views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Giacinto Palmieri: Italian Misfit
The Camden Head
11th August 2013


Giacinto Palmieri

Photography © Giada Garofalo

With the best will in the world, comedy by a non-native speaker can be lost in translation, the nuances of one language not lending itself to turns of phrase in the other. Alternatively, it can be excellent - having recently seen someone wring a staggering number of laughs from a story about dating, while speaking entirely in her Swedish tongue. It proves a lot about delivery, at any rate.

For Palmieri, words simply weren't a problem. On top of his day job and stand-up sideline, he translates comedy which (as he's happy to tell us) means you have to take into account meaning, innuendo, prosody and pick the perfect word on any occasion. In fact, with his material on prepositions and idioms, he seems to know more about the English language than the English. He uses this to keen effect, pointing out the ridiculousness of both Italian and English terms - highlighting the effect of swearing in native and foreign tongues getting away with gleefully dropping the c-bomb over and over. But it's earned, it's deserved.

The whole concept of his show are things that have (and haven't) happened to him in the last year. The bits that haven't happened in the last year, of course, have happened previously so he's never struggling for material. It's a hodgepodge that bobs along with audience members pulling subjects out of a hat. This is justified with the explanation that he finds it forced to create a true narrative in his show as life has no narrative. And while this may just be an excuse, it lets him off the hook mainly because I love hearing comedians talk about their craft. Which he does. Even when he's not rib-tickling, he's an interesting watch. And this strand is brought to its logical conclusion with his admission of having no ending, as "that's life"!

Between anecdotes on visiting Australia, Japan, getting a new job and going to the opera (which do shift in terms of quality) he casually tosses in a series of asides like landmines, waiting to blow the socks off the audience. There were a number - a gag about being so embarrassed by Berlusconi that he wishes he was born elsewhere - that really didn't get the laughs they warranted and lesser comedians would have built a whole set around. To not do this, to be so casual, is to straddle the thin line between madness and genius.

Less successful were some very Italy specific references. Fair enough, most of it was Anglo-centric enough not to alienate, but references to very niche Italian politicians dropped like a lead weight. Equally support act Romina Puma was vivacious, cheeky and gregarious, an Italian Jenny Eclair, but not quite as in command as Palmieri. Saying that, Puma's appearance seemed to settle Palmieri's nerves and help him feel more at ease.

Whatever your preconceptions of such funnymen - perhaps you think they're more like Andy Kaufman's Foreign Man character, or are sick of Gina Yashere's 5,000th Nigeria joke - there's no question Palmieri is whip-smart. He might not be as polished as some, but he's certainly sincere. Honing his craft would make him excellent, but for now he's just clever and disarming - not a bad combination.

Giacinto Palmieri: Italian Misfit ran from 10th to 11th August, and will next run on 17th and 18th August 2013, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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