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Stand-up Comedy in Rome with Marsha De Salvatore and Rome’s Comedy Club

3 Dec

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If you’ve never heard of Rome’s Comedy Club, it’s high time you remedied that right now, and I’m here to help.

Marsha De Salvatore is a force of nature to reckon with, in the best possible way.

Before Marsha, Rome had no stand-up comedy in English. Consider that for a moment. One woman who blazed a trail, with the odds stacked against her.

Marsha co-founded Rome’s Comedy Club with Stephanie Tyrell, who she met while they were both performing with Gaby Ford’s English Theatre of Rome. Now RCC is in its 8th season and continues to produce top-notch stand-up shows in Rome on a monthly basis. To get notifications of their show dates, send an email to romescomedyclub -at- gmail -dot- com.

Marsha is an intelligent, sensitive, boundary-breaking woman and she deserves a lot more exposure than she currently gets, so I took a moment to throw some questions her way. You can jump to her full bio here.

But first, a little bit of Marsha magic:

S: Marsha, it’s been nearly nine years now since you started Rome’s Comedy Club in 2009. This September you kicked off your 8th season with your – wait for it – SEVENTY-THIRD, yes, 73rd show – and fifth venue. Whew! Give us an overview of the biggest hurdles you’ve faced and how things have evolved since the beginning.

M: I think the hardest thing has been finding the right venue. The stand-up scene has just surfaced in Italy, and the venues are either super-loud and busy pubs with no real stage, or informal theaters. It hasn’t been easy to find the right fit for a comedy show where you want people drinking and sitting so the performers can connect with the audience.

The second problem is with the venue owners. Italians have a different way of dealing with business. Nothing is ever written or confirmed and there’s often a “we will see” mentality. I am American and that is NOT how we roll, which is why I have been ripped off by venues over money. They have also treated my audience in unfair ways and not followed through with what was decided.

The third challenge is to always guarantee a good show. Comedy is subjective, so not everyone is going to like every comic or every show. Plus, I throw in some new virgin comics in the mix, and sometimes that can create a few moments of not the strongest stand-up pieces. I don’t like disappointing people, so when I hear things like “I can’t stand that comic” or “That show wasn’t one of the best,” it is hurtful. I have had to learn that we have to take in critiques and just move on.

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S: Our society is going through a sort of watershed moment right now in terms of women’s empowerment regarding sexual harassment, and comedy is definitely a male-dominated field. This was particularly highlighted recently when the New York Times broke the story about sexual misconduct by comic Louis CK. Aside from the misconduct allegations, what struck me about that piece was just how much the power structure surrounding comedy seems to be totally fortressed by an army of powerful men, who promote and support other men both powerful and just coming up in the field, where women who even manage to break through still struggle to get taken seriously.

That was made even more evident in a recent op-ed by a one of my favorite female performers, writer Lindy West. I want to share a passage of that piece, “Why Men Aren’t Funny,” with you:

“One of comedy’s defining pathologies, alongside literal pathologies like narcissism and self-loathing, is its swaggering certainty that it is part of the political vanguard, while upholding one of the most rigidly patriarchal hierarchies of any art form. Straight male comedians, bookers and club owners have always been the gatekeepers of upward mobility in stand-up, an industry where “women aren’t funny” was considered conventional wisdom until just a few years ago.”

Marsha, what are your thoughts on Lindy’s comments here? Do they reflect your experiences as a women in the comedy field?

M: Sooooooo very true in my little experience here in Rome. I have an ex-comedian friend, Kissy Dugan, who was a working comic in the the States, but then met her Roman husband and gave it up to live here. She has been my guru in my journey doing and producing comedy. When I complain to her about these things, she often says that we are living in a small bubble compared to what it is like in the comedy scene in the US.

Italy is a VERY male dominated and sexist country—just turn on the TV. All the venue owners been male, which doesn’t help if you’re a woman and a foreigner here. That has led to many of my problems in the above question. The comedy circle is ALL men. They are not helpful and don’t share their comedy nights with me. Also, when I have asked in the past for suggestions in advancing my career with agents, they are tight-lipped, closed and NOT welcoming. Of course, they are the first ones to charm me into giving them stage time in my show—which I have—and they have gone off to become professional comics in the UK and around Europe.

In the journalistic world, I have been slammed with being a woman with (Italian daily) Il Messaggero writing a full article on me, but then using one of the RCC Italian male comics in the main photo.

Or another example: Brussels Airline contacted me for a piece on a local comic doing stand up in Rome, but the very next day they said they were no longer interested in interviewing me because they were going to go with the MALE local comic instead. That male comic is the same one with his photo on my Il Messaggero article.

It has been bad, but I would think as Kissy said, working on the road full-time in comedy in the US is probably much worse.

S: So, with all the hurdles you have had to face, some of which you fiercely managed to overcome and some which remain incredibly challenging, what keeps you going?

M: Laughter. I love doing stand up. The most challenging thing for anyone: all alone, raw, stressful—BUT once you get that first laugh, you soar to the high heavens. It’s the best feeling in the world when you feel you have connected with a room full of strangers.

S: What advice would you give a woman who wants to break into comedy, or a woman in any field where men have a “rigidly patriarchal hierarchy”? What have you learned and what has helped you?

M: To never ever stop or give up. If you stop, you risk getting comfortable and secure, which could cause you never to get back out there. If you give up, you will regret it, and I am a firm believer that life is too short so NO regrets.

I have gotten through it by screaming, venting and having an amazing support system. And to literally say FUCK IT and keep going.

S: So what new projects are you working on right now? How can we help you to promote them?

M: At the moment I am getting ready to go back to the States for the holidays. But in the new year, you will find Rome’s Comedy Club monthly shows at the Makai Surf and Tiki Bar (January 27th is the next show).

There will be some dates (TBA, in 2018 in Rome) of my second one-woman show, Marsha’s So-Called Life. It talks about the toil and trouble in the life of a Calabrese-Ohioan gal living in Rome.

My first one-woman show, DM55: You Can’t Get Blood from a Stone, will be going on tour for three shows in February. Written/directed by Kissy, in both English and Italian, the message is about my life as a thalassemia major patient and on the importance of blood donating. It has gone from the north of Italy to the south, with interviews on a popular nationwide morning show called Uno Mattina. It was also produced at one of Italy’s most famous comedy stages in Milan, Zelig.

But to help me promote: my show is always available for schools, theaters, conferences and can be adapted to the situation in both English and Italian. I can do comedy therapy workshops, DM55 for educational purposes, perform my one woman stand-up show or organize a few comics to go to any location for a show.

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S: What’s your vision for Rome’s Comedy Club in the near future and the long-term future?

M: The near future vision is to keep going as is, because it is an amazing project. Long-term, I want more and more people to know what has been created by one FEMALE person on her own, with drive, determination and a passion for making people laugh.

 S: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

M: So much to share.

The first: life is hard, and as my father says: “You got two ways to deal with it—you can hit your head against the wall and it’s gonna hurt like hell, and you lose blood, which is no good for you. Or you can suck it up, laugh, and go get ’em, tiger.”

So, world—ladies—go get ’em, tiger.

And finally: I had a show the other month where a male comedian broke down during his set because he had a bad day because his girlfriend left him. The audience was so shocked and understanding. That same evening, we had a mostly female lineup that rocked the house. High-energy, kick-ass ladies.

It was funny, and yet ironic, to see that the women rocked the house, and the sole man had a hard time because he was emotional. In a male-dominated time, whatta strange situation.

MY point in this babble is, it shouldn’t be strange. It should be a normal situation, where a person was having a hard time, and not a male/female thing.

Like everything we do in this world.


Marsha De Salvatore, with a name like that, is clearly from Ohio. To make things interesting, her parents are both from Calabria. She came to Italy in 2000 to find herself,  but got lost and found herself teaching English to pay off her fashion-college debt. She stumbled into acting while she was at it.

Being bilingual, she has worked the stage in both English and Italian.  She started her acting journey with Gaby Ford’s ‘English Theater of Rome’. where she performed in various plays from To Kill a Mockingbird to monologue shows.

After failing in her attempt to be convincing in drama pieces and coming across as funny, she thought to try stand up. In 2009, she got it together and brought her crazy life experiences to the stage. As a wise friend once told her, if you want to perform it then create it! Thus, Rome’s Comedy Club was born!

Rome’s Comedy Club is in its 8th season and keeps on growing with Marsha also going to Second City in Chicago to improve her improv and writing skills. She performs at Rome’s Comedy Club but also for various university and corporate events in Rome.

Additionally, she is actively involved in the world of medicine. Periodically she organizes blood drives to help the never-ending issue of blood shortages in Rome. Drawing from the work of Patch Adams, she has been formally trained in comedy therapy and has volunteered in the cancer ward of Bambino Gesu of Rome with La Carovanna dei Sorrisi.

She is also a speaker on comedy therapy and how using some basic principals of Improv can help everyday life. An example of her lecture is this recent link from the American University of Rome.

Here’s how you can keep up with Marsha and the gang at RCC:

SUBSCRIBE to Rome’s Comedy Club YouTube channel
LIKE Rome’s Comedy Club Facebook page: @RomesComedyClub

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