Giorgio Panariello and his love for Versilia
The great Tuscan comedian and actor talks about himself on and off stage
If there is one person who embodies the thousand faces of Versilia, it is certainly Giorgio Panariello. A stage performer, actor and television host, the great Tuscan comedian has made his origins the key to success, thanks to his irresistible characters such as Merigo, Mario the Lifeguard, Naomo, Lello Splendor and the PR of Chiticaca. But he never ceases to amaze us, as with his new show, Panariello vs Masini, which plays in Versilia on August 9th, at Villa Bertelli in Forte dei Marmi and on 10th at Castello Pasquini in Castiglioncello.
Florentine by birth, you immediately moved to Versilia. What is your first memory?
I grew up in Versilia, so the memories are many. It was here that I experienced my first loves, my first passions. Every time it feels like coming home, not to mention that all my characters come from here.
How did your love for show business come about?
One is born with a love for the performing arts. I was already showing the first ‘symptoms’ at school. While the teachers were talking I would fill notebooks and textbooks with my signature, at home I would lock myself in my room with my grandmother’s brush and interview myself, I would sing or DJ. I was born at the same time as the first local radio stations, so I lived my adolescence in that perspective. Had I been born now maybe I would have become an influencer.
In fact, you started as a DJ at Radio Forte dei Marmi.
Yes, after that I worked at Radio Versilia and other local radio stations, like Radio Babilonia. The person who called me to Radio Forte dei Marmi was Carlo Fontana, now at RAI. I started with a programme at lunchtime. I liked that timing because I lived in Cinquale and I could hitchhike to the radio station at Forte without getting up too early.
Were you already doing shows at La Capannina?
No, those came later. I started with La Caravella, which is no longer there, where Cavallini would call me to present fashion shows or do impersonations. Then, after Vernice fresca and the first television successes, the evenings at La Capannina began.
What was your first successful impersonation?
I started with Merigo and many other characters from the village. I would look around, to find new characters and assimilate their way of moving, talking... that’s how I created the imitations that I brought to Vernice fresca with Carlo Conti.
Your encounters with Carlo Conti and Leonardo Pieraccioni were important not only for your career, but also on a personal level. How did your friendship start?
It may sound strange but I first met Carlo in Calabria. He was already quite well known in radio circles and we had a friend in common, Fernando Capecchi, but we had never met in person until Carlo presented an evening in Vibo Valentia where I had been invited as a guest. I was imitating Renato Zero. After my performance he suggested I participate in Succo d’arancia, a show he was doing with Pieraccioni in Tuscany. I went as a guest and that’s how I met Leonardo, who already had some success. There was immediate friendliness and mutual esteem. The following year I was working with Carlo. The first character I did with him was Lello Splendor, then Mario the Lifeguard, the PR of Chiticaca, and sometimes Leonardo was a guest. From here a great friendship was born.
This year we will see you with Marco Masini in the Panariello vs Masini show. Can you tell us about this new project?
It is a sort of symbolic showdown between pop music and comedy. We will touch on many topics, including love, sung by him and made comic by me. We are still working on it, but I don’t rule out Renato popping in to duet with Marco. The first show is July 12th, in Bologna, but we will tour a bit all over Italy, including Versilia of course.
What is it like to perform in front of a Tuscan audience? Totò used to come to Florence to premiere his shows and ‘test’ them in front of a demanding audience.
Yes, it is true, it is a very demanding audience, even more so - contrary to what you might think - if you, the performer, are also Tuscan. Working in this region always stimulates me and helps me to reinvent myself to continue surprising the public.
Tell us a little about your Versilia?
My Versilia is mainly concentrated in Cinquale. When I used to go to Viareggio I had to take my suitcase, as it felt so far away, also because I was always without a car. I spent my youth with my thumb up my ass.
Then there was La Caravella, our temple. I remember Pietrasanta, where before we only went for the San Biagio Fair and the clubs. Versilia was full of them. I went to middle school in Forte dei Marmi, with Valè’s “trombetta”, which came with the cart of doughnuts outside the school. Many of the things I recounted in the film Bagnomaria, with the doughnut seller played by Arcuri, although, to be honest, the original one was a bit different. Those were unforgettable years.
Who will Mario the Lifeguard save this summer on the beaches of Forte dei Marmi?
This year Mario will be very busy worrying about the renovation of the concession stand, but there will surely be some rescue, perhaps with the new characters from Sanremo.
And Naomo, will he have some new extravagance?
Even with fewer Russians, his Trillionaire will prove to be the coolest club in Versilia, because you know, he’s cooler even than Briatore!
Cinema, theatre, radio and TV are the places where you express yourself, but which is the one where you feel most yourself?
The theatre. I can change and improvise if I want, but I am always in full control. I also love the relationship of great empathy that is created with the audience. I only bring jokes on stage that amuse me and if they make me laugh, I am sure they will make the audience laugh too. So at the theatre I know for sure that I will have fun.