Anthony Desamito is instantly lovable. The local comic and 26-year-old Tempe resident is constantly smiling during his sets, making people crack up with his tales of messed-up romances and hysterical views on life. The Mexico-raised comedian has steadily grown his audience since he got his stand-up start four years ago, having performed at the San Luis Obispo Comedy Festival 2014 and Phoenix Comicon 2014. He was also a finalist in the first annual Arizona’s Funniest Comedian 2014.
Desamito, who by day is a videographer at ASU in the School of Engineering and teaches video at ASU in the School of Art, is polishing his material for two big upcoming shows: the first, his birthday show, is Thursday, August 28 at Monkey Pants in Tempe. The free show starts at 8:30 p.m. and also marks Desamito’s four-year comedy anniversary. He’s also performing at the Queer Queens of Qomedy show Thursday, September 18 at the Tempe Improv, opening for the Poppy Champlin.
Desamito is a busy guy: he plays a gay comic in a college town on Serious About Comedy, premiering September 9 on Trends TV throughout U.S. colleges. He also writes and performs in The Freakin’ A’s, a YouTube video sketch comedy group, and performs funny videos on his own channel. He regularly performs longform improv with groups Funnel Cake and Brunettes On the Run at the The Torch Theatre, and he’s also a writer for satire news magazine, Grown Up Recess.
Read on for why he got involved with stand-up comedy, and to watch him name his five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley.
What brought you to Arizona?
I lived in Mexico until I was 8 years old. I was born in El Centro, California, right on the border of Mexicali, Baja California in Mexico. I was basically an anchor baby. My mom had me here in the U.S., and when I was 8 years old and able to say “American citizen” and walk across the border, we moved to Yuma.
I was culture shocked. I was like, “Wait, white people? I thought these were only on TV.” I didn’t know my name was Anthony — I thought it was Antonio. The doctor named me Anthony so I could fit in better here when I moved here. After Yuma, I moved to Flagstaff to go to Coconino Community College. I got some scholarships to ASU and moved here in 2010, and graduated two years ago with a degree in intermedia digital art and video.
What’s your first memory of being interested in stand-up comedy?
Growing up in Mexico, I used to love cartoons and the funny talk shows where everyone was so loud and so vibrant. I think that’s why my comedy is a little animated.
I remember being in class in seventh grade, living in Yuma. It was home ec class, and we were learning about eating disorders — for some reason they combined the two subjects. They were bundling, like a cable company. We were learning about how to eat good food, and we all had to read the ingredients to food that was healthy. The guy next to me had to read the ingredients to green tea out loud. He said, “Hot water, tea and low-calorie sugar,” and I said, “And food coloring.” I only said it loud enough for him to hear, and he started cracking up laughing. The rest of junior high, he thought whatever I said was super-funny, and I was like, “I like this. I like being funny. I think I’m going to stick with it.”
How has your comedy career evolved in the past four years?
My first show was in 2010, two or three months after I had moved here. School had just started, and I was a transfer student at ASU and my two friends took me to Hidden House, where they have a free Wednesday night show. They had known I’d always wanted to do comedy, so I went and watched it, and I fell in love. Some of the comics, though, weren’t very good, and I thought I could be better. I signed up, and within a few weeks, I was on stage.
I never thought I could figure out this art form, and I still have way more to learn. It is definitely a skill and something you have to work at every day, and you can’t stop. Once you stop, it’s hard to get back into it, so I’ve never stopped. For four years straight, I’ve performed at least once a week.
What inspires your writing?
You always have to think about the jokes you’re working on, all the time. I’ll be at the grocery store, having a conversation, and thinking about this joke. When night falls, you get to perform it. I talk a lot about relationships and men, because they say write what you know, and that’s what I know.
Do you ever censor people’s names when you’re talking about them on stage?
When I first started, I was going through a breakup, which is kind of why I started. It wasn’t even that we were dating — I was just in love with him, and he didn’t want to be with me. I invited him to my fifth show and did jokes about him, and his jaw was dropped. I didn’t even say his name. That was probably the only time I’ve done stand-up in front of a guy I had dated. Wait, I take that back.
What’s your writing process like?
My jokes just creep on me. I like to talk a lot, so a lot of jokes come from when I’m talking to people about my life or theirs, or just stuff. If I was going to give someone a tip for stand-up comedy, it’s talk to a lot of people, a lot, because things come up, sometimes funny things, and you can get something from even a really bad conversation. Afterwards, I write down whatever joke is itching inside my head in my notebook, and the last part is perfecting the delivery and performing it.
Do you like interacting with the audience? Do you have any tips for doing it?
When I have long sets, I love it. I love just goofing off and improvising and having fun on stage. Some guys don’t have fun on stage, and that’s a shame, but I love it.
One crowd work tip is you could try talking about something that’s already been spoken about. Like, if somebody talked to a lady about her hat, and it went well, you could bring it up again. But let it flow. Don’t force it, because if you force it, they’re going to feel attacked. And don’t talk to anyone who doesn’t want to be talked to.
What’s your favorite place in the Valley to perform stand-up?
That’s a hard one. I have tons. Monkey Pants is outstanding. The comedy show here is every Thursday, and it’s free, and it’s run by great hilarious guys who also run the Hidden House, Jamie Sanderson and Steve Marek. Steve Maxwell also runs the Hidden House with them. You can check out their many other shows they produce at smcomedy.com.
I love underground comedy and bars. Places like Monkey Pants, Hidden House and the open mikes around the Valley are OK with you being a little darker, whereas at clubs, the crowd kind of feels bad for you when you’re sort of self-deprecating. If you go up there and you’re ragging about yourself about how fat you are or how you’re single, at clubs, you tend to have this older white lady in the front who’s like, “Aw.” And I’m like, “It’s OK. You don’t need to be a martyr. You don’t have to sacrifice yourself for a show, lady. Enjoy it. Laugh.” But I secretly also love performing at clubs. Anywhere with a stage, really.
How would you describe the Valley’s comedy scene?
I love the Valley. In terms of comedy, it’s amazing. I got my start here, and I’m still here. There’s something about being in Phoenix, seven hours from L.A., where we’re on the edge of our seats from just moving there. This is like the training ground for a lot of comics.
A lot of comics move here from Tucson as a first step to L.A., and I think we have a competitiveness here because of it, but that also creates an amazing work ethic. And we actually have stage time. We’re growing, and you could perform here and get a 20-minute set. It’s rare to get that in L.A. In L.A., you get three minutes, and in New York, you get two minutes and have to pay to get on stage sometimes.
In every community, there are going to be people who are unhappy with how things work, but for me, I’ve been very blessed to have the stage time I get and be able to work stuff out, for people to say, “Hey, I want him on my show.” I’m very lucky.
Is there anything striking about being a gay comic in the Valley?
As long as I’ve been here the past four years, I feel like I’m on this one-man gay comic parade. I’ll see a new gay comic, and I’m like, “Yes!”, and then they’ll move, stop doing it, or just perform at one place once a month. It makes me sad because I would really like to see more gay comedy shows, but whatever. I’ve become sort of the token gay comic in Phoenix because I’m everywhere. Everyone’s like, “Need a gay comic? Call Anthony Desamito. He’ll do your show.”
What are your goals?
When someone says, “What do you want to do with your comedy career?”, it’s always hard to figure that out because you won’t know until you get there. It can take you so many places. You could be a writer, you could be a touring comic, you could be on TV, you could be writing for other people. I will take anything. As long as I’m working and I’m writing, and I’m happy and I get to perform consistently, I will do whatever. My goal is to ultimately make a living out of writing and performing.
What advice would you have for people who want to try out stand-up comedy?
I always tell future comics to write five minutes. Everybody has five minutes of jokes they’ve been telling their whole life. Do those, be yourself, and have fun. Invite all your friends. Go up a lot. Be ready to fail, but have fun.
How do you get over failure?
I’m used to rejection, growing up gay and Catholic and never finding the right guy. In doing comedy, you get used to bombing or getting rejected by the audience. It’s something you have to get over really fast, or else it’s going to destroy you and ruin your day.
I was watching this local comic, and he didn’t do very good on stage, but he got off and was like, “Hey, how’s it going?” He seemed so genuinely OK, and I was like, “I want that.” I want to be able to get over it. Know what you did wrong, but get over it fast, and don’t dwell.
Do you have any tips for getting over nervousness?
Hone it. It won’t go away. In my four years, it’s never gone away, so just use it and unleash it when you get on stage. Even going on stage and just saying the words, “I’m nervous” helps. The audience falls in love with you because they see you’re human and not just some robot up there. They can relate because they’re nervous for you, too, and hopefully it gets better.
What tips do you have for writing jokes?
Write a lot. Keep all your jokes, because you’ll go back and go, “I can use this.” Write until your brain hurts, because then you’re thinking, and it hurts to think. If you’re in pain slaving over a joke, you’re doing something right.