When lifetime Bensonhurst resident Rocco Deserto was growing up, the last thing he ever imagined he would be was a stand-up comedian.
I never knew I could do comedy, Deserto said. I just thought I was a funny fat guy.
That was before a six-week course at the famous Manhattan comedy club Carolines on Broadway, helped him realize his natural gift. Twenty performances later, Deserto is already a rising star in the stand-up circuit, earning a headlining spot at Carolines on Tuesday, May 1, at 7:30 p.m., as part of the clubs Breakout Artist Comedy Series — a booking that continues to shock him.
Ive never been speechless in my life, but I was actually speechless, Deserto said, recalling his initial reaction to the headlining offer. When I got that email, I didnt know what to do.
Watching Deserto onstage, its not hard to understand why his ascent to headliner has been so rapid. His delivery is direct, but unforced, and he has a relaxed demeanor that subtly draws the viewer into his world. Although he appears to have no fear while performing, Deserto admits to being affected by the same nerves that plague all comedians.
Were all nervous onstage, he said. We just dont let the audience know that.
Deserto believes that if a comics selected subject matter is authentic, it is easier for him or her to execute it with an air of authority.
If you know your material, and your material comes from an honest place, youre always going to be confident, he said.
And part of his own authenticity, he admits, comes from incorporating stories from the neighborhood.
If I wasnt from Bensonhurst if I was from Saskatchewan I probably wouldnt be as funny, Deserto said.
But when it comes to getting area residents to his shows, he says it hasnt been easy.
A lot of people dont want to support someone local theyd rather support someone from Nebraska than someone from the neighborhood, he explained.
It is a challenge that he blames on reality television.
Ever since this Jersey Shore nonsense, everyone is afraid youre going to embarrass the neighborhood, Deserto said.
Yet, his standup routine focuses less on Bensonhurst and more on himself, particularly his struggles with his weight.
You come to know when youre fat, the sample guys at the food court get excited that youre coming, he quips in one stand-up routine.
But he says his material is more personal than just generic jokes about his weight.
If your jokes really come from you, no one can steal them, Deserto said. You can put another fat guy up there and have him say my jokes, but its not going to come across the same.
It would be unlikely that any such joke filcher would have the natural stage presence of the 25-year-old Deserto. And no one is more surprised about that fact than he is.
What I always hear from people is Im very likable on stage, Deserto said. When I see people [offstage] I think I have a screw you face, he said. But onstage, Im very likable.