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With an earnest and expressive face, Santino Merino describes his upcoming Melbourne Fringe Festival show as a comedic exploration of identity, family and homecoming, recounting the days following his return to Chicago after living abroad in Indonesia for two years. Santino, smiling broadly, hopes to replicate “the feeling of sitting across the table from your family and friends”. Creating this type of ‘in-joke’ atmosphere in an hour could be a difficult challenge but Santino is hopeful that once an audience gets to “know the characters, and the character I am presenting”, the audience will find humour in it, adding quietly that “hopefully there are some zingers in there” too! Without too many spoilers, his show focuses on homecoming and what it feels like but the show also weaves in family history, like when his grandmother went to jail in the 1980s and when his father tried to escape Cuba… I know, I’m intrigued too!
Santino has spent the last year and half of his time in Australia trying out his material at open mic and story telling nights. A keen performer as well as aspiring television writer, Santino appears eager to hone his craft and his performance style to make an audience “feel comfortable” as well as laugh.
Santino appears to deeply respect other performers but also loves and respects his family. When asked how he deals with ‘joking’ about his family, Santino replies, “I come from a Muppets school of comedy, it is always better and easier to make yourself the joke”. If he is going to talk about his wife “let me be very clear that I am the joke, not her”, it is “so much more fun to make fun of yourself”! Santino wraps up this topic by saying genuinely “my wife is wonderful”! It’s on the record now!
The line between fact and embellishment is a difficult one to tread when basing comedy (and an entire show) off of your own life. “As long as the meaning, the metaphor is true to the story, I’m happy to take things to an absurdist point… sometimes, if that’s what it calls for” says Santino. His show is based on real people, real characters and real stories but he is not afraid of “flights of fancy into tangents”. The man even references highly regarded television show ‘Lizzie McGuire’, describing the pictorial manifestation of the lead character’s inner thoughts. Santino adds a tangent is “relevant” as long as “it is grounded in emotional truth”.
“I feel I have the capacity to make other people happy” says Santino, a skill that has developed after a bit of introspection. “When I went to Indonesia, I discovered that...I was…pretty selfish, narcissistic”. Santino recounts a rhetorical question, asked by his wife’s aunt: “Why does everyone go and try and find themselves… what happens if you find out you’re a dick”? From all accounts, Santino’s travel experiences have influenced his Fringe show, not only the “fish out of water” experience of being in a new country but also “grappling” with meaningful changes to one’s mindset and outlook on life.
Santino encourages punters to come see his show for a unique view on family from a developing storyteller. His show promises to be a relatable evening for those who have travelled (even just a little bit), adding that his family are “pretty fun” as you get to know them. I will be booking tickets to hear more stories from this likeable guy in September! Who knows, I might tear him to shreds in my review, but based on our chat, he’s going to do just fine!