You step into the center. The lights are bright, almost blinding. Sweat dribbles down your brow. Heart races. You stare forward, you daringly look them in the eyes. The crowd is cheering. The adrenaline kicks in. You do your best for the toughest six-minutes of your life.
This could describe both approaching the wrestling mat, or stepping on stage to do standup comedy. Meet Alex Giampapa, who has done both and more. He’s a state champion and All-American collegiate wrestler who turned comic, host, and show producer.
I had Alex wrestle a few As out of my Qs… which now I realize sounds dirtier than I initially intended.
Nickname you hated the most growing up?
My last name’s Giampapa so I have a ton of nicknames. Probably the worst is when people sing, “I love it when you call me Giam-PaPa!” to the tune of “Big Poppa” because that’s a joke I’ve heard literally thousands of times in my life.
You regularly perform both in Boston and in the more mural areas of New England. What differences have you noticed between performing comedy in different areas of the region?
There’s tons of differences, which is why I find it so important to travel in order to become a better all-around comic (and person, really!)
Politically, they’re more conservative out there so just yelling ‘I don’t like Trump!’ doesn’t get an applause break like it does around the left-leaning city. It’s pushed me to present political material not as preaching what’s right—but simply how I see the situation, because of who I am. So instead of pretending that everything I think is the ‘correct’ opinion, I’ve moved more toward material like, “I was a Bernie Sanders guy, but like a lot of Bernie Sanders guys, I had never paid taxes before.” Once I criticize myself a little, they’re cool with me criticizing the conservative agenda a little bit as well.
I’ve also noticed that out in small towns they tend to appreciate shows a little more. The city is my favorite place, but every crowd had seven other things they could’ve done that night so there’s generally a real “impress me, clown” vibe going on. In smaller areas, the comedy show is the big thing to do that night—so while they may not be as open-minded about certain subjects, they do tend to lean in and listen a little bit more closely.
Material about family, crowdwork, and stories tend to play better out in “the sticks,” while more “smart” material, wordplay, and political stuff hits a little harder in the city. With that said, they’re ultimately all just people and I try to make sure my jokes work everywhere—or as close to everywhere as I can get.
About a year ago you lost your job and have been financially supporting yourself by performing and producing shows. What’s the biggest key to staying financially stable when you don’t have a fixed income from a day job?
For the record, we split ways on a good note but I’m also pretty sure they were tired of me punching out early on a Monday to drive up to tell jokes at a crepe restaurant in Vermont.
I’m fortunate that I’m young, so I don’t have a mortgage or family to pay for. As far as managing funds, I just set a tight budget for myself and follow it. I don’t go out and party, I don’t drop $14 on smoothies—most of my free time is spent writing or performing, so instead of spending money on hobbies, I’m generally making some. I’m very, very lucky to be enjoying what I do for work.
You suffered a few devastating injuries from wrestling. Do you think those injuries changed the trajectory of your life?
I think about this a lot. I tore my ACL, MCL, and PCL senior year of high school, and then actually herniated a disc in my back while wrestling at nationals in college. I ended up starting the show that fully launched me into stand-up, the Comedy Zoo, that next year because I couldn’t wrestle—so in a lot of ways, it was actually a good thing that the injury occurred. My back still hurts though.
Wrestling and comedy are both solitary activities, do you think that played a part in your decision to become a standup as opposed to more group related activities like acting or improv?
Totally. I’ve almost always preferred working alone. There’s still a team aspect—i.e., during wrestling your individual match determines points for your team, and during stand-up your individual performance determines how the rest of the show is going—but I like the idea that I’m responsible for myself. If I do poorly, I suffer the most. If I do well, I benefit the most. To me, that’s the most fair way to shake everything out.
You’ve produced both public and private shows. What’s the differences in putting together shows in a public venue, like a bar or club, as opposed to a backyard or someone’s basement?
Basically, at a private venue (or residence, more accurately) you’re making less money but have more freedom. So all money coming in has to be a donation, but you’re allowed to do stuff like smoke inside or BYOB. I like the vibe of a show at a house—you know, showing up in sweatpants and such—but also can’t undermine how important the actual business aspect of comedy is, but there’s also something very special about people dressing up and going out to a comedy club to see you.
What is your current music player of choice and the most embarrassing song in it?
My phone is packed to the brim with almost entirely ignorant hip-hop. I have a lot of Katy Perry on there, but it’s way more embarrassing to watch me listen to DMX while I’m alone in the car. I’m better at barking than he is at this point.
What’s the deal with the show?
The show’s going to be at OnStage Dance Company‘s location in Malden. They’re really trying to build up the arts scene over there, which I think is awesome. We have several comics who have been on TV who were nice enough to do the show, including Dan Boulger (Comedy Central, Craig Ferguson) and Emily Ruskowski (FOX). Tickets are $20, and I encourage anyone with any questions (including group rates) to reach out to [email protected] or check out alexgiampapa.com.
Catch Alex this weekend at Comedy OnStage in Malden and Stand Up At The Green Room (the Armory) in Somerville.