PHOTOS BY BRODY WHEELER
Some of you may already know our cover woman as “Rochester’s Funniest Person” while others may know her as the Pickle Pizza viral sensation, but one thing is for sure — when you meet Cindy Zicari Arena, you will never forget her and her sense of humor. The risqué yet down-to-earth comedian (and expert pizza maker) sat down with Rochester Woman Online to share more about her colorful past, rough seasons and laughter, and how using the experiences you have been through can ultimately help you fulfill your purpose in life.
Q: Cindy, I am so excited to sit down with you and learn more about your life. What is your background, where are you from, and what do you do when you are not performing on stages across the country?
A: I am a 59 year-old mother of two who has always loved to laugh and have fun. Born and raised in Rochester, I currently live in Irondequoit with my partner of 18 years. I work full time at Rhino’s Pizzeria where I went viral for the pickle pizza. Can you believe it? Not my comedy but a pizza! In my free time, I enjoy watching My 600-lb Life, Hoarders, 90 Day Fiancé, and any show that helps uplift me.
Q: Why stand up comedy? How and when did you decide to give it a try?
A: Friends and family have always commented on how funny I am and said that I should pursue comedy. So, about four years ago, I finally decided to pursue my interest in standup comedy. I started by taking a comedy class which gave me the courage to join the Rochester Funniest Person Contest at the Carlson Comedy Club. I won first place and have fallen in love with stand up ever since.
Q: Let’s take a step back really quick from comedy and talk about porn. That’s right…porn. What was it like growing up with a family in the porn business?
A: Believe it or not it was not much different growing up in a family in the porn business than in most families. Kids who have parents that are fire fighters might get to slide down a pole, I got to swing on one. All joking aside, it had its ups and downs. I had the opportunity to meet all kinds of interesting and creative people, but there are always those people that will judge you from where you come from.
Q: I am sure you have a lot of material to pull from life experiences. Taking it back to comedy, how do you come up with your content?
A: I’ve always tried to find humor in situations and laugh through difficult times. My millennial daughters are a great source of material, as well as my colorful upbringing. I like to take my flaws and laugh about them. I just started therapy and the material I’m getting from this amazing. This poor therapist has no idea what she is in for letting me in her office.
Q: Do you think deep down you always wanted to be a comedian? Or were meant to be a comedian?
A: I always knew I liked making people laugh, but didn’t really think about doing stand-up comedy. Over the years, people have told me that I’m funny and should consider performing. I was always more socially funny; I was voted class clown and most outgoing in high school. So I guess I’m built for comedy.
Q: What was it like being named “Rochester’s Funniest Person”?
A: I had only been doing comedy for a few weeks and was going to local open mics when I signed up for the contest. Once the competition started, I found that many of the contestants had been doing comedy for many years. I was afraid I had gotten in over my head, so I was going to open mics and practicing almost every night to prepare. When I realized that I won the whole thing, I was shocked and excited! It helped give me the confidence to continue challenging myself knowing that if I worked hard I could continue to improve.
Q: Who really makes you laugh?
A: My mother always made me laugh. She taught me to not take life too seriously. Our family always laughed through hard times. Growing up we always had comedies and and sitcoms playing on the TV. That’s where I learned to love great comedians like Joan Rivers and Carol Burnett. Some of my other favorites comics are Jessica Kirson, Fortune Feimster, and Sam Kinison.
Q: How do you practice your material?
A: I go to a lot of open mics. I also practice my jokes with the girls at work. Trust me, most of the people around me are probably sick of listening to me tell jokes. Also, I keep a running notebook in my phone that every time I think something is funny or I remember a story from my childhood I take notes. I can be chatting with someone and telling a story and all of a sudden I think “wow” that would make a great joke.
Q: Tell us about someone who has inspired you on your journey whether personally or professionally.
A: My comedy mentor has been Jessica Kirson and I have been a huge fan of hers over the years. Mark Ippolito from the Comedy at the Carlson gave me the opportunity to open for her. She was so warm and encouraging toward me. She really took me under her wing and gave me a lot of great advice. I’m inspired by the way she is willing to give her time and attention to other woman in comedy. She’s been a mentor to several successful comedians and has had a very successful career, but has remained humble and kind.
Q: She sounds like an incredible person. Thanks for sharing a little about your relationship together. So I have to ask, even with all the mentorship and great advice you have experienced, name one time you failed and how that changed your way of thinking, or working for the better.
A: I have failed several times doing standup comedy. That is what they call bombing. Each time I bombed, l learned something new. For me the struggle has been not reading the room properly. This has helped me get better at tailoring my jokes to what I think the audience might respond to and being able to readjust and shift topics more quickly when I see that something is not going over well. At the end of the day, I’m there to entertain the audience and I’ve learned it’s important to be able to adapt to what they like. They paid to see me make them laugh and I will do what I can to make sure they do!
Q: Rephrasing this in a more personal way, I want to ask what is one moment in your past that completely changed your life, and was it for the better or worse?
A: Having children changed my life for the better even though it felt like the worst sometimes. Thank God for Benadryl! Just kidding! I took for granted going to the bathroom by myself, sleeping in, and not having grubby little hands in my food. On the bright side, they have given me great material.
Q: Has anything embarrassing ever happened on stage?
A: Not yet, but you probably just jinxed me. I have a fear of laughing too hard and peeing my pants. I know this seems crazy but at my age and after having two kids, it’s always possible.
Q:: If you weren’t a comedian, what job would you do?
A: I work full time making pizza in addition to doing comedy. I really enjoy doing the social media for the pizza shop. I like marketing and promoting at my day job and in comedy. At this point in my life, I’m just ready to move to heaven’s waiting room, also known as Florida, and tour the Villages and do comedy for nursing homes.
Q: Picture yourself on stage and tell us, what’s the best audience?
A: The best audiences are the ones that you can tell came out to have fun. I always thought I would do better with people closer to my age, but sometimes I find the younger kids laughing the hardest at me. I guess silly and ridicules has no age limits. Thank god!
Q: Is there anything you won’t joke about?
A: Pretty much nothing is off limits, as long as I am not punching down or intentionally being cruel. A well-crafted joke can make any subject funny.
Q: What is it like to be a woman in comedy? And how would you encourage other women who are considering trying their hand at the profession?
A: I think The table is starting to turn and we are seeing more female standup comedians. I love when I see a headlining comic with a female host and feature. I think it’s important that we have more female comics; woman are funny and the world is starting to see that now. Whenever I see a new female come to open mic for the first time and do stand-up comedy, I am always trying to encourage them to keep on going. It seems like so many women try it and then just give up. I tell them keep getting up on stage and practice your material.
Q: Did family and friends ever try to talk you out of becoming a comedian?
A: No. Everybody was very supportive and encouraging to me. I think I try to talk myself out of it all the time, however!
Q: What has been the most significant barrier in your career?
A: I have struggled most of my life with ADD and dyslexia. This has made it hard to organize, remember, and write my jokes. I am also can be a self-deprecating comic. I sometimes struggle with people feeling sorry for me and wanting to laugh. I am still learning how to let people know during my jokes it’s okay to laugh. I know I look like a gym teacher who has never been to the gym.
Q: What are some of your biggest fears?
A: Having weight loss surgery. I did because my fear of plastic lawn chairs and getting stuck in a water slide were much higher! Most importantly, losing the ability to wipe my own ass was my biggest fear.
Q: Where has been the most fun place you have traveled to perform and why?
A: I just did comedy in South Florida and one of the shows I did in Miami was called “Triggered”. The concept of the show was to say things that would provoke and trigger the audience. It was a lot of fun and interactive with the crowd. The audience wrote down triggering words that were drawn out of a hat and each comic had two minutes to riff about the topic they pulled, to see who could be the most triggering. I won the contest and proved to myself that I truly am the monster I thought I was.
Q: How have you built confidence and/or resiliency over the course of your career?
A: I keep challenging myself to perform in new and different places. The first time I did an open mic, I was terrified. However, every time it has gotten a little easier. I network and talk with a lot of other comedians where I get a lot of support and can share experiences. I love to do comedy in loud bars. It can be a nightmare but it’s a challenge to try to get the crowd to pay attention to me.
Q: What’s the funniest joke you’ve ever heard?
A: One of my favorite comics Cristela Alonzo does a bit about how expensive Whole Foods can be and says she has to put her tomatoes on layaway. Also, Sam Kinison has an amazing bit about his wife not letting him take his penis when he goes out with the boys.
Q: Now to get a little nosey, what are the top things we can find in your search history?
A: Sugar free candy; plastic Barbie doll legs; comedy festival submissions; Walmart plus size fashion.
Q: And last, where can our audience see you next?
A: I will being performing in the Human Rights Campaign Fundraiser on June 7th at the Comedy at the Carlson. The very funny and talented Todd Youngman will be master of ceremonies. I’ll also be joined by Rochester’s famous drag queen, Aggy Dune, and a very talented comedian from NYC, Oscar Aydin.There will also be music by Leah Zicari. This is a cause I feel very strongly about, especially in our current political climate where gay rights, trans rights, and women’s rights are at risk.
Thank you so much for sitting down with Rochester Woman Online. We know it will be an amazing show and hope to see everyone there. If you haven’t seen Cindy perform, you won’t want to miss this hilarious event.
Follow Cindy on insta @tie_dye_thesky