Tina Giorgi enjoyed teaching history to high-school students, but it was the kids in detention she really connected with.
“I was young and teaching in the inner city in Washington, D.C., and it actually was a bit frightening,” said Giorgi, one of four comics who will be performing at 8 p.m. New Year’s Eve in the “First Night of Funny” at Proctors.
“When they put me in detention, these kids were much more sophisticated than I was. They tried to get silly with me and I just started giving it right back to them.”
Never the class clown type (“my mother never would have allowed that”), Giorgi used the comedy skills she never knew she had as a self-defense mechanism to survive in the classroom.
“These kids kind of became my comedy teachers,” she said. “They started telling me, ‘Hey, you should go to New York and do stand-up. You’re good.’ I credit those nasty boys in detention for giving me my start.”
‘First Night of Funny’
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 8 p.m. Dec. 31
HOW MUCH: $30, $35 day of show
MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org
Giorgi was raised in New York City and now lives on the south shore of Long Island with her husband, a guy she calls, “the bravest man in the world.”
“Part of my act is about being raised in New Jersey and marrying a guy from Virginia,” she said. “You can complain about your spouse, but it’s not easy being married to a comic. You have crazy hours. At the strangest times I’m grabbing the car keys and saying, ‘Oh, I gotta go do a show.’ He’s a retired school teacher, and he really is the bravest man in America.”
Giorgi doesn’t consider herself a political comic, and she says there will always be boundaries with the material she covers in her act.
“Sandy didn’t hurt us too much, but the town next to us was hit very badly and it’s so sad,” she said of the damage Hurricane Sandy caused earlier this year. “It’s still a mess. I think there’ll come a time maybe when you can do something about it, but it’s a little bit too soon.”
When the appropriate time comes for Sandy jokes, Giorgi says she’ll be ready.
“There are some funny bits you could do with it,” she said. “I heard about the woman who was in her basement and grabbed a bottle of wine and olive oil, and left her wedding pictures. And kids today are so used to having the Internet and texting each other. One mother left the house and left a note for her daughter, but the kid never saw it. She didn’t know what a note was because all she ever does is text. But I would never touch anything that was tragic.”
Along with her love of history and teaching, Giorgi also thought about becoming a criminal lawyer.
“Lawyers do a lot of verbal stuff, like teachers, and comedy is just a different way of getting up there and presenting yourself,” she said.
Comedy with a brain
“They’re smart, and you have to be smart to be a comic. Some reviewers have referred to my act as ‘comedy with a brain,’ and that’s OK with me. I’m a bit of a wordsmith. I like to put words together in a clever way, and I’m not dirty at all. If I was any more ‘blue,’ I wouldn’t be a part of this first-night event.”
Sharing the spotlight on the Proctors stage with Giorgi will be fellow comedians Jamie Lissow, Joe DeVito and Jon Fisch.
“This group is a friendly, positive and upbeat bunch of guys,” said Giorgi. “That’s what is so great about First Night. The venues are beautiful and the acts are great. It’s like a week of headliners all in one night.”
Giorgi was at Proctors back in October of this year performing in a theatrical production called “Shut Up, Sit Down, and Eat.” She and three other comics, all Italian-Americans, played therapy patients waiting for the doctor who never showed up. Giorgi calls it a “plomedy,” a play using stand-up comics.
“It’s a blend of stand-up comedy and drama, and I always loved the theater and thought it’d be a neat thing to do,” she said. “It’s another great opportunity to write, and that’s what I really am, a writer. Some people are performers first, but I’m a writer, and stand-up or doing a ‘plomedy’ is just another creative outlet for me to write. I can see myself writing a book some day.”
Giorgi’s first national appearance came on CBS’s “Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn,” and she has also been seen on Fox’s “Comics Unleashed,” Comedy Central’s “Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn,” NBC’s “Friday Night,” the Metro Channel’s “New Joke City” with Robert Klein and Channel 9’s “Spotlight Cafe.”
She co-hosted her own radio talk show, “Voices and Views,” on WGBB in New York, and has also performed in two other theatrical productions in New York, “Falling Up” at the Producer’s Club and “In Depth” at the 42nd Street Theater.
The youngest of three sisters and a Fulbright Scholar, Giorgi graduated from the College of William and Mary and got her master’s degree from Western Maryland College. In 2009, after nine years away from the classroom, she went back into education as a substitute teacher for almost two years.
“A friend of mine was having a baby, so the school asked me to take over and hired me back,” she said. “It was incredibly tough, and I don’t really know why I did it. I suppose it was something different, but I won’t do it again. I taught for 15 years and that’s enough children for me.”
She his working on a number of projects and is also thinking more and more of writing that book.
“I love what I’m doing and I have another interesting play I’m working on, but if I do a book it will be about being a female comic,” she said. “I don’t mean a real famous one, like Roseanne [Barr], but someone who is a good comic and is out on the road traveling a lot. I don’t think that book has been written.”