There are some âadult conceptsâ in this interview â if youâre likely to be offended by a great comedianâs honesty, please check out other entries on this blog that donât carry this warning.
Still with me? Excellent. Sam Tripoli is a comedian Iâd not heard of before The Laugh Garage had him on posters as an up-coming double-header with Nikki
Lynn Katt. I was pleased to discover him to be not only hilariously clever, but a pleasure to chat to after the gig â heâs so naturally funny off stage and generous with feedback for other comics. I hope this is the first of many visits to Australia, because as I write this, his residency at The Laugh Garage is nearly over and not enough people â comics and punters â will have had the opportunity to see him.
Donât know him from Adam
Donât know him from Adam
Weâre discussing doppelgangers, because I reckon this American comic has a touch of the John Turturros, particularly about the eyes and cheeks, but also around the mouth. And his American accent, to my ears, carries a similar Italian-American tinge. But you canât draw an eyes-and-cheeks-based comparison to John Turturro without also including Al Pacino in the mix.
âI get that too,â Sam concedes. âA little bit of youngâ I hope still young! â Al Pacino.â
This line of discussion started because, having the pleasure of doing a five-minute spot before Samâs hilarious headline performance at the Laugh Garage, I touched on âdoppelgangersâ. I say âtouched onâ â I took a wrong turn and wasnât able to make it back to my favourite bit about one of my doppelgangersâ¦
âI do that all the time,â Sam confesses. âI go up on stage and forget the whole thing. I just gotta take it slow and it all comes to me and I hope I piece it together naturallyâ¦â
Iâve got to be honest. Iâve just seen Sam
slay an audience. And not a particularly easy one, I would have thought, consisting mostly of city insurance brokers (not that thereâs
anything wrong with them, their laughterâs as good as anyoneâs; just harder to solicit in the middle of the week) and some very silent
men-in-black types (more keen to observe than actually laugh). And from the MC
through to the newbies and especially to awesome support , all the
acts grabbed the audience. Sam had âem eating out of his hand the whole time, even when spinning the darkest of scenarios.
What Iâm saying is, it sounds as though Samâs being disingeniously modest for my benefit. Onstage he looks too in control to ever be out of control.
âI never go âA to Zâ,â he says, continuing to explain his onstage modus operandi. âI just do whatever pops into my head, and try to make it work.â
Rest assured, it works. And that's probably the best way to do it â the comic letting the bits come as they will, delivering them as
they arrive, seeing where they take him. Rather than following a map through
every letter from A to Z, it is better to start at A and get to Z knowing what
all the major intersections are along the way. If audience interaction feels like the showâs taken a wrong turn, with a great comic, itâs
not a wrong turn, itâs just a detour that throws up interesting new
material on the way to the next intersection. And it may turn
out that there are much better places to pass through on the way Z after all.
Case in point was the night a member of a very boisterous audience indeed posed an unexpected question during a bit Sam does about a guy who died in the process of trying to have sex with a horse. The laughter had started to die down after Samâs punchline, but before he could move on, someone yelled out, âhow was the horse?â
âHow was the horse?â Sam echoed the question â seemingly in disbelief, but it might have been more a case of, âThank you, comedy gods, for dropping this in my lapâ than, âWhy would you even ask that?â âThe horse was fine,â he improvised, âbragging to all its friends, âyou know those people who jump on our backs and ride us around? I f*cked one of them. To death. High hoof! High hoof!ââ And then as the laughter started to subside again, he was able to move on to the next bit. Of course, youâd only know there was a ânext bitâ to move on to if youâd already seen him perform without an audience member posing that question.
Ultimately, Sam concludes, this approach to comedy constitutes âthe better way to workâ because âyou canât get buriedâ. Thereâs no wrong turn when youâre a great comic; the audience relaxes in the knowledge that you know where youâre going; theyâre there to be taken on the ride, enjoying all the sharp turns, tight corners and even the odd spot of road rage if it takes place!
Long road to get here
The reason Sam Tripoli is such an excellent driver is because heâs trained for it all his life. âI wanted to be a stand-up since the day I can remember consciousness,â he says. âThe moment I realised I was a being, I wanted to tell jokes.â Friends remember him in first grade doing just that: getting on top of his desk to perform. He is, he says, the only guy who ever went into high school with the one goal, to be class clown. âI dedicated the next six years to achieving that. Everything Iâve done was with the hopes of becoming a stand-up comic at some point.â
It canât have been easy, surely. Especially since Sam is the son of a Sicilian Italian dad and an Armenian mum. Usually the pressureâs on for a second generation immigrant to work hard and be successful, given that parents have sacrificed much to start a new life in a new country. Showbiz,
they usually reason, is all very well, but it comes later â you need an education, a degree âto fall back onâ.
âYou know what, man?â Sam sets me straight. âThe fact Iâm not pumping gas for a living â my familyâs fine with what Iâm doing.â Admittedly, Sam does tell us as part of his routine that his dadâs a bit of a gambler â a former âspecial edâ teacher who got into trouble not so much for educating the kids about odds and probability by teaching them how to play poker, as cleaning them out in the process. His mother, on the other hand, is âa bit of a celebrityâ in their home town. Irrespective, Samâs folks were âreally supportive, right out of the gateâ. Rather than asking him when heâd get a real job, they just accepted that this was the one. And perhaps that has something to do with coming from Cortland, 30 miles out of Syracuse in upstate New York. Itâs the so-called âcrown cityâ because it is the city with the highest altitude in New York.
âI didnât realise how redneck and hick it was until I left,â Sam offers. âI remember being a kid, this older guy Bobby Gambetta had a mullet. I remember thinking how cool that was, and I wanted a mullet, so I grew a mullet. I had a mullet when I was really young.â
The âwog mulletâ isnât unheard of â although, letâs face it, itâs usually embarrassingly frizzy. But such issues of identity didnât impinge on Sam until he left Cortland for the âbig smokeâ.
âI thought I was white until I moved to Los Angeles,â Sam reports. âThen I became Armenian. Cos thatâs what the town does â it makes you fit into a box, and that determines what goes on from there.â
So what other criteria must you adhere to, once put into the âArmenianâ box in LA?
âIn Los Angeles, an Armenian is angry, drives a taxi, says âbruâ a lot; the Armenian suit is a sweatsuit with dress shoesâ¦â The last one is the inversion of the suit-with-hightops look â so Iâm safely as un-Armenian as possible. If youâre not familiar with Armenian stereotypes, you are not alone.
âIf it wasnât for the Kardashians, nobody would even know who the Armenians are,â Sam says, referring to the reality show âcelebutanteâ offspring of attorney Robert Kardashian, who was a personal friend and lawyer of OJ Simpson. âTheyâre great. I love âem. Because up until that point, nobody knew who Armenians were unless you watched The Shield. Then we were just running money trains all the time; we were criminals.â Not that Sam Tripoli has a problem with that stereotype. No. His problem is, every time he went to audition for the role of an Armenian crim in LA, itâd be his Palestinian friend whoâd get it. Or his Italian friend. Even though, in every other aspect of Los Angelean life, Sam had turned from being just some American kid into, obviously, an Armenian, when it came to playing one on screen he could ânever get booked as an Armenian because they thought I was too whiteâ.
But that doesnât open up any non-Armenian roles. According to the people who cast for film and television, heâs ânot American enoughâ to play the other roles, apparently. âI canât win! Iâm like, what do you want me to wear? A gridiron helmet and sweatpants? Eat chicken nuggets shouting, âLETâS START A WAR! LETâS DO THIS!ââ
What it comes down to is that while everyone else in LA is a model or aspires to be one, heâs âa fetish! A niche!â Samâs niche is âwomen who are attracted to Armenian drug dealersâ. That, he says, is his niche, because he has a âshady lookâ in Los Angeles.
âShadyâ is an interesting concept. Samâs material deals with a lot of âshadyâ topics. Heâs even dedicated a web page to it. He translates it as âtroublesomeâ, for our benefit, the night I see him, but I think âcreepyâ would be closerâ¦
âThe whole bit comes from watching the news and just seeing some man âArrested! Committing horrible crimes!â And then they show him, and itâs like, âHow did you not know that guy was up to no good? He looks shady!â Thatâs where it came from.â
Samâs list of things that are shady include âwhite girls with dreadlocks â SHADY! Lawyers with ponytails â SHADY! Anybody who owns a sword â SHADY! Anybody who drives a taxi â SHADY! Anybody who drives an icecream truck â SHADY! White guys who always wear khaki pants â SHADY! Anybody with a gold tooth â SHADY! Anybody with a tattoo on their face â SHADY!â
them donât translate as well, like âanybody who wears an Oaklands jerseyâ.
According to Sam, the jersey of the Oakland gridiron team is, essentially, âthe
gangbangerâs business suitâ. Some of them, on the other hand, are universal, like the âcool
mumâ (or âyummy mummyâ, or âMILFâ). âIn LA, you always see some hot Latina â
sheâll have high heels, her g-string jacked up like overalls â pushing a baby
stroller. Thatâs some shady shit. I mean, Iâd still hit it, but itâs shady as
shit! Know what Iâm saying?â
shady cool mum is hittable. But there is some shady shit Sam knows to steer
well clear of. Like hitchhikers.
âAnybody who hitchhikes is a shady f*ck,â he insists, âcos that means you donât have anyone in your life who likes you enough to give you a ride. And because I know the signs of shady, Iâll never end up being the victim of some mass murderer or psycho killer like Jason Vorhees or Mike Myers because Iâve watched enough horror flicks to know that shits about to go bad. Like pickinâ up a hitchhiker. Every movie where someoneâs pickinâ up a hitchhiker, itâs like, âHey, Captain Creepy, you need a ride? Awesome. Jump in. Let me drive you to where youâre gonna dump my body. Thatâll be sweet.ââ
Indeed, Sam Tripoli has a wealth of wisdom, gleaned from cinema. âIf youâre ever in the forest and your friends are missing,â he advises, âshout for them three times. If you donât hear from them, assume their dead, get out of there. If they update their Facebook, then you know they made it back.â
But thereâs more:
âNever go camping with a supermodel. Thatâs the number one rule. If you ever go camping with a supermodel, you will die. She will get raped and you will get killed. Itâs guaranteed even money. So I never go camping with supermodels.â
Clearly, Sam grew up loving films. But, he says, he never wanted to be âa huge film starâ. In fact, he doesnât even want to be famous because, he says, he has too many vices. âI love too much freaky shit. I like weird shit and I want to enjoy those vices.â Sam harks back to the kind of fame enjoyed by the likes of Frank Sinatra, âwhere celebrities were respected: you went to a back room and and you enjoyed your vices. Girls knew you either zip it, or your take a dirt nap.â Yeah. Fame was different then. Back when celebrity was bestowed mostly upon the genuinely talented. âThese girls now are taking pictures and itâs tattle-taling. I hate it. Fame sucks now.â
Iâm not a tattle-taling girl taking pictures, and this is a public blog, but Iâm kinda curious what some of Samâs vices are. The ones heâs willing to admit to, anyway. He has got a predilection for porn, I notice, given his so-called Naughty Comedy Show (visit www.thenaughtycomedyshow.com).
âYou know whatâs interesting?â Sam asks. Initially it feels like a diversion. âEverybody talks about âtruthâ, but itâs the truth that people want to hear. People like âtruthâ when itâs something they agree with.â It is in fact a preamble for the following.
âIâve always been known as a dirty comic because thatâs who I am. I am who I am onstage. Iâm friends with porn stars. I have porn stars who are friends of mine and Iâm fine with that. I trust them more than politicians and religious figures, because they put on a faÃ§ade that doesnât exist. They donât give in to human desire. Whereas a porn star, if she told you some weird shit, youâd be like, âwell, yeah, youâre a porn starâ. You can trust them. Thereâs no shock, like, âI canât believe that!ââ
Perhaps âthe dirty comicâ is who Sam always was, but it seems he hadnât totally given in to his âshadyâ side more recently. He admits he used to be a âvery politicalâ comic â until he realised, after the 2004 United States Pesidential Election, that it no longer mattered.
âI saw George Carlin on Real Time with Bill Maher,â Sam recalls. âThey kept asking him about politics and he kept saying, âI donât careâ and it didnât play well. But I got it. âIt doesnât matter. It doesnât matter.â I realised that, after this guy committed all his war crimes and they re-elected him. âWhy am I up here preaching about this shit when they donât even give a f*ck?â So all my stories on stage now are real stories from my real life. Thatâs what Iâm working on right now.â
Real stories. About real life. In Samâs case, that does mean, at the very least, âshady'. And we have strong elements of it in the local comedy scene, heâs pleased to note. âThat's something Iâve really liked about working with the up-and-comers out here,â he says of his Australian visit. âTheyâre smart and thereâs some dirtiness. In LA theyâre either one or the other: theyâre either intellectually trying to jerk themselves off, or theyâre actually jerking off on stage.â
The other truth Sam is embracing is the fact that, by a certain age, men have started to wonder what their âlegacyâ will be. âWhat are we gonna be remembered for?â he asks, pointing out that men are remembered for three things, essentially: âcreating something great, achieving something great, or going on an amazing crime spreeâ. Iâll give you three guesses which of those things shady Sam Tripoli most wants to be remembered for. But youâll only need one.
violent,â he says. âIâd never hurt anyone, but I just want to go on a great crime spree.â
What? What sort of crime spree can you go on that doesnât hurt someone at some level?
âI want to go on a crime spree of awesomeness where people go, âthatâs the shit!â Thatâs where Iâm at. Thatâs the kind of person I am. I wanna be the Robin Hood of sex, laughs and bad decisions. I wanna steal from the rich and give it to the girls who want to party. Thatâs all I wanna do.â