In the world of stand-up comedy, where standard topics are condoms, cops eating at doughnut shops, and foreigners working at the 7-Eleven, Paul DiGiulio is an original. His humor is observational, even scientific.
DiGiulio was a junior high science teacher before deciding to become a full-time stand-up comic. And with his quirky mannerisms, tightly cropped beard, and 100-mile-an-hour patter, DiGiulio resembles the bastard offspring of George Carlin and Carl Sagan.
"Let me show you my impression of ovulation," he says, flailing an arm out at his side. "My head is an ovary, my arm is a fallopian tube, my fingers are fibria." He turns his head toward his hand and pretends to spit.
When he taught the occasional sex-ed class to seventh- and eighth-graders from a south-side housing project, DiGiulio kept this particular routine to himself. One time he did tell them, "I was going to teach you about menstruation, but I think it's the wrong tune of the month," but only one person got it. Ultimately frustration and crummy pay led him to leave the Chicago public schools.
"There was a lot of hypocrisy in the educational system," says DiGiulio. "They wanted you to teach sex education because of AIDS. But they really didnt want you to teach sex education, because some of the facts about AIDS aren't pretty. . . . I said they dont want us to teach sex education because some people still think that AIDS can be transmitted through the exchange of knowledge. . . . They thought the best forms of contraception were shame, guilt, and self-doubt."
After quitting teaching and starting in comedy about a year and a half ago, DiGiulio got his first bookings oh the basis of one particularly oddball routine that takes the term "introspective comedy" to some bizarre heights.
"I'm a hypochondriac, but I'm a psychological hypochondriac," he says. "I dont have imaginary physical problems; I have imaginary psychological problems. I dont really have psychological problems, I just think that I do. I'm a hypochondriac, but I'm really not. It's all in my mind. It's like having a psychosomatic headache. You don't really have a headache; it's all in your head. I have an imaginary friend who's a hypochondriac, and his problems are all in my mind. . . ."
DiGiulio uses scientific methods to perfect his comedy. Although he doesn't watch much television, he does watch the occasional episode of Nova (and The Honeymooners). When describing how he comes up with his routines, he uses words like "analysis," "hypothesis," and "precision."
"I try to make every word precise because I've found that one word can make a difference between a joke working and a joke not working," says DiGiulio. "Usually it's small words like 'the' or 'in,' because it's in the rhythm of the words. When people talk about timing, they're talking about the number of words per time frame. The time it takes to get from one point to the next is dependent on the words you've chosen. So you've got to find the right words with the right number of syllables.
"It is a very scientific method. I use trial and error. Each joke is a hypothesis. I test the hypothesis at the clubs, and if it works, I keep it. If it doesn't, I discard it."
DiGiulio will appear at the Funny Firm, 318 W. Grand, January 17-22. Admission is $10 Tuesday and Wednesday, $12 Thursday through Sunday, with a two-drink minimum. Call 321-9500 for information.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Art Wise.