Comedian Tony Marrese is making me a toastie. He tops the crusty bread with crumbly cheese and rocket leaves and slaps on thick slices of salami Napoli. He is talking about food, which his wife Polly, cradling their new born baby girl Eden, tells me is quite common.
“I’m a very foodie person,“ the mustachioed Tony tells me while drizzling olive oil, “we’re always cooking. Food is a main priority for me in my life.“
No sooner is the toastie devoured when out comes a tin of homemade tarts – stuffed with chestnuts, cranberries, plums, and Manuka honey.
“It’s a family obsession,“ jokes Polly.
The couple’s home, in the heart of Tottenham near White Hart Lane, feels like a farmhouse. Tony, who works as a landscape gardener, prop maker and carpenter, has filled it with furniture he’s made himself. Out of the window you can see nothing but green, despite the season, while inside in the warm a number of cats doze on the sofa.
“I must have put on a stone baking over Christmas,“ says the father-of-two.
This passion for food comes from Tony’s immigrant father, a chef, who also endowed his son with the customs and quick-witted humour of southern Italy’s rural folk.
“Foreigners do this thing of being very direct and not having any subtlety,“ says Tony. “They’re like that in the south. I only realised that when I went to Naples and all these people were just so cocky, pulling your leg and cracking jokes. I thought my god, this is how I am on an everyday basis.
“It’s agricultural, a hard life and there’s a lot of poverty. It’s a poor environment, so they joke a lot, they joke around to get through the day.“
Growing up in multi-cultural Haringay, Tony heard accents from the world over. In his stand-up he pokes fun at different groups from White Rastas to ’disaffected’ Tottenham youths to his Turkish neighbours, as well as his own Italian roots – “I’m a natural mimic – like a parakeet,“ he adds. There are also character sketches and a rather surreal puppet skit.
“It’s heavily cheeky,“ admits Tony. “But from my heart, I try not to be horrible to people, I don’t believe in that. A little bit horrible sometimes, but the couple of times I’ve done that I’ve gone up to them after and given them a hug.
It’s hard to imagine Tony having the capacity to be cruel. In the summer he trims all his neighbours’ front bushes. While working as a DJ he diffused hundreds of dance floor scraps. He’s even stopped in the street to help women being attacked.
“It could be your sister, wife or mum. It’s the village mentality,“ says Tony, “it’s very different to the city mentality. In the city you’re surrounded by eight million people and it can be the most lonely place on the planet.
“My dad was a village man, we used to have vineyards and cattle. He was like an old cowboy. He knew everyone in the neighbourhood. He would get involved immediately in anything and everything. I’ve kept those values.“
Tony has reached the final stage of the New Acts of the Year Showcase, now in its 30th year and hosted by Arthur Smith. Selected from more than 175 stand-ups, he is up against 15 contemporaries at the Bloomsbury Theatre on January 27. Audiences are sure to laugh at themselves and others as Tony pokes fun at the city’s diverse residents.
“In every aspect of my life I like to find humour because life can be so dark and depressing,“ says Tony. “It’s important to be good to people, to be good in your community. Making people laugh is a good way to do that.“
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