever reason, most often causes me to compare myself to other people. Kind of checking out, “What’s working for them? Is this cool? I didn’t book this, so maybe I’m doing something wrong.” I’ve had different moments – and I think a lot of comics have – of trying on different voices to see what would work. With this album, I feel like I’m kind of back to where I started; talking about stuff that matters to me.

I guess that would be the theme for me. I don’t know if anyone else would even notice that, but for me, I’m totally excited because I’m kind of back to the reason that I got into standup, which was really just to have a voice and connect. I’m sort of done giving a shit about the result with standup and instead enjoy the process.

So you’re looking back at the thoughts you’ve had the whole time, but you haven’t been necessarily comfortable discussing, for whatever reason.

Yeah, kind of… I’ve tried to quit standup twice over the past 10 years. I’ve made very dramatic announcements to my friends, like, “I’m not doing standup anymore!” and then start doing it again. In a sense, I’m going back to my roots, more so I feel like I’m back to being myself on stage, I’m going to talk about whatever I want, and not worry if it’s cool, or tacky, or alienating to one person or another. I’m just going to talk about what I want to talk about.

You mentioned earlier that you like the idea of comedy as a therapeutic art, and that you were interested in being a therapist. I think, in a way, you’re talking about allowing yourself to open up about the most core, essential parts of yourself, not just what you think the crowd will love.

Yeah, and I think doing my solo show was really wonderful in that regard, because it gave me space to explore deeper… Obviously the show was funny, it was definitely a comedy, but there’s a lot of dark stuff. It was very personal, and I was really nervous. It helped bring me back to what I love about performing, and it was just really nice, because so many people related to it who haven’t been married, or haven’t been in my situation, but there were parts they related to. The coolest part, for me, just as a standup, was the amount of standups that came and were like, “Oh, I would love to try doing something like this. Being at a club every night and just doing punchlines can get old. This is so cool that you were able to include that stuff, but also go a different direction.” I was like, “Oh, okay, I do know what I’m doing!” I think that’s a moment that a lot of artists have, where you’re like, “Do people even care?” It’s nice to be reminded that you’re actually doing okay, if that makes any sense.

You also did another solo show earlier in your career, Stupid Foreigners. Do you ever feel like you want to go back and touch on those topics again, because your thoughts have changed on them?

Great segue! Yeah, because I think, out of all the topics that I talk about, family has sort of been the one that I’ve been most confused on how to approach. I just couldn’t do it justice in an eight-minute set, because I didn’t want to just do cheap jokes about, “Hey, my dad’s an asshole! Goodnight!” Because he’s not. He is, but there’s maybe more to the story than that, and it didn’t always fit. I’ve been incorporating more of that into my set in a way that is a bit deeper. The thing with ethnic humor, I think, is that people roll their eyes at, “Oh, these stereotype jokes. Yeah, we get it.” But the thing about stereotypes is a lot of times, they’re true. My mom does have plastic on the couch, and my dad does call people stupid and is angry all the time. I mean, yeah, those might be stereotypes. We do eat a lot of pasta! Those are facts. I’ve been kind of going back, just figuring out a way to talk about that kind of stuff in a way that’s really genuine to me. With Stupid Foreigners, I’ve actually been working on a book proposal with my book agent about my family, and anxiety, and being raised first generation. That’s another project that I really hope comes to fruition, because I think it’s a really interesting angle.

Is that to say that you’re going to go back and do another solo show on that topic?

Yeah. I don’t think that Bad Bride is dead, by any means, but right now I want to start up some other projects that have been floating in my brain for a while. I do think, maybe, the next solo show I would do would probably be in the realm of family/mental health stuff. You know, OCD, anxiety, low self-esteem, all those really fun, fun, super fun topics.

Photo by Mindy Tucker.

Phil Stamato lives and writes in New York, where he may also be seen standing up and telling jokes.

Giulia Rozzi and the Art of Making Comedy That’s True […]