Being a “weird” kid gave Eric D’Alessandro a leg up on his career as a comedian.
“When I was 11 I had a video camera, which was strange to see back then,” said D’Alessandro, who brings his stand-up act to The Straz’s Jaeb Theater Friday, July 14. “Now, every junior high kid is making videos on TikTok and stuff, but back then it was kind of weird.”
Unusual but also purposeful. Eric and his friends were straight-up comedy geeks and the video camera was instrumental for creating comedy sketches. It also put him ahead of the pack when video-sharing site YouTube arrived on the scene.
“My friends and I would learn about up-and-coming comedians like you would a baseball player in the farm system,” D’Alessandro said. He and his friends, he said, were onto comics such as Dave Chapelle and Bill Burr before they blew up. “I grew up in a great generation with lots and lots and lots of comedy, comedy movies, comedy TV shows and Def Comedy Jam. And we were just obsessed with it.”
When YouTube came out, Eric had “already been doing this stuff for years. I knew how to edit and add music and stuff like that,” he said. “That gave us a head start because we were already nerds into making videos.”
Eric’s videos began to attract a following, particularly among friends, family and fellow inhabitants of Staten Island. Characters such as Maria-Marie emerged in videos that lampooned about every Italian-American stereotype imaginable.
Far from getting any push-back, Eric said, his fellow Islanders ate up the skits.
“People love seeing themselves represented,” D’Alessandro said. “If I wasn’t an Italian from New York, it might not come off that well,” D’Alessandro said. “But I am part of this community and I think they trust that my intentions are good. I’m not trying to make fun in a negative way. It’s more just having fun with who we are as a community.”
Eric didn’t want to confine his humor to Staten Island. Or the Internet, for that matter.
“I’ve worshiped standups for so long that I think deep down I’ve always really wanted to do that,” Eric said. “I just didn’t know how.”
He found out soon enough, and with his girlfriend (now wife) along for support, begin hitting open-mic nights at comedy clubs.
Eric D’Alessandro and Leanna D’Alessandro (2022).
“We would just go to these places and there would be four other comedians in the crowd and that was it,” D’Alessandro said. “Even if you’re funny, they’re nervous to go on stage so they’re not even listening to you.”
Eric was not easily discouraged.
“That stuff just makes you good because getting really comfortable with silence is a superpower,” he said. “I think a lot of people are afraid of speaking in front of people, but the more you do it, the better you get.”
When his stand-up career stalled in New York, D’Alessandro decamped to Los Angeles in a now or never shot at celebrity. He scoured the city every evening for open mic nights.
“I did not take my foot off the gas. … I just kept going,” he told Staten Island Live.
D’Alessandro also revitalized his online presence, posting every day.
“We live in the modern-day gold rush, where if you post a lot, you’re almost guaranteed to succeed,” D’Alessandro said.
That may not hold true for every hopeful internet personality but it appears to be working for Eric. He’s amassed 527,600 followers on TikTok, 298,000 on Instagram, and 124,000 on Facebook.
He’s still fond of the sketch comedy he first gained an online audience with, but stand-up has become his chief mode of expression.
“Standup, that was kind of who I really was,” Eric said. “Because you have total control. You don’t have to rely on a director or a producer or someone writing your lines. It’s all you.”