You’ve probably turned off one of his commercials. Maybe it was Credit Karma or WindTech or Circus Vargas. But you might want to take another look at tall, graying, middle-aged Mike Capozzola when he stops by the Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia on Sept. 7 to kick off the center’s fall arts season. He’s more than a bit player in television commercials. As a stand-up comedian, Capozzola has been making people laugh since elementary school teachers called out his parents when they found out the witty kid with the sharp tongue was theirs.
Capozzola grew up on what he facetiously calls “the mean streets of New Rochelle, New York,” a well-appointed bedroom community in Westchester County. As a kid, he loved to draw and was attracted to cartooning, inspired by the irreverent and subversive political humor of Mad magazine, which stops publishing new content this fall. “I would look at Mad magazine and … then make up my own stuff. Today one of the loves of my life is still drawing cartoons,” Capozzola said.
With a Jewish mother and an Italian-American father, he never worried about starving or forging strong family connections. His dad’s family was originally from the Bronx and most of his uncles and his grandfather were carpenters. Capozzola loved the grittiness and craft at the family’s carpentry shop and likens the detailed work in woodworking to the craft of honing comic material from funny, rambling stories into tightly packed jokes ready for a discerning audience.
“My dad wasn’t Jewish,” Capozzola said, “but he would come with us to services sometimes” at Temple Israel of New Rochelle, the Reform synagogue were the comic celebrated his bar mitzvah.
“The Italian side of the family was very vocal and expressive,” he recalled. “I remember thinking, ‘That’s not Jewish’ and wondering, why?” And there was no arguing with his dad when it came to Hebrew school. “It just blew my mind that my dad wasn’t Jewish … and he was the one telling us: ‘You get dressed. You’re going to Hebrew school today.’ It felt like a big con was going on,” Capozzola laughed. “Like, why does he make me go to Hebrew school when he’s not even Jewish?”
In the 1990s, for four years, Capozzola lived in the District and worked the comedy circuit. These days he’s settling into a new life across the pond in London, from where he spoke by phone for this interview. Asked why London, and Capozzola wants to keep folks guessing. He said, “Maybe I was deported from America … or maybe I fled for political reasons … and maybe the whole country will flee soon for political reasons.”
He’s noticed some marked differences between the British and Americans. “Londoners,” Capozzola said, “are very wordy. Whereas in the States we might say, ‘Hashtag Me Too,’ in London they say, ‘Hashtag, and myself as well, actually, if you simply must know.”
For his show here, the 50-year-old comic plans to talk about growing up with an Italian dad and Jewish mother, acclimating to London, differences between being Jewish and Italian, American and British and, while it won’t be a Trump Free Zone, he doesn’t plan to focus too much on the political.
“I’ll suss out the room, but I will say that … all of my Trump material that was applicable, appreciated and successful in [places like] San Francisco, has landed just fine in England. There’s no love for him here.”
He might also rib Americans, now that he’s living abroad. He sees similar traits in Italian and Israeli men, beyond having one too many buttons open on their shirts.
“One similarity would be a shared Mediterranean sense of pride and toughness.” For example, “Certainly Israelis tough it out. I’ve been to Israel a handful of times and I’m amazed at how far apart the commuter train stations were. They just want you to stay tough. You know, in D.C. the bus or Metro stops are just a few seconds apart. In Israel they want you to stay tough so the stations are so far apart — it’s a very passive way for them to keep the nation of Israel tough.”
Capozolla also notes that same attitude about take-away coffee in Israel. “They don’t give you java jackets in Israel when you order coffee. If they give you a hot coffee and you say, ‘Can I have a java jacket? They’ll say, ‘What, it’s too hot for you? Too hot for your little fingers?’ They’ll tease you. Trouble looms, danger is always a possibility there. So for people to whine, ‘I need a java jacket’? They have no patience for that.”
Mike Capozzola, stand-up comedian; Sept. 7 at 8 p.m.; Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia; 8900 Little River Turnpike, Fairfax; $19.89 in advance with service fee, $25 at the door; tickets at standupatthej.bpt.me.
See also: “Is that a Jewish Face?”