Does hype help or hurt a performer? Hard to say. On the one hand, it’ll generate publicity and sell tickets. On the other, it will increase expectations.
Is Australia’s Joe Avati a “comedy superstar”? Is he “one of the biggest names in international comedy”? Do they even keep a record of fastest-selling comedy tickets in Canada, and if they did, wouldn’t Russell Peters hold it? Has anyone with any significant knowledge of comedy or the American comedian ever called Avati “the Italian Jerry Seinfeld”?
The fact that some in the media parrot what’s fed to them in press releases shouldn’t reflect one way or the other on the subject of all the fake hysteria. Joe Avati deserves to be held to realistic standards.
The Aussie has been performing for 12 years now, and what is true is he’s developed a nice cult following on three continents. As any comedy veteran will tell you, it takes about 10 years for a standup comic to truly get good at the craft. So Avati is just starting to come into his own, comedically speaking, even if he was touring the world prior to that.
“I got thrown in the deep end after about four years,” he told the Straight at a Vancouver hotel before the start of his Canadian Back to Basics tour, which will hit the Red Robinson Show Theatre on Friday (October 12). “I was pulling about a thousand or two thousand people a night when I was 27, after only four or five years of doing standup. So I really had to learn a lot. It’s a great art. It’s a great challenge to be able to take an audience on a journey and to build them up to a frenzy where they’re giving you a standing ovation.”
Was he worthy of the adulation?
“I look back at videos of me performing back then and I remember what people used to say to me. They used to think it was fantastic. But looking back now, I’m thinking it wasn’t as good as what it is now. But it was obviously good enough.”
Avati says his show is much slicker now and he’s much more comfortable on-stage. He describes himself as “very shy”, saying he’s just learned to be a performer by getting out there and doing it. “I still get embarrassed by it,” he says. “Some performers want to see the audience. I don’t want to see anybody. It’s much easier for me to perform to darkness.”
As a kid, his father was worried because young Joe simply wouldn’t talk. “What I was actually doing was observing and absorbing all the things I’d see and then blurted it out onto the stage over the last 12 years.”
His bread and butter has always been the Italian-immigrant experience. When I saw him early in his career, I sat confused, as every punch line was spoken in Italian. But that, apparently, was also part of his learning curve as a comedian, because now, he says, he does more material in English and he’ll translate the others for us non-Calabrians.
“In the last few years I’ve spent a lot more time doing shows completely in English, with no punch lines in Italian at all. And it’s translatable,” he says. “But having said that, I’ve managed to reach a critical mass of an audience anyway. There are enough people coming to the shows so it satisfies what it needs to satisfy. I don’t need to be performing to hundreds of thousands of people each year. All I need is 50,000 or 60,000 people and that’s fine.”
Joe Avati plays the Red Robinson Show Theatre on Friday (October 12).