Born Italian in Australia might seem like an improbable place to begin a path to 20 years of international comedy success but comedian Joe Avati swears it makes sense.
“The part of me that is Italian is my style, the food and family,” he explains. “But the couldn’t care less attitude and the ability to get things done is very Australian. We don’t have time for arrogance in Australia.”
In just two decades, Avati has managed to get quite a bit done. He is easily one of Australia’s top comedy exports and is the world’s number one selling bilingual comedian. He has toured the world performing in two languages, English and Italian. That international success puts him into an elite group of comedians alongside the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Russell Brand, Robin Williams, Billy Connolly and Barry Humphries.
At the height of his early success, he was even given a nickname.
“People couldn’t pigeon hole what I did, So they just went with the Italian Seinfeld,” says Avati. “It’s very flattering, I just took it onboard. I don’t think they’re calling him the New York Joe Avati though.”
Celebrating 20 years in comedy, Avati will bring his 20/20 Vision show to the Rose Theatre in Brampton on July 6 and The Living Arts Centre on July 20.
“This tour started two years ago, so it’s actually my 22nd year now,” he says. “We did so much work in Australia that we didn’t get a chance to do any international dates until this year.”
This tour, being a celebration of his career, is a mix of new and old. It features the best of his new standup, along with his most popular older bits. Unlike a lot of other comics, a lot Avati’s audience comes to see him do bits they already know.
“I’m a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll comedian, it seems,” he says, with a laugh. “Whenever I go out and do new stuff, people are always asking why I didn’t do their favourite bit. The rule where rock bands always have to play the hits seems to apply to me.”
This phenomenon is probably due to being one of the first comics to experience international success via the internet. In the early 2000s, Avati rose to success when his early DVD releases were shared online. Many of his fans want to see the piece they’ve only seen on their computer performed live.
Of course, his shows have also changed over the years. For example, he used to mix multiple languages into a single show, but now works mostly in English. One thing that hasn’t changed is the all ages nature of his comedy.
“It’s important to work clean to me,” Avati explains. “I’ve got kids coming to the show. I’ve got grandparents coming to the show. Starting out, my market was limited as it was, so I figured why limit it any more by alienating people?”
Another new addition to the show is based on inspiration from Bruce Springsteen taking requests during his own shows. Avati asks the audience to go online at intermission and let him know what bits and routines they want hear after the break via Instagram or Facebook.
“What I do then is, throughout my show, I’ll disperse the older stuff they’ve asked for when I feel it.”
Avati has also started noticing a new trend among his audiences. A lot of people who saw his show 10 years ago have started bringing their kids out for the night. His comedy about generational differences has now managed to grow an audience where he is the bridge between generations.
“I drag the kids through the show. I get their names and keep referring back to them as I explain things about their grandparents and their parents.”
Those kids have become an anchor for his performance.
The show also features Canadian comedians: Guido Grasso, from Montreal, and a regular on Avati’s tours and Giuseppe the MC.
“They’re great acts,” says Avati. “All very funny and all very different. Freddy Proia is hosting the night too, and he’s one of the best MC’s in the whole country so we always get him when we come over.”
The support acts will fill up the first half of the show but Avati expects to do a full 80 minute set each night after the break.
“It’s a great thing that’s happening. People ask me how long I can keep doing this. I don’t really see an end in sight.”
Tickets for the July 6 Rose Theatre Show are available online here or by calling (905) 874-2800.
Tickets for the July 20 Living Arts Centre Show are available online at here or by calling (905) 306-6000.
Photo: Joe Avati’s 20/20 vision tour.