The inspiration for Luca Cupani’s Fringe show came when the cemetery in which his mother was buried wrote to ask him if they could move her body.
“They told me it was ten years since my mother died – so they wanted to dig her out.
“I didn’t know anything about this. You think it is forever but it is just for ten years.”
The unexpected request from the cemetery inspired the London-based Italian comic to think about how his relationship with his parents, particularly his mother, had dominated his early life.
“I don’t miss her at all. I feel better – which is bad if you are an Italian and a Catholic.”
Cupani has a way of telling a story which immediately draws you into it. He is gently spoken, thoughtful and philosophical but disarmingly funny, with a gift for finding absurdity, in even the most painful and embarrassing aspects of life.
“My mum wasn’t abusive in a bad way – but she was overly controlling.”
For example. His mother was a hypochondriac obsessed with healthy food. She insisted on making the creamy Italian dessert tiramisu with yoghurt instead of cream. And she had some strange views on religion – never buying him a Christmas present because Christmas was Jesus’ birthday.
Like many Italians Cupani was very close to his parents – and for many reasons he found it hard to get away from them.
“I lived with my parents until I was 35 years old. And I was a virgin until I was 31.”
For the last few years at home Cupani was looking after his father, who was sick. “After my degree I wanted to travel but my father got a stroke – so I became a carer.”
In Italy Luca worked as a freelance editor for text books. But on the day of his mother’s funeral the author he most frequently worked with died suddenly – and he decided to move to London to become an actor.
Recently married he has now become a British citizen.
“It’s not a sad story – and it is good for my wife too. An Italian mother in law is quite something – particularly when they have a son. Their son is the main purpose of their life.”
“I’ve been in therapy for ten years and it made me think a lot. Through therapy I realised all the things you take for normal are not normal at all.”
He loved the idea of London – of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Shakespeare – “even Tony Blair, before that unfortunate war.”
But his acting dreams hit a roadblock – because of his bald head and pale skin. “I sound Italian but I didn’t look Italian. I look Polish – but I didn’t want to learn to speak with a Polish accent.”
Instead Cupani decided to try stand up – which allows performers to be themselves. “I Googled open mikes.”
He got a slot at the Gong show at the Comedy Store, having written one joke which would also serve as a chat up line.
Magically – with only one piece of material, Cupani managed to make the audience laugh for a full five minutes. Not only was he not gonged off the stage – he was declared the winner.
“Looking back on it I think I was a bit racist and my English was not so good. I talked about going on the tube to Clapham but I said Claffam. And I ended up describing my penis – although actually I still do that on stage sometimes.”
In 2014 he came to Edinburgh for the first time – imagining the Fringe was some sort of month long competition where performers were given slots. He fell completely in love with the Fringe and saw the potential for a career in comedy.
A year later he came back with his first solo show ‘Freefall’ at the Free Festival – where his audience were mostly waiting for another show to begin in the same venue – and often left halfway through.
He entered and won ‘So You Think You’re Funny’ – the prestigious prize for new comics which has launched the career of many famous names.
He’s delighted to be coming back. “I love the idea that for a month art is central. Being an artist is not a weird thing – it is the main drive of the whole thing. It brings people together.”
Since Brexit he feels it is more important than ever. “Where there is art there is this kind of openness. You can’t be an artist if you are not open to other people. People want to come and live in the UK because of that, not because of ideas which come from fear.
“At the Fringe I have seen Japanese drummers and a play about Chinese factory workers. You see things you would never have seen anywhere else. There is theatre, there is music, there is art and because my show is in the early afternoon I’ll go and see loads of things. It’s one of the main reasons I love being at the Fringe.”
Luca Cupani: Happy Orphan, Just the Tonic at the Caves, 14.20pm, 4-14, 16-28