“An Armful of No Potatoes”: Gianmarco Soresi on Being an American Comedian Traveling Europe

Comedy Features Gianmarco Soresi
“An Armful of No Potatoes”: Gianmarco Soresi on Being an American Comedian Traveling Europe

Gianmarco Soresi only sold one yarmulke during the European leg of “The Lean In Tour.” After performing in Barcelona and Edinburgh, he finished up in Dublin, where I saw him perform at Liberty Hall Theatre on May 27. Despite being rife with Jewish history—Soresi joked that Nazi punchlines hit harder in Europe because some in the audience go, “He’s talking about grandpa!”—his European shows are lacking in Jews themselves. I became part of the show after being the only audience member excitedly raising their arms in response to Soresi’s search for fellow Semites among the crowd. 

It’s impossible for Soresi not to stand out: his lanky six-foot-four frame restlessly bounced around the stage for more than 100 minutes, stretching and lunging and bending and leaning (or, as his press kit corrects, Pliéing). At one point, he mounted his stool to mime small-dicked sex. As with much of his material, Soresi drew this anecdote from his life, a practice he’s been perfecting since 2016 when he performed an autobiographical play that kindled his love for stand-up comedy. Soresi went to college for Musical Theatre, but the success he found wasn’t through acting in Baby Bottle Pop and General Electric commercials—it was on TikTok and YouTube talking with a crowd. 

“It feels like I run a TV network. I’m constantly pumping stuff out,” Soresi tells me the day after his show. He’s spending part of his only full day in Dublin with me crammed into a tiny room in a pub—the bartender and nearby sign denote the space as the “Shit Talking Cozy.” 

I first found Soresi about a year ago through clips posted online. Many of the stories he pulls from the audience—from NASA interns using Bluetooth sex toys to one of his openers having a can of beer thrown at her (don’t worry, it missed and she went viral)—are absurd, and he pounces on the weirdness with his own scathing responses. The speed at which his team edits his sets is astounding, with most arriving on social media only a few days after the performance. He sometimes will even tweet a joke told at the set out the next day, drip feeding humor in various forms for those not able to see him live.

Soresi doesn’t generally like asking questions about audience members’ jobs or lives—it gets too chaotic. Instead, he listens for loud cheers or off-tempo laughs: “I find that some of my best interactions start because I hear someone laugh in an intense way or different way and I feel there’s a story there,” he explains. “I think of [the audience member] as a scene partner.” 

Crowd work is a gamble: a comedian banks on someone in the audience saying or doing something funny and hopes they can mine it for humor. While it can make for entertaining interactions, it can just as easily halt the show’s momentum. Accents can make things even trickier. One conversation with an audience member spawned a handful of German jokes before they corrected Soresi: they were from Turkey. He responded simply that it was a good thing he heard German because he didn’t have any jokes about Turkey at the ready. Sometimes, his blindspots can spark an educational discussion, like when he performed in London on Guy Fawkes day and someone in the crowd explained the holiday’s significance. 

Soresi describes good crowd work as a balancing act; he wants to be bitchy while making sure the audience member he’s ribbing is in on the joke. He grills some attendees, particularly “older, straight white guys,” harder than others because he believes “they can take it,” while playing it safe with others, like younger queer or trans people. 

“Ultimately it’s better [to be nice] than hurt someone’s feelings or make them feel isolated,” he says. “But when I feel I’ve gotten to be my version of the comedic jerk in a way that works and everyone feels like they’re having a good time, that feels great.”

This sensitivity for when to be insensitive allows Soresi to make jokes about other identities without insulting them, as too many comedians have taken to doing. 

“I try to make clear in the set-up what my views are and then the punchline can go wherever it goes,” Soresi explains. His jokes with trans people show this value best. In one story, his transphobic friend saves a trans woman’s life when she falls in the street, something Soresi believes he couldn’t do despite his vocal allyship. In another, he runs into an old college roommate who has transitioned, which is great because he forgot their name. 

As he puts it: “The heart of the joke is that I’m a trans ally; the punchline is [that] I’m a narcissist.”

Soresi doesn’t espouse his political beliefs for personal benefit. He admitted to cringing at this kind of praising “claptor.”

“I don’t want to get praise for a morally correct opinion because it’s too easy and because that’s not what people came for. I’d rather them feel my morality underneath my art than have my morality be the art itself,” he says. For Soresi, comedy shouldn’t be mere kvetching, but a joke that comments on life through absurdity and satire. 

“I’m here to play with where we are as a society,” Soresi says. He doesn’t say it like it’s bold or revolutionary, just matter-of-fact.

I ask Soresi if he considers himself a traveling comedian, and without a pause he responds, “For sure.”

“I am a tour; my life is a tour, at least right now,” Soresi tells me. He estimates that he spends about 30% of his life traveling from one place to another, and his resumé reflects that: sets at Just for Laughs in Montreal, a filmed set in Netflix’s rising star special Verified Stand-Up, and two weeks in August performing in Australia and New Zealand. He admits that all the travel is challenging.

“My life feels very chaotic. My relationship feels like a long-distance relationship. [I’m] just gone and suddenly [I] don’t have a home,” Soresi shares.

The mood dims briefly as he recounts Bob Sagat and Raphie May, performers who put on a show instead of resting. 

“My girlfriend doesn’t like it when I say this, but she believes me when I say, ’Oh, I see how people die on the road,’” he says. “One-hundred-percent. I see exactly how it could happen, and that’s scary.” 

There’s a brief lull in conversation. I sip my cider, him his Diet Coke. I ask if he’s seen The Iron Claw, which shows professional wrestler David von Erich (Harris Dickinson) ignoring internal injuries only to die while performing in Japan. He gets giddy again, telling me that he’s been watching it over the course of various flights and has only a half hour left, but that David’s death is proof that performing worldwide can be an “unforgiving profession.”

Humor and darkness often coexist for Soresi. During the show, he told the story of his father’s emergency heart surgery. By this point, the audience was well acquainted with his father’s character—a less-than-supportive man who serially dates younger women—but sincere worry leaks through until the punchline hits: the doctor’s bad news is that his father not only survived the surgery but was now healthier than ever. Soresi talked with equally irreverent tact about his personal struggles with anxiety, his suicidal friend who he tests jokes on, and the trash fire that is American politics. Political commentary was the second pillar of his jokes and, judging by the previous night’s raucous laughter, international audiences enjoy hearing the lambasting of a world superpower. 

After bombing a set in Milan, Soresi started taking care to scroll through his multiple Word documents-worth of jokes to determine what would and wouldn’t work in a given country. Sometimes this means adding context—while in Canada, he noted Harlem’s history as a majority Black neighborhood in New York City in order to make a joke about a Black Lives Matter protest turning into an anti-gentrification rally when they passed his apartment. At other times, it means localizing the punchline to include a specific reference. Everyone groaned when he mentioned The Portal, the massive Dublin-New York City video call that’s already been shut down once for nudity. They did laugh, however, at his proposal that Americans should present an “armful of no potatoes” in response to the Irish showing 9/11 pictures. And they perked up at the mention of Spar, a Dutch convenience store chain littered throughout Dublin and most other European cities. He learned about Spar when he asked his opener, Jim Elliot, “What’s your 7-Eleven?” Soresi believes that small gestures like this let international audiences “feel seen in a way they might not by other American comics.” 

But it’s difficult to learn everything about a country before performing. He told me that in the future, he would like to spend a few days in each new country to “walk around, eat the food, talk to locals and then have even more grist for the mill.” Lacking the sway of a more established comic, he’s currently limited by the time slots theaters offer him to perform. His curiosity isn’t entirely selfless, though; living in America “feels worse all the time,” and despite being somewhat confined there by work—“Nowhere have I gone in this world where the average comic or even the top 10% of comics come even close [in talent] to New York”—he hopes to move to Europe one day. In the meantime, he’d like to do a much longer tour around it.

More countries means more performances means more audiences to laugh and connect with, but stardom isn’t Soresi’s goal. He continues doing comedy, particularly crowd work, simply for the joy of it: “My drive is more about really wanting attention and being worthy of that attention that I crave.”

Gianmarco Soresi is touring the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand through the end of 2024. Check out his tour dates here

Mik Deitz is a freelance writer and former Paste intern. They inhale stories in videogames, films, TV and books, and have never finished God of War (2018). Yell at or compliment them on Twitter @dietdeitz.

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