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Even though Tammy Pescatelli is older than her two brothers, growing up, they were stronger and faster than she was. But they could never outrun her mouth.
“You grow up in an Italian family, that’s what we do,” Pescatelli, 51, said by phone from her home in Meadville, Pa. She’s also younger than her 11 first-cousins, all of whom are boys, so she knows a thing or two about self-preservation.
Now a standup comedian, she’ll be talking about family and more when she brings her observational humor to the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids on Saturday night, July 17. Alonzo Bodden and Mitch Fatel are joining her to launch the “Cancel This Comedy Tour,” with the slogan “Laugh! It’s Just Jokes.”
She pitched the concept to entertainment promoter Jeff Johnson of USA Entertainment Agency back in April. They’ve known each other since Pescatelli worked in the Quad Cities, where Johnson owned a comedy club, and they’ve collaborated on other events over the years.
They have an all-female comedy lineup ready to book in casinos as those reopen. Pescatelli also developed a game show to play at the end of Johnson’s “Tiger King” cast tour that debuted in Cedar Rapids last fall. It now has more than 20 dates in the books around the United States and Canada, with a U.K. tour slated for 2022.
“We’ve just always gotten along great, we’ve always seen eye to eye and collaborated on stuff,” Johnson, 59, of Fairfax, said.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 17, 2021
Where: Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
Tickets: $30, sold in pods; creventslive.com/events/veue/paramount-theatre
Starring: Tammy Pescatelli, Alonzo Bodden and Mitch Fatel
When she called with the “Cancel This Comedy” idea, he hopped onboard, with some caveats.
“I really think it’s going to work, but I said the key is, as much as this is about the First Amendment and comics being able to say what they want without being censored, you also don’t want to turn away people because they think it’s a political thing,” he said.
“I also think you don’t want to be offensive on purpose and just make it filthy. And I also don’t think we want to make it all about social issues. It’s more about freedom of speech. So I said we have to be careful how we do it. …
“I just trust in her comedic sense,” he added, suggesting they debut it in Cedar Rapids, where Johnson also kicked off tours for the wildly popular Impractical Jokers in 2012, Michael Carbonaro in 2015, and “Uncaged: The Untold Stories from the Cast of Tiger King” last November.
From the title and the “Cancel This” protest sign logo, he thinks audiences are going to get it. “It’s a really funny idea, that we’re protesting our own show,” he said.
“I just don’t like restricting an artist’s ability to sing, dance, (do) comedy, paint. It may not be your cup of tea. You may not like Dennis Miller because of his views, but you don’t try to get him not to be able to talk. That’s the basic thing,” Johnson said.
“Lenny Bruce and George Carlin and Richard Pryor — not everybody liked those people for their content, but they’ve had a huge impact on comedy and spoken word, so that’s the idea behind this.”
He said this show offers people an outlet to just go and watch comedy and not worry about what’s said. “It’s just a joke. We can all laugh at ourselves, and know we all have our own little problems, and issues and faults,” he noted.
In the beginning
Pescatelli’s “cancel this” roots stretch back to her childhood in Perry, Ohio, in the East Cleveland area. When she and her brothers picked on each other, it “was in a fun way, not a mean way,” she said. “That’s the difference. That’s why the ‘Cancel This’ (show) is such a different thing. I talk about it all the time. You had to be tough.
“We had nicknames based on your physical flaw. I have a brother Cockeye. I had an Uncle Lefty who didn’t have three fingers on his left hand, you know what I mean? We embraced it — that’s the difference.”
She likes to talk about family, including her husband, whom describes as “very pretty, but not necessarily bright.”
“Yeah, the hot kid from the slow class,” she said. “First of all, it’s true, so it’s not an insult, because it’s true — and I married him. He’s not upset, but people get upset over those terms. I married him. He’s my husband. We talk like that. He embraces it. He also knows that it’s comedy. He knows that it’s a joke.
“He knows that I love him, and he knows that this is how I pay our mortgage. So what am I supposed to talk about?
“It’s funny how, as a woman, I’ll get criticism. People go, ‘Oh, you make fun of your husband.’ OK, but for centuries in comedy, (men) have made fun of their wives — why can’t I make fun of my husband? Why am I not a strong woman and get to do that?”
She also has a brother who provides plenty of fodder.
“My youngest brother, I used to carry him on my hip, and he's the one I've written half my material about — his choices in his life,” she said, “because he’s been married more than an old English king, and he doesn't understand what it's like for us to have to bond with a new bride every couple of years.
“This is verbatim — what he said to me was — ‘None of my wives liked you.’ And I said, ‘You know who they really didn't like? You. They’re your ex-wives.’
“I think I wasn't always as funny as just a straight talker, you know?”
She said she wasn’t a class clown in school. She was a cheerleader and very straight-laced, which she attributes to having strict parents.
She was, however, very sarcastic, which has served her well.
“I never got bullied, because if they tried to bully me, I always came up with something to say. And when kids were getting bullied, I'd go, 'Next time they say that to you, say this. Use their information — talk about their father in jail.’ ”
She’s also having the last laugh in another aspect of school.
“I went back to my old high school, because my guidance counselor, in 10th grade, when I said I wanted to be a comedian, she goes, ‘No one from here has ever been on TV. If you want to be on TV, you’re gonna have to have to rob a bank.’
So when Pescatelli was in charge of doing a TV special, she took the pros to her hometown, and had some high schoolers shadow them at work.
“Not only to show them,” she said, “but to lift them up, too, in case they had a dream to follow.”
Her own dream took a circuitous route. Her parents moved to the Quad Cities when she was in college. After obtaining a degree in fashion design, she planned to head to an internship in New York in the fall. Since she had nothing to do that summer, she decided to hang out at her parents’ home.
She was just 20, so she couldn’t get into the clubs to meet people. But she liked standup comedy and thought it would be fun to wait tables at the Funny Bone, to “make some money, meet some friends and see some fun shows, and I’ll leave for New York in the fall.”
The joke was on her.
That summer, a female comedian came through, and “opened up a different idea” for Pescatelli, who thought, “I could do that.” On a dare from her brothers, she hit the stage at an open mic night. Representatives from the sponsoring radio station liked what they heard and asked her to co-host their morning show, which then turned into her show.
She stayed in the Quad Cities for four years in the early 1990s, working in radio, TV, the comedy club, Circa 21 dinner theater, and serving as a cheerleader and choreographer for the Quad City Thunder basketball team.
When she decided to pursue comedy full time, she landed her first gig at Penguins in Cedar Rapids, founded by Johnson. Pescatelli went on the road, then moved back to Cleveland, and on to Los Angeles for five months, finally moving to New York where her husband is from.
Soon she longed to recapture the Walden Pond feelings from her childhood summers in Meadville, Pa., and pass that along to her young son. She ended up selling a TV show about a wife, mother and comedian leaving Los Angeles and moving to Meadville. Titled “A Stand Up Mother,” it aired on WEtv in 2011.
“And once that was over, my husband fell in love with this town and bought a bunch of businesses,” she said. “My parents moved here to help, and we've been landlocked here with my kid ever since.” (He’s now 13.)
“You know, it's really not the Mecca of comedy. I knew that a lot of things would be sacrificed in my career by living here,” she said. “I missed a lot of opportunities being here, but I got to make a lot of football games and a lot of basketball games, so I think it all blends out in the wash.
“And then to be honest with you, I'm a real road comic, so it doesn't really matter where I live, as long as I can get to an airport.”
She honed her chops big time, winning Comedy Central’s “Stand-Up Showdown” in 2010, and before that, becoming a finalist on the second and third seasons of “Last Comic Standing,” a show that reeled in 18 million viewers.
She’s also appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. The first time with Leno was a little nerve-wracking, since the other guests were Tobey Maguire in his “Spider-Man” heyday, and the cast of “Friends.” So she just told herself, “I don’t have to make America laugh right now, I just have to make the 150 people in the studio audience laugh.”
Emerging from the pandemic, she’s ready to hit the road again — and make more people laugh.
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