Comic and It's Always Sunny writer Agostino Zoida debuting at Dubai Laughter Factory
LA stand-up tells us how he made the most of a year away from the stage
BEING PART OF the now revered Dubai Comedy Festival is no mean feat. The continuously raising standard of shows, the amount of interest from punters and the increased attention a shining beacon of live entertainment now garners dictates acts simply have to be hilarious. There’s no wriggle-room for ‘also-rans’. With 25 years in the business of sourcing some of the world’s best stand-ups and bringing them to the UAE, The Laughter Factory has therefore gone all out to make an impact. Flying in from his native LA to headline their Downright Nasty! tour is Italian-American Agostino Zoida, a contributor to shows such as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and American Horror Story, and a regular at The Comedy Store. We thought we’d have a chat before he debuted on March 13.
How does it feel to be performing in Dubai and more importantly being back on the road again? How has the last year been for you? Did you take time off or bury yourself in work?
I am thrilled to be back on the road. Things in the States have slowly started to open up and I have been out since February, but I am very excited to come to Dubai. Coming to the UAE is sort of my own personal milestone: an epic event to make the comedy comeback official. I found ways to stay creative and keep busy during the pandemic. I would write ideas for new bits/jokes and then I would turn my camera phone on and perform. I also kept myself busy with my podcast, Home Schooled Podcast, and I created a new podcast called The Sit-Comics. It’s a table read show where me and several of my comedian friends read and reenact episodes of famous sitcoms like Seinfeld, The Office and more.
What do you know about Dubai? What are you looking forward to see?
This is my first time travelling overseas and I feel fortunate that my first trip is to Dubai. I understand it’s one of the number one destination cities in the world to visit. I grew up in Los Angeles, so I love the beach. I have also heard about Dubai Frame and I think it is a really cool piece of art. And finally I am most looking forward to the malls. I absolutely love shopping. Even when I don’t buy anything, I love to walk around and look at the stores, clothes and shoes. I like to get dressed up in some of my coolest threads and go walk the mall.
How important is it for the comedy circuit to remain up-and-running, especially in this moment in time? Do you see it as an important service for peoples’ mental health?
Absolutely. I think that everyone’s biggest concern became Covid, and so we forgot about a lot of others such as mental health and unemployment. During the pandemic you would often hear an occupation referred to as either essential or nonessential. It is a difficult thing to hear, when someone calls you “nonessential” which is a nice way of saying “you’re not important.” It hurts. Performing artists were definitely on the bottom of the list during a dark time in the world when we were needed the most. I’m actually in the middle of filming a documentary called NONESSENTIAL and it is about what Covid did to performing artists and the battle I had with Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, as I attended their once a month meeting, fighting for them to allow us to do outdoor comedy shows. My documentary is also about the comeback of standup comedy and I think this trip to Dubai is exactly what the documentary needs.
Do you think your style may have changed at all, or are you looking to try something new after time off?
I would not say my style has changed but I have definitely leveled-up. I think that comedians go through different levels and you always want to be leveling up. Like in a video game. During the pandemic I would watch a lot of live concerts on YouTube and pretend I had front row seats, to try and feel normal again. I really admire musicians as they always inspire me to be a better performer. My style of comedy is longer bits rather than quick jokes. I am an Italian-America raised in Los Angeles and was home-schooled for my entire education. Plus I am married, so I have a lot of material.
How cathartic has your podcast been during this time? How valuable do you believe the medium is for you personally and for your career?
I never wanted to have a podcast, all I ever wanted to do was stand-up, but in today’s world a comedian without a podcast is like a contractor without a hammer. It’s a great way for people to find you. I have actually grown to love podcasting and hosting a programme is a completely different art form that takes time to perfect. Having one is also a great tool to meet other comics. You have them on and they have you on theirs’ so it’s a great way to build a friendship and to be introduced to new audiences.
What’s it like getting up on stage in LA comedy clubs and how does the feeling differ to more regional theatres? Who, in your opinion, is the best comedian you’ve shared a bill with?
It is always a blessing for me to be able to perform no matter where it is. We take for granted how lucky we are to be able to do what we love, to be able to make a career out of a dream is extremely rare and I am very fortunate to be able to do so. I have had the pleasure of touring with some big names and extremely talented people. For years I opened for Joey Diaz and Jimmy Shubert and the both of them brought so much electricity to the stage, it was an education for me to watch.
How do you think your act will go over with an international crowd? Will you alter anything?
I do not imagine I will have to alter too much. There’s always a little something that should be changed and I usually don’t realise that until I say it out loud in front of an audience and then it hits me, ‘that won’t work here’ and so the next night I alter it. For instance; I used to have this joke where I referenced a well-known super market chain in California and I accidentally said it while doing a show in Boston. They had no idea what I was talking about!
What was it like writing for a show like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia? What did you learn from the experience?
Writing is my second love and it was an honour. At first it was intimidating as It’s Always Sunny was my first TV show that I wrote on. They are all such brilliant writers, but it ended up being a very fun experience. Every show I worked on I learned a lot of creative writing techniques that I still use today. I think you are never done learning. I still take script writing classes.
Now the world is opening back up, do you think 2021 could actually be an excellent year for comedy given the pent-up demand of people to go out and enjoy themselves?
Absolutely! People are ready to go out and enjoy their life again and one of the best experiences you could have in life is seeing a live performance, which happens to be the one that was most restricted. Whether it’s a comedy show, a musical concert or a play, you owe it to yourself to experience the live performing arts. The online substitutes are no comparison. I refused to do online comedy shows during the pandemic. I don’t even like calling them comedy shows. It’s nothing like the real thing. It’s like seeing the Dubai Frame on Google Images rather than in person. So I encourage everyone to experience some form of live performing arts.
The Laughter Factory is touring Dubai for the rest of the month
May 13, 14: Movenpick JBR
May 19: Zabeel House by Jumeirah, The Greens
May 20: Grand Millennium Barsha Heights
May 21: Grand Millennium Business Bay
Tickets must be purchased on www.thelaughterfactory.com Shows at 8:30pm.