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Francesco de Carlo: Comfort Zone

By | Published on Thursday 1 June 2017

It’s been a while since we last saw Italian comedian Francesco De Carlo performing in the Scottish capital, specifically when he delivered his first solo show in English back in 2014. Our reviewer loved that set, so we were pleased to hear that he is heading back to the Fringe this summer with a new one, ‘Comfort Zone’.
To find out more about the show, about De Carlo’s career thus far, and why he’s ended up being resident in the Brexit Britain, I arranged to have a quick chat.

CC: Let’s start at the start for people who don’t know about the start. How did you come to be a presenter on Rome’s Radio Globo and how did that morph into a comedy career?
FDC: Well, that’s one of the strangest parts of my life! I was a little depressed about my experiences in a previous job at the European Parliament – a serious job – so I decided that I wanted to change everything and that I would become a comedian.

Within a couple of weeks I found myself with a job doing prank calls on the radio… a huge change. The show became very popular – all my friends were totally shocked about how quickly I went from boring discussions about Brussels to making silly phone calls to random people.

It was good for my personal mood – and I created some very strong friendships along the way – plus I started to enjoy making people laugh.

CC: What is the stand-up comedy scene like in Italy – how does it differ from the UK
FDC: It’s a totally different market: fewer comedians, fewer comedy shows on the radio and TV, and – most notably of all – almost no comedy clubs. That has an impact, because it’s via the everyday club work that you can develop a unique voice for your comedy and find your own style.

Italian comedy is traditionally based more on characters and imitations, though I think that the new generation of Italian comics are now more interested in stand up – and all around Italy we are seeing more and more stand up gigs taking place, and the audiences are growing.

CC: What made you decide to start doing comedy in English?
FDC: I always loved British comedy. I’m a huge fan of your classics. Plus, in English I can talk to a bigger audiences, even if the competition here is fierce, because there are so many good comedians. But working with them is a good way to get better.

CC: Talk us through that first Edinburgh experience. How did it go? 
FDC: I had so much fun. I joined a group of international comedians from Russia, France and Germany, and we played altogether with Eddie Izzard and Dylan Moran in an incredible show called ‘Comedy San Frontieres’. It was amazing.

And it was very useful for building friendships with other comedians, which are really important, especially at the Fringe where you need to share the stress of performing in Edinburgh with people who are going through the same thing. The Edinburgh Fringe is a great experience, but it is also very ‘demanding’ – that’s a word I learned that Festival, because everybody was using it!

CC: Given the successes you’d had back home, what was it like coming to a festival where you were seen as a new act?
FDC: One of the best things about doing gigs abroad is that the audience have no expectations. So, it’s interesting to see how they react to your material, without knowing your background. That’s why I believe it’s very important to be honest on stage and introduce yourself in a proper way. People in the UK have a very good approach to newcomers; they want to see something new and different, without any prejudice.

CC: When performing for a UK audience, can you simply translate your Italian material? Or do you need to write specific material for a British audience?
FDC: Most of my material is about me, my experiences and my points of view about life, so it’s very easy to translate. Obviously I have to be careful with references, but generally 75% of my show is the same in both languages.

That said, there will always be some differences. Even if I’m talking about personal or universal stuff, I believe that the sensibilities are different. And, of course, the UK is living through a very peculiar historical moment just now, which is why I wrote a lot of new material specifically for the British audience for this show.

CC: Did performing in English open doors for you beyond the UK? Does performing in English give you an advantage on a global basis?
FDC: Absolutely. And it was the plan from the beginning. Since my first Edinburgh run, I’ve gigged in South Africa, South Korea, Canada and in several European countries. Comedy is a global language and it has been incredible for me to travel so much. And it was really useful for my personal growth: when you travel, you meet new people, you have new experiences, basically you have new material. That’s part of my new show.

CC: Why did you decide to relocate to the UK?
FDC: Simply because it’s the best place for a comedian. You can improve yourself here and understand where you are as a writer and as a performer. The UK has always had the best comedy, music, art and  theatre. I would like to understand the historical and cultural reasons behind this unbelievable condition. Also, after the Brexit referendum, the UK’s society is in turmoil, and personally I love turmoil.

CC: Ah yes, Brexit. What was it like watching the European Referendum campaign unfold?
FDC: It was weird. I always thought of the UK as a place open to the world. Now you can see that the majority of the country wasn’t so happy about that. I believe it’s good that we start to understand that we cannot idealise society any more. We have to engage with different people if we want to predict events.

CC: Given your time working at the European Parliament, do you think EU leaders – and the Remain campaign – could and should have done a better job defending the institution during the campaign?
FDC: Obviously. If you lose, it means that you didn’t play so well. But it’s very hard to make people understand complex messages and reality is very complex.

The Leave campaign had an easier job, because they could talk to the guts of the people, with very simple and very effective slogans. That’s why populism is so popular everywhere, because traditional parties don’t know how to explain to people that life is full of problems and that solutions are not easy to find.

Also, I think that – even though I will always believe in the dream of a more unified Europe – the European Union is very hard to defend, because it’s perceived as a bureaucratic institution far removed from its citizens.

CC: Has the Brexit result changed your view of Britain? Do you still want to live here?
FDC: No, it hasn’t. I will always want to live here. And I love history: we are living an historical moment and it’s great to witness it.

CC: Tell us about ‘Comfort Zone’, what are you trying to achieve in the show?
FDC: I believe that my generation has a lot of responsibility for the things that are happening in the world. We are very good at blaming other people, but I think that if we are so shocked about the results of elections and referendums it’s because we’ve spent too much time  in our own comfort zones, maybe watching TV series and reviewing restaurants, which are my favourite things to do!

CC: We are living in an era of lively, dramatic and sometimes worrying political debate. Does that make political comedy more attractive, for both performer and audience members? 
FDC: During Berlusconi’s government in Italy we had an explosion of satire. But making fun of politicians can sometimes be counterproductive, because it helps make them familiar to the audience. And if you don’t like the politicians, watching that satirical show sometimes makes you feel that you did something to stand against them, but in reality you just laughed at them and clapped your hands. Satire is not politics. In Italy we are still debating whether or not these kind of shows are actually helping the political elites.

CC: Are you looking forward to returning the Edinburgh Fringe once again?
FDC: I would love to do it every year, but it’s very hard to write a new show every year. It takes a lot of time and thought. I’ve worked on this 2017 show for the last three years and I really hope that people will like it.

Francesco De Carlo performed ‘Comfort Zone’ at Underbelly George Square at Edinburgh Festival 2017.

Photo: Snej Shandarinova