When I heard that New York’s lauded Comedy Cellar was opening in Las Vegas, I got chills. I mean, I love stand-up. I was watching Comedy Central when it was still called “Ha!” for Pete’s sake. Anyhow, I had to see how it turned-out, so I went one night, and saw Steve Byrne do a really tight set. The room was great (though the audience was fair-to-partly cloudy).
Later, while perusing a press release of upcoming comics, I noticed Matteo Lane’s name listed among those slated to perform; and having seen him, in last year’s Out100, figured he’d be perfect to interview, for y’all.
Originally trained as a oil painter, then as an opera singer; Matteo Lane is a very funny young man, who loves posing for his myriad social media followers, as much as he does expressing himself through humor, art, and song.
And lest you thought he wasn’t living as multifaceted a life as humanly possible; in addition to numerous podcasts and appearances (from Ohio to Italy), Matteo Lane is also the artist responsible for illustrating the cult Instagram comic Kickass Drag Queen, created by his pal, Christopher Caldwell (aka Bob the Drag Queen, winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race: Season 8).
Now, as he prepares to perform for four days at the new Las Vegas outpost of the legendary Comedy Cellar – inside Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino – for your reading pleasure, is my interview with the bright young comic who once equated the Mega-Evolution of the Pokémon character Barbasaur* (first to Wartortle, and then to Blastoise); with his own evolution, as a gay man (from Twink, to Muscle-queen, and one day, to Bear)… Matteo Lane!
So, were you ever actually a Boy Scout**, or did you just wear a costume on TV?
MATTEO LANE: Oh... I forgot about that! No, I was never a Boy Scout. I'm from an Italian family – we don't do camp or Boy Scouts: We just have aunts and grandmas, all on the same block, who watch us growing-up; and we learn our life lessons, from them.
A totally different type of camp...
Speaking of which, where did you train for your singing and drawing?
I started singing when I was 15, growing-up in Chicago. I worked with a great voice teacher (his name is Nick Falco, and he’s still working in Chicago), who taught me operatic breathing and embellishment techniques.
But I'm also an illustrator, and I went to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (the one that's connected to the museum), for painting, and drawing; and then studied in Italy, for a while, in Umbria. Of course, International Academy of Painting and Drawing sounds far less sexy, in English.
Doesn’t everything, though?
Pretty much, yeah. So, I studied, in Umbria; and then I got a job, soon after I graduated, as a television storyboard artist – illustrating TV commercials and fashion ads, professionally. I drew and planned out commercials for 7-Up, and Lexus, and Monopoly.
Would you ever move back to Italy?
I hope! I go to Italy as often as I can. I'm actually performing stand-up, in Italy, in Italian, this October. But, I think my life is in New York. And maybe one day, when I retire – if I ever retire (which I doubt I will) – I'd live in Italy. So, I'd like to spend a summer, there; or something, in the future.
Did somebody at Starbucks really call you ‘Potato’?
Yes! I was working as a storyboard artist, in New York. I was working down on Varrick Street; and every day, I’d go down to Starbucks, and get coffee, on my break. And I’d walk in, get my coffee, and go. Then, one day, while I was walking back to my office, I look down at my cup, and say to myself, "Okay, this says ‘Potato.’"
So, I go to my boss (his name is Aaron and he can vouch for me), and I hold-up my cup, and say, "What does this say to you?" and he looks at the cup, then at me, and says, "It says ‘Potato.’"
I wrote a joke about it that night!
Fantastic! Who are your stand-up comedy heroes?
Joan Rivers. And that's like–
That’s a pretty short list…
I mean, I would pick Joan Rivers, by a mile; and then after Joan Rivers, would be Ellen [DeGeneres] and Kathy Griffin.
Did you have any comedy mentors?
No, because as a young gay kid, I don’t think I related to comedy, the same way as straight kids did: I didn't feel like I was being spoken to. (I think it was all subconscious. I just didn't get it.) So, when I was 18, and finally saw people like Joan Rivers and Kathy Griffin, that was the first time I related to stand-up comedy.
But I typically get my humor – my sensibilities – from people like my Aunt Cindy, who was funnier than any comedian I've ever met. So I draw most of my inspiration from my family… Even my cousin, Brian.
Continued in Part 2…
Comedy Cellar | The Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino
Through Sunday, May 13th
Click HERE for info
Get into it!
[Editor’s Note: * In Pokémon it's the character of Squirtle (not Bulbasaur) that mega-evolves into Wartortle, etc... // **Among the various roles he portrayed, as a correspondent on Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore (2015), my favorite was that of a guy who dressed-up as in Boy Scout-drag, before cruising gay bars.]