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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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Homelands: The Case for Open Immigration

10 Aug

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In June, I wrote about the launch of Deca, a cooperative of award-winning journalists, and their extraordinary online success with a Kickstarter campaign that, in less than one month, raised more than double their original funding goal (a grand total of $32,627 against the original $15,000 goal).

I highlighted Deca not only because it’s an innovative model to showcase world-class writers at the top of their game, writing long form journalism that delves into the heart of important stories, but also because one of their members, Stephan Faris, is a local friend of mine. I can’t say enough about his writing talents, but I try here.

Deca’s second story and Stephen’s first piece with the cooperative came out on July 25 and is titled Homelands: The Case for Open Immigration.

Reading this piece did what I think really great journalism should do: it opened my mind, expanded my horizons, and inspired me to learn more, think more, and want to do more.

Honestly, have you ever considered the radical-sounding idea of a world where borders didn’t exist? A world without restrictions on immigration, where people wouldn’t be deported simply for trying to change countries, where people could freely choose the country that they wanted to be a citizen of, rather than it being a chance “fluke” of birth or happenstance?

These are questions and issues that are more than timely right now, and Stephan brings forth well-constructed arguments for the case, by skillfully weaving together his sources, which range from diplomats to families, politicians to philosophers, and of course, the immigrants themselves, including children.

In June, UK’s The Guardian reported on the refugee crisis in Italy in their piece Europe faces ‘colossal humanitarian crisis’ of refugees dying at sea.

Also in June, President Obama declared the surge of immigrants arriving at US borders a “humanitarian crisis.” More than 57,000 children have fled Central American countries and arrived at the US southern border since last October, according to this article in The Guardian.

The interest that was sparked by reading Stephan’s article led to me picking up a copy of the book The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging the Narcos on the Migrant Trail, which details the treacherous trip north through Mexico that Central American immigrants go through, including riding on top of a freight train known as the “train of death,” The Beast, La Bestia.

This is the power of journalism, especially when it is given free reign to delve deep into timely topics. It opens minds, educates, builds a case for revolutionary new ideas. I can’t speak highly enough about Stephan and the contribution that his reporting makes to this very relevant world issue.

To order Homelands: The Case for Open Immigration, click here (Kindle Single, $2.99).

From the Amazon page:

“As a child, Stephan Faris nearly failed to qualify for any country’s passport. Now, in a story that moves from South Africa to Italy to the United States, he looks at the arbitrariness of nationality. Framed by Faris’s meeting with a young orphan as a reporter in Liberia and their reencounter years later in Minnesota, Homelands makes the case for a complete rethinking of immigration policy. In a world where we’ve globalized capital, culture, and communications, are restrictions on the movement of people still morally tenable?

At a time when the immigration debate dominates the headlines, Homelands follows in the tradition of George Orwell’s “Marrakech” and, more recently, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s case for reparations in The Atlantic. Drawing on more than a decade of international reporting for magazines such as Time, Bloomberg Businessweek, and The Atlantic, Faris takes readers on a ten-year journey along the borders separating war from peace in Liberia, opportunity from deprivation in Kenya, and safety from disaster today in the deadly waters off Lampedusa, an Italian holiday island that has become the scene of a refugee crisis. On the way, he uncovers a series of unsettling but ultimately redeeming parallels between modern immigration practices and the policies of South Africa’s apartheid regime.

Could we really have a world without borders? What would that look like? Based on dozens of interviews with philosophers and diplomats, aid workers and small-town mayors, and a cabinet member of South Africa’s last apartheid government, Faris’s work of fearless frontline journalism also functions as a kind of futurism. Confronting questions inflaming borders in California and Texas, France and Greece, Morocco and Spain, he takes us into the depths of one of the modern world’s most complex moral dilemmas—and returns with an answer.”

I Need to Join Rome’s Comedy Club

20 Mar

No, seriously. Put this on my bucket list, immediately.

I became aware of Rome’s Comedy Club some time around the point where I started tweeting, maybe mid-last year. The minute I “discovered” them I was like, ohmygod I need to be a part of this comedy troupe. Obviously that’s entirely do-able because I have so much time on my hands that I have no idea what to do with, between raising three preschoolers as a single mom, working a day job, trying to build an online tarot reading practice in my after hours (I KNOW! this is my dirty super clean little secret!), maintaining local and international friendships with THE COOLEST GIRLS IN THE ENTIRE WORLD — just to mention a few of the women in my life who I admire to no end. And on, and on, and on. But let me tell you, there MUST be room in my life SOMEWHERE for me to audition for these guys. HOLY EFFING … seriously? I want to be Ms. Funny Pants in the dressing room in the video below because I HAVE BEEN THERE. Anyone who is 5’11” and lives in Italy has been there. I want to do a skit where the horrified saleslady looks on when I ask for SIZE FORTY ONE shoes. Basically their expressions are a mix of shock and curiosity to know that there are actually women on this planet who wear the equivalent of U.S. size 10.

Two funnies I’ll share before you watch this:

1) When I was 28 I was promoted to be the “youngest director ever” of the Rome center of a prominent study abroad programs provider with 7 centers worldwide. Since I was going to all of a sudden have to be “boss” to my former colleagues, and I was TWENTY EIGHT and looked all of SEVENTEEN, I thought, I should wear suits. It’s like how Power Rangers wear their costumes, I thought, Insta-Boss here would get more credibility by wearing proper business suits. So I go shopping (during January saldi, obvs) and start trying things on. N.B.: I HATE clothes shopping. I hate shopping in general which makes me anathema here in Italy. Whatever.

So the quote I’ll never forget when I was trying on clothes was when I came out wearing these pants with a sheer green tank top, that psuedo-silky material, and the commesse (salesladies) made me stand in front of a three-way mirror, and one looks at me and goes, “Are you wearing a bra?” OMG mortification. Um, yes. WTF. I guess I need to tighten those bra straps or something. To this day I still feel self-conscious when putting my bra on and am always very careful to tighten those straps that clearly I’m sagging in. I think the commesse are in league with Italian psychotherapists, creating complexes that necessitate deep inner work on the psyche.

2) After I gave birth to my twin girls, six months after to be exact, I came back to Italy with my lil’ family for a vacation and for the girls’ baptism. I had to get a dress for the ceremony and, ahem, let’s just say I wasn’t as svelte as I once was. I had gone up at least 2 or 3 sizes in the meantime. When I tried on one dress that I thought was cute, the commessa helpfully added, (once again as I’m standing vulnerably in front of three way mirrors in the middle of the store), “This one is particularly good for you because it easily hides your belly.” OMG. Seriously. Commesse are the masters of the “backhanded compliment.” You honestly don’t know whether to say Go F yourself or a humble, wow, thanks for that, I really appreciate it.

Anyhoo, major complimenti to Rome’s Comedy Club. Their source material is familiar to me and all expats–we spend long dinners and cocktail hours trading our ha-ha stories about life in Rome as a foreigner. OhmyGOD I have tons of ideas for their next video. I totally need to get in touch with them.