Maryann Maisano, Carolann Valentino, Mary Dimino, and Gina Scarda are the Italian Chicks, a female foursome who like to make their audience roar with laughter.
Recently, the Italian Chicks took the mic at Hoboken’s Italian Festival on Sept. 4 as part of their stand-up comedy tour, which will take them to Rhode Island next, and then Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago.
Maisano has been performing since she was 14, and the Italian Chicks evolved after she experimented on an open mic as a singer, songwriter, and comedian.
“I was kind of on the hunt to find the right women – the right mix, the right look. My background happens to be in marketing and sales,” says Maisano, who worked in banking for 15 years. “I actually resigned my position three years ago to concentrate on really trying to make this happen.”
The three women who are now the Italian Chicks were brought together by Maisano’s sense of what she wanted from her comedy quartet, and one of those key ingredients was all-natural flavor.
“The majority of what I talk about in my comedy is real life incidents that have happened,” she explains. “People always connect to real stories as opposed to [made-up ones].”
They know funny
The Italian Chicks support one another, and while Maisano headlines, they are a team.
“We really have this unique kind of energy when we’re on stage, and I think folks can really sense that it’s four women who really like each other,” Maisano says, adding, “Not to beat the feminist bandwagon to death, [but] it’s still very difficult for women in comedy.”
Even though Maisano proudly proclaims, “Everybody loves Italians and everybody wants to be Italian at some point in their life,” she says that it’s not necessary to be Italian to enjoy the comedy of the Italian Chicks. “Everybody has a dysfunctional family, I don’t care what nationality you are.”
Growing up in Fort Lee, Maisano is no stranger to Italian festivals, attending the obligatory St. Rocco’s Feast and admitting she still has no idea who he was, but “Whenever the feast came to town, we felt like we had to stop by or we felt guilty.”
When the Italian Chicks played Hoboken’s Italian Festival, Maisano says it’s easy to bring their Italian heritage to the stage there.
“We certainly understand what it’s like to try not to eat a cannoli – it’s very difficult,” she says, claiming she’s finally cracked the code to losing weight and trying to stick to it. “When we were growing up, everything was very food-oriented in our house. It’s almost as if it was used if you were happy or sad, but the cannoli was like a valium.”
All joking aside, Maisano’s father came to the U.S. from Italy at 16 years old, so she certainly holds a great appreciation for her heritage and this sense of her father’s homeland.
When she started taking the comedic side of her family to open mics, however, she found a kindred spirit in Mary Dimino.
After meeting Maisano at open mic nights and then losing touch, Dimino, who lives in Staten Island, went on to earn her Screen Actors Guild membership with a series of Nicorette commercials. She appeared on HBO’s Chris Rock show and Conan O’Brien, but it was a popular and funny Dunkin’ Donuts commercial Maisano saw and recognized Dimino that reunited them in a quest to create their comedy quartet.
While Dimino enjoys acting, she says, “My first love and my heart will always be for stand up. You get the response and the reaction immediately. You see the audience’s response and then you liven up … and it’s a nice cycle.”
Physical comedy, impersonations
Dimino does impressions of herself and others on stage, including her Italian grandmother and her aunt who always said she had to get married, which Dimino describes as sounding like this: “You go out and you find a comedy club every night, but you can’t find a husband?”
Laughing, Dimino observes, “Everyone is like a character, so being an actress, it’s easy to see how they’re a character and imitate that.”
Dimino is used to performing in Hoboken, because she’s a regular at Danny Aiello’s restaurant, Tutta Pasta – she was even there for opening night.
Meanwhile, Carolann Valentino came to New York from Dallas, Texas after performing stand-up comedy in Dallas nightclubs. While her move was to help open a steakhouse in Manhattan, where she lives, being here has given here the opportunity to be a “full-time artist,” singing, dancing, and doing comedy. She appeared in a Chorus Line, and she played Rizzo in Grease eight years ago.
“When I got to New York, I started doing my one-person variety shows; at the same time, I developed my comedy,” explains Valentino, who still plays venues back home. “Comedy to me is one of the greatest gifts you can give an audience – the gift of laughter.”
Like Dimino, Valentino is very animated on stage, but as a dancer, she likes to use her body as a comic tool as well. And, “I like to do the old animated Carol Burnett faces.”
This works especially well when she imitates Texans reacting to her and her family as “the strangest Mexicans” they’ve ever seen, since she says they seemed to be the only Italians in Texas. Her facial expressions do half the work when she switches into a thick Texas droll impersonating a mother she saw trying to discipline her child in a mall in the Lone Star state: “Justin! You do not say ‘—- you’ to Mama!”
As she acts out “southern belles” versus the “Jersey belles,” Valentino says that if everyone were the same, the world wouldn’t be any fun.
Retired NYPD police officer Gina Scarda has experienced her own brand of fun, including her first undercover assignment as a prostitute in Coney Island – so she has an arsenal of cop material.
The newest Chick, Scarda lives in Long Island now with her husband and two children, but she grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, believing that anyone Italian had to live in Brooklyn.
Scarda never imagined she would be a stand-up comic, but she has a connection to a comedy legend.
“I actually went out on a date with Andrew Dice Clay – back then, he wasn’t the Dice Man,” Scarda says. “And the whole date he stayed in character. It was like going on a date with Vinnie Barbarino.”
Scarda finds her family a great source of inspiration too, mentioning that her husband is her biggest fan even though he “takes a lot of abuse” from her sense of humor.
“My family thinks I’m a nut. Being a cop was so hard – the hardest part of this is standing up there for 15 minutes holding your stomach in.”
Playing Sinatra Park
When the Italian Chicks took to the stage at the Hoboken Italian Festival, an audience gathered on the tiered steps to laugh, clap, and cackle as they cracked wise, waxed comedic on the ups and downs of being Italian chicks, and livened the place up with some song and dance.
Emcee Gina Scarda kicked off the set with cop humor so risqué that it may only possible to get away with it because she wore a badge for 20 years – though she says most people don’t actually believe that she was really a cop since she doesn’t look like one.
The second Chick, Carolann Valentino, danced her way on stage to the tune of “Cotton-Eyed Joe” the way only an “Italian Rose of Texas” could, blazing onto the stage like a cowgirl and then bringing her impressions to life in the passionate style of her inspiration, classic comedian Carol Burnett.
When Mary Dimino came up on stage, she brought the charm of an innocent-seeming everyday woman who goes from friendly and fun to surly and rowdy without any transition at all, blending her easy-going manner with some smart alec attitude in the same heartbeat.
Headliner Maryann Maisano poured on the Italian experience ranging from meatballs and coffee for breakfast to words in her native tongue that she couldn’t repeat for lack of knowing what she was actually talking about, all the while dishing out boisterous Italian pride and gusto.
Near the end, all four Italian Chicks took to the mics, singing their vow to vote for Obama “Because he’s not McCain.” And when it was over, the four of them took to the stage to share the applause and left huddled in their group, sticking together.
Comments can be sent to Mpaul@hudsonreporter.com.