Comedian Paul Virzi: 'If You're Not Authentic, You Have Nothing'
As his 'Nocturnal Admissions' special hits Netflix, the comedian discusses what it takes to succeed in comedy -- or any industry.
You know when you're scrolling through Netflix and you see something new and you think, "Hmm, wonder if this is any good?" Well, when you come across Paul Virzi: Nocturnal Admissions, I have the answer for you: yes. It is very good.
Nocturnal Admissions is comedian Paul Virzi's second hour-long special, which mixes his hilarious thoughts on the not-so-hilarious state of the world we live in, along with stories about his dad, his wife and kids, and the overall madness we all must face daily. It was directed by Pete Davidson and produced by a lineup of comedy greats including Bill Burr, with whom Virzi co-hosts the podcast Anything Better.
I had the pleasure of speaking with the very funny (and fellow Sicilian!) man for an upcoming episode of Entrepreneur's Get a Real podcast. We discussed the valuable lessons he learned getting doors slammed in his face while working as a door-to-door salesman, the disconcerting lack of Italian Jedis in the Star Wars universe, and the importance of having an authentic voice in comedy (or in anything you do.) Here are excerpts from that conversation, which have been edited for length and clarity. (To listen to Paul's episode when it drops, please subscribe to Get a Real Job on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform.)
The ultimate point of comedy
"If I bring something up, whether it's Trump or Biden or COVID vaccines, I'm just trying to make everybody laugh and make fun of the lunacy of everything. I'm not trying to school somebody on something. I'm not trying to tell somebody what they're thinking is wrong. I always want my comedy to make you laugh. I make fun of everything and everybody."
The near-death of a salesman
"When I was 21, I was knocking on doors selling internet-phone-cable. Thinking back, in a nutshell, those knocking on doors was like getting in front of audience members. Sometimes you'd get the people that are like, 'Sure, come on in. You want a cup of tea?' And then you'd get people who'd say, 'Get the hell outta here. Don't ask me again. I'm gonna come out and hit you.' I think that's why they gave us hard hats to wear. But I learned a lot doing that, literally having doors open or close in my face. It gives you thicker skin and makes you realize that sometimes you knock on a door and wind up selling a gold package. And in comedy, you keep at it and one day a door opens and you get the Montreal Comedy Festival."
Support through the struggle
"My wife has been very supportive from the start. You know, we lived in small little apartments in Westchester. I lived with my brother in Manhattan for a year. I just basically did everything I could. I'd do contests. I was making no money, had no manager, but I kept going. And then, you know, somebody sees you and they go, 'You're pretty funny. Why don't you come to my show over here?' And I built on that, I was able to send stuff out. I got my first manager when I was about six years into it and things just kept going and going from there."
Success is the best revenge
"There were bookers and club owners who didn't believe in me, who kind of put me in a box as a 'New York guy.' But then I toured the country, toured in Europe, and I remember this one guy who rejected me being like, 'Oh I'd love to have you.' Now I always thought that I would be the guy — because I'm Sicilian — to go off on people like that, but then you don't want to. It's much better to just quietly let them know they were wrong. Like the goal is to just get out of a Maserati and shake their hands and be like, 'How you doing?'"
Authenticity is king
"The best advice I've gotten and the advice that I would give to young comics is to be true to yourself out of the gate. Because then your true voice on stage will come quicker. It can take ten years or so to really find your voice. When I first started, I had this fake anger on stage. And my roommate was like, 'Paul, you're a nice guy. That's not you.' And once you get real about things, that's where you find the really funny stuff. I think it makes sense to try to emulate someone that you admire in whatever you're doing, but eventually, you have to be yourself or there's nothing."
The Italian Iron Man?
"Comedy will always be first for me, but I've got some parts in movies coming out that I'm excited about. You know, we need more Italians doing stuff. There are no Italians in Harry Potter — no Italian wizards! There are no Italians in Star Wars. So who knows? Maybe, God willing, people see the special and I'm the new Italian superhero."