Diego Attanasio moved from Peru to Detroit with his family as a 4-year-old. As he rose through grade school, he instinctively realized that humor was a useful tool for fitting in with his peers.
“I always thought being funny was the way to get people to like me,” he says. “If I could get people to laugh, that would be the thing that made me stand out.”
Ironically, Attanasio — a stand-up comedian — says that he was the least funny person in his group of friends and that he often aspired to reach their level of hilarity. “I would slip in a good joke here and there when I could,” he says.
Attanasio will be slipping in plenty of jokes at La Zoom Room this month, as he settles in for a two-night stint, Friday and Saturday, July 5 and 6. He’s in the midst of a 10 1/2-month tour, which began in February and will end in December. And, believe it or not, he’s driving the entire trip by himself — a gritty endeavor that’s spawned a love-hate relationship with the road.
“I actually thought about quitting yesterday,” he says. “I was driving back from Kansas City on a 14-hour trip, and I was like, ‘Yeah, I shouldn’t do this anymore.’”
An observational humorist with a laid-back onstage demeanor, Attanasio became interested in stand-up comedy as a teenager. He downloaded all of the “Comedy Central Presents” specials on “Bearshare or Limewire or something,” as he puts it, and watched them religiously.
“My friends would come over, and I would make them watch them,” he says. “And I’d already seen all of them, so I’d watch my friends watch them, just to see their reactions. I was super in love with stand-up.”
He was particularly fond of “weird guys,” as he calls them — Demetri Martin, Mitch Hedberg, Steven Wright, Kyle Cease, Anthony Jeselnik and other legends of the craft. He was also a huge fan of Dane Cook when Cook first rose to popularity — an affinity that Attanasio found strange because the New England comedian’s aggressive, physical style is so different from what Attanasio typically enjoyed at the time.
Despite his love of stand-up, Attanasio had no inkling that he’d one day take the stage himself. His father is a doctor, and Attanasio aligned himself for a similar path when he enrolled in the College of Natural Science at Michigan State University. Within a year, however, he realized the medical field wasn’t his calling.
One of the biggest turning points was born from an ordinary moment. He was watching “Scrubs” in his dorm room with some friends when a feeling suddenly overtook him.
“I was like, ‘Man, I’d love to do something with comedy,’” he says. “Stand-up wasn’t in the picture at all for me. I was thinking I’d maybe write on a TV show or something like that.”
So he switched his major to communication arts and started writing for — and occasionally acting in — campus sketch comedy shows and sitcoms. The first time he auditioned for Michigan State’s stand-up competition, Last Spartan Standing, he didn’t make the cut. So he did what any dedicated comedian would do: He worked on his act and auditioned again the following year.
Results were better the second time around. He placed third, winning a $100 Visa gift card that he immediately spent on a keg. From that point forward, he was hooked. “I was like, ‘This is awesome … and I think this is what I want to do,’” he says.
And he has, despite recurring moments of doubt and the taxing nature of life on the road. Attanasio’s crowd-pleasing act has taken him all over the United States — from “Alaska, Hawaii and everywhere in between,” as his website reads. He’s competed in countless comedy festivals (including Laugh Your Asheville Off, now the Asheville Comedy Festival) and has opened for such popular acts as Tig Notaro, Joe List, Robert Kelly and Matt Braunger.
At one point, not too long ago, Attanasio found himself in a dark place. He wasn’t working; he wasn’t doing much of anything. “I was down and out for a while,” he says. Then one day, he started pursuing comedy again — open mics, that sort of thing. Stand-up, he says, carried him out of his depression and helped him regain his sense of self.
Nowadays, he’s focused on enjoying the ride — and the road — while refraining from worrying about the future.
“I tell myself, ‘If I’m going to do comedy the rest of my life, what’s the rush?’” he says. “Whether I become big or not, the nuts and bolts will be the same — it’s still about getting onstage every night and performing.”
“That realization put a calm in me,” he adds. “And it’s helped carry me through those times when I’ve wanted to quit.”
WHO: Diego Attanasio
WHERE: LaZoom Room, 76 Biltmore Ave., lazoomtours.com
WHEN: Friday, July 5, 9 p.m., and Saturday, July 6, 9:30 p.m., $8 advance/$12 day of show