Tara Cannistraci, whose humor is based on her life as an Italian American in the Bronx, uses those experiences as the foundation for her take on observational comedy.
Cannistraci’s childhood and adult life dynamic are often highlighted in her performances talking about everything from growing up Italian, to being a single city girl turned suburban fiancé. More recently, her jokes spotlight censorship of comedy and how it affects the art form and has taken her talents to stages, television, film and off-Broadway.
She wrote for and was featured on SportsNet New York’s (SNY) “Oh Yeah.” Cannistraci, 41, is the co-creator of We Stand Comedy, a production house that produces live shows and digital content. She is also a member and regular performer at the famous Friars Club in Manhattan and produces and performs for fellow Friar and Bronx native Chazz Palminteri’s Child Reach Foundation’s annual event.
In a male dominated industry, she told the Bronx Times that becoming a comedian was not easy, yet is glad she stuck with it over the years.
“It means everything,” she said about comedy. “It spills into every aspect of my life. It’s where I belong.”
Cannistraci, a Pelham Parkway native, grew up idolizing female comedians such as Gilda Radner, Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Lucille Ball.
Growing up Cannistraci was an only child who often put on shows in the living room and was constantly making her friends laugh. As a kid, she and her mom would watch “I Love Lucy,” and when she was older, it was a weekly tradition to catch “Saturday Night Live.”
“My mother said I was always fascinated by comedy from early on,” Cannistraci said.
Those female comedians and shows drew her into comedy, she said. According to Cannistraci, her love for humor didn’t only come from TV, but family as well. Her grandfather, Rudy Pagano, was a joke teller and her grandmother, Rose Pagano, was funny even when she wasn’t trying to be, Cannistraci said.
Cannistraci got her feet wet with comedy when she joined a sketch comedy group in high school. However, unsure about being a comedian for a living, she obtained a degree in human relations from Pace University and after college took acting classes at the New York Film Academy.
“I knew I was drawn to stand-up comedy, but I put the focus on acting because that’s what was on TV,” she said.
According to Cannistraci, she thought acting would pay the bills, but then she took notice of “Last Comic Standing,” a TV show where aspiring stand-up comedians competed for a television special and talent deal with NBC. After watching the show for a while, she soon began to envision herself telling jokes onstage for a living.
“I started to say why am I not doing that,” she said. “I didn’t know if I ever thought about standup comedy until I saw ‘Last Comic Standing.'”
In her mid-20s she got her first stand-up gig where she opened a show at the Producers Club in Manhattan. While she was a bit nervous, once she got her first laugh she felt at ease.
That five-minute bit on stage actually turned into her next job. In the audience that night was someone from the New York Yankees organization who was impressed with her. He offered her a job to be the New York Yankees official scoreboard host and reporter and Cannistraci did that from 2009-2013.
“From there, I decided I had to do stand-up comedy,” she said.
So, from her early 30s, she began aggressively pursuing her dream of becoming a comedian. However, success did not happen overnight.
She accepted almost any gig she was offered and soon began to garner a reputation in the comedy circuit and headline clubs. In her act, she uses observational humor and talks about many things related to growing up as an Italian in the Bronx and the negative stigma about the borough.
“When you are trying to climb and do better you say yes to anything,” she said.
Over the past decade she has performed for several prominent comedians, including the late Bronx native Danny Aiello. Cannistraci said people often assume comedy is just for men, but like her idols Radner and Ball, she wanted to prove them wrong.
“I think there are stigmas that women aren’t funny,” she said.
In addition to her upcoming shows across the U.S. and Canada, she has since rescheduled her upcoming wedding five times due to the pandemic, and will be tying the knot at the Bronx Zoo in June — two years from the original date.
Cannistraci resides in Pelham Township in Westchester County with her fiancé Michael and when they are not filming their funny car rides together, she shares her comedy routines, upcoming shows and more on her Instagram page @TaraJokes.
“This will be the beginning of my 10th year (in comedy), so I feel like I’m headed in the right direction,” she said.
Reach Jason Cohen at email@example.com or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes