Comic still standing

Tammy Pescatelli finds the funny back home in Ohio at Funnybone

Cleveland native, Tammy Pescatelli, is coming back to Dayton; photo: Natalie Brasingotn

By Gary Spencer (Interview performed by Dana Armington)

A lot of comedians seem to come from somewhat unusual backgrounds, and that seems to be the case for Tammy Pescatelli. Pescatelli comes from a Sicilian family that lived in the decidedly non-Italian locale of Ohio.

“I grew up all over northeast Ohio,” Pescatelli says. “I was born in Ashville, raised in Perry, and lived in downtown Cleveland.”

Pescatelli’s life in a boisterous family growing up necessitated that she have a quick wit and loud mouth in order to get by, so her future career in stand-up comedy never seemed like a stretch of the imagination.

“I grew up with all boys—they were always stronger and faster and you can’t compete with them physically, but you can’t out run my mouth,” Pescatelli explains. “I was just always tough with sarcasm and things like that. I think that I used humor as my way to deflect a lot.”

Eventually, Pescatelli began pursuing a career in stand-up comedy and soon found herself cutting her teeth on the comedy club circuit in Ohio, including places familiar to longtime residents of the Gem City.

“I would go to Dayton at least once a month,” Pescatelli says. “They had a great club there called Joker’s, and it was owned by this amazing woman named Lisa Grigsby. She was one of the first women to believe in female comics and give us jobs. I wouldn’t have a career if it wasn’t for her.”

While one may think in modern times that women comics wouldn’t be subject to the type of career hurdles and discrimination that might have plagued legends of the business like Joan Rivers, Lucille Ball, or Carol Burnett decades ago, Pescatelli believes that she and her peers of the fairer sex still have to battle harder to be taken seriously and make it in what is still per capita a male-dominated industry.

“You never realize something is difficult while you’re doing it because you’re just doing it,” Pescatelli explains. “At the beginning I didn’t think anything of it because I had no expectations. You’re just trying to get to the next part of the journey, and it’s at the end of the journey you look back and realize how big the mountain was that you climbed.”

Despite such battles, Pescatelli’s comedy career has been quite successful. She rose to national prominence in the early 2000s by becoming a finalist on the second and third seasons of NBC’s Last Comic Standing and subsequently winning Comedy Central’s Stand-up Showdown in 2010. Pescatelli has also made high-profile appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The View, The Howard Stern Show, and Last Call with Carson Daly, as well as numerous bit roles in TV and film.  Her 2013 comedy special Finding the Funny became a smash hit on Netflix thanks to her ability to find the hilarity in everyday things that everyday people can relate to such as marriage, motherhood, relationships, family, and money. But around that same time period Pescatelli was encountering an even bigger obstacle than she’d ever encountered in her career.

“I had been diagnosed with liver disease so I was kind of feeling my own mortality,” she explains. “We really didn’t know exactly where we were with it and what was going to happen, so when I did Finding the Funny I really wanted to leave this legacy of laughter. Stuff happens, you go through it, and find a way to laugh at it.”

Since triumphing over liver disease, Pescatelli has gone on to still more success as a regular on The Bob & Tom Show and as part of Jenny McCarthy’s Dirty Sexy Funny shows and tours. She also stars in the 2017 film “I Am Battle Comic” about comedians who travel overseas to entertain troops in the United States military. Currently, she is embarking on a tour of new material entitled “Don’t Engage the Crazy” that thematically picks up where Finding the Funny left off.

“You find a way to laugh or else freak-outs become everyday insanity—you’re just going to make yourself crazy,” Pescatelli explains. “We all have issues, and laughter is the great equalizer. Crazy situations you need to get away from as if you walk into someone’s house and they have more than three chia pets—turn around and walk the hell out!”

While the road to fame has been anything but easy, Pescatelli is firm in her belief that anyone from anywhere can find their calling in life and be successful at it—even if you’re from Ohio.

“I had a guidance counselor in 10th grade who asked me, ‘What are you going to do?’ and I’m like, ‘I wanna be an actress,’ and she was like, ‘You’re from here, the only way you could be on TV is if you rob a bank,’” Pescatelli says. “I didn’t stick with it at first. It took me a while, but eventually I think your fate and path eventually find you no matter what.  I kinda wanna just go back and show people anything is possible.”

Tammy Pescatelli performs Thursday, Sept. 14 – Sunday, Sept. 17 at the Dayton Funny Bone, 88 Plum St. at The Greene. Tickets are $12-17 in advance. For tickets, show times, and more information, please visit Dayton.FunnyBone.com.

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Gary Spencer
Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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