Coming Home to Comedy

New York City native Eric D’Alessandro headlines the New York Comedy Festival

| 08 Nov 2021 | 10:20

Eric D’Alessandro credits his humble beginnings growing up on Staten Island as influencing everything he does in his professional life today. And although the comedian sells out shows throughout the nation, has a myriad of social media followers and a mention in Forbes magazine, he still remains true to those roots and never forgets where he came from.

The youngest of four in a big Italian-American family — his mom is one of 11 children so “there are just people falling on top of each other” — that stressed the importance of family, food and faith, he said his background always makes its way into his material. “It’s like I don’t even have to write it, it kind of writes itself,” he explained. Through his clips on YouTube and Instagram, D’Alessandro provides his unique brand of borough commentary to everything from the “secret crime dimension” revealed through the Citizen app and the superfluousness of mailed birth announcements, to how non-Italians pronounce his last name and why California (where he now lives) needs more New Yorkers who tell it like it is.

The 31-year-old, who only began doing open mics at 24, said that what surprised him when he started standup was gaining followers in other cities from different ethnicities. “Pressure from our parents, pressure from society, pressure from culture, it’s so uniform to who we are as people and that was something that was beautiful to me — even though I’m saying it through the lens of an Italian kid, the overall theme is everything we go through,” he explained. Fans have confided in him that watching his videos and attending his shows have brought them joy through extremely difficult times, which he finds very surreal. “People always tell me, “Don’t think that this isn’t a big deal ‘cause it is for people.” And I’m just like, “I can’t believe you, but I hope that that’s true.””

As a headliner in the famed New York Comedy Festival, D’Alessandro sold out the New York Comedy Club on November 8 and is happy to be back in the city where his career began, saying, “I’ve had such luck everywhere else too, but when you come home, there’s nothing like it.”

Why do you think they are so many people from Staten Island in entertainment, like the Impractical Jokers, Vinny and Angelina [from “Jersey Shore”], Pete Davidson and Colin Jost?

Well what’s funny is that you could only name five in the history of Staten Island. It’s kind of sad that we don’t have way more. I think that’s a testament to the time and the accessibility of the internet. Before then, people don’t leave Staten Island. They don’t go to Manhattan. They don’t try open mics. It’s very scary and people very much conform here and do what you’re supposed to do. So I think, definitely with people around my age where we have more resources to kind of tap into that stuff. And Pete was just like a firecracker, a prodigy; he got on “SNL” and he was so young. But everybody else who had luck with the internet, I think that’s probably just a product of the time. But there’s a lot of funny people here, I guess they just don’t go for it, I don’t know.

What are some of the most memorable comments you’ve gotten, both good and bad, on the stuff you’ve done?

Luckily, I don’t really remember too many negative. I’m a huge fan of psychology, so when people write negative things, I always see through it. I’m always like, “Well, what are you going through? Because I don’t feel anything by this. I just know you’re going through something, you wanted me to feel some sort of pain ‘cause you’re not happy.” So I guess I make people uncomfortable ‘cause I’ll message them and be like, “So what’s going on? How’s your relationship with your dad?”

The memorable ones, I’m embarrassed sometimes, I feel like people are almost making fun of me ‘cause they’re so kind. I’m like, “You can’t mean this.” Just being from Staten Island, I’ve had, years ago, people say, “My brother overdosed and we watched your videos in the hospital and it was the first time I saw him laugh in a while.” Or I had someone tell me something tragic recently at a show and they said this is the first time she’s been out in years. She lost her son.

Tell us a funny story that happened at a show.

I might have the funniest story of any comedian, only because of the lightning-in-a-bottle moment that it was. I had a show in Booton, New Jersey. And it was in February of 2020, right before the lockdown, when we all didn’t really know what Corona was, and we were hearing something about a bat, right? And then, I’m on stage, the audience gasps, and I look, and there’s a bat flying above my head. And they were saying, “It’s a bat.” And I’m like, “Well now what do we do? I’m pretty sure this is what everyone’s worried about, something about bats.” I look up, there was a Batman poster. I was like, “Is this Batman?” I don’t know how I survived that. It was such a weird thing. I don’t even remember how I got out of that. I remember thinking, “I don’t even know what to talk about.” I just kept going, and that was it. The bat disappeared. He went and gave people the virus and that was it, I guess.

What aspects of being Italian-American inspire your comedy? By the way, it is very un-Italian of you to leave New York and move away.

Yes, very much. It’s very true. But they [his family] make up for it when I’m here and they just pile things on my plate. It’s interesting because I have this bit I do on stage where I talk about how I’m obviously so Italian-American, but I’m also really not at the same time. Like my family is not very stereotypical — they are in so many ways, but they aren’t in other ways. It’s very interesting the dichotomy of that. I don’t have off-the-boat immigrant parents, and I also don’t have “Sopranos” Italian parents. They’re very American, but obviously faith, food, church and stuff like that.

Growing up with a lot of people just creates comedy. Especially when you don’t have a lot of money. Like anybody who’s every done something profound in this life probably had humble beginnings ‘cause there’s that want and need for something better. And we didn’t have a lot of money growing up and I think, especially with your father always trying to get a deal on something and I shared a bedroom with my two brothers. I remember going to Hershey Park, you’d get in for free if you’re five, I’d be like 12, he’d be like, “Tell him you’re five so you get in for free.” Just stuff like this, it just creates comedy.

Congratulations on your engagement. I saw the Instagram post, which was really nice, where you thanked your fiancée for always supporting you throughout your journey.

Well, thank you. Yeah, it was at a sold-out show. We moved away to Los Angeles in February of 2018 and I went through a lot of crap. I was really depressed, I had nothing, I left a job, I was really far from comedy. I lost all my following, anybody who was interested in me. And I was kind of starting from scratch again, and she just wanted to go with me. She was not really happy where she was either and that moment was ... we have this habit of really materializing and kind of weaponizing engagements, I think, on social media where people use them to brag and it’s like you ruin all the romance. People just make them about who has more money and showy stuff.

And for me, it was more of an emotion of like, “Holy crap.” I know I didn’t make it, because I’m not famous or anything, but in terms of where we were, it’s a million miles from where we are now. So it was just really, really special. Whenever people ask me about her and then I say things, they always go like, “Awww,” and I’m like, “I’m not trying to be sweet, it’s a fact. Like I would not be here without her.” It’s true, she was everything to me, I would not be here without her.

Can you give us a glimpse into the set you’ll be doing for the Festival? If you’re in New York, do you make it more New York? Do you gear it towards the city you’re in?

Yeah, absolutely. People ask me that all the time. Like people from here, from like Staten Island will go, “Well how do you perform in Toronto?” I’m like, “I’m not doing jokes about the politics of like the potholes on Staten Island. What the hell do you think I talk about when I’m in Nashville?” Yes, of course, when I’m in New York I love leaning into little things that only they’d get here, which is really fun.

And my act is just always evolving; it’s always changing. If you saw me last year, there’s probably a lot of new stuff. Until I can record a special, it’s kind of evolving. I talk a little bit about just going through the politic era and Corona and trying to be in the middle; I don’t take sides, I hate politics. So there’s a lot of that, and then it’s just what makes us human.

Follow Eric on Instagram @ericdalessandro