On a spring morning, with the rain just about holding out, I met American comedian and writer Ross Hyzer in his “backyard”, piazza Santo Spirito, for a coffee and cornetto, to chat about creativity, laughter and parenthood.
A native of the Midwestern United States, Hyzer lived in New York before an international move to Florence for his wife Celine’s job at UNICEF.
In New York, Hyzer worked as a stand-up comic, touring venues in the city five nights a week, often performing three shows every evening and watching up to five. The frenetic pace proved impossible when he became a father and so he swapped his comedy for screenwriting a few years before relocating to Italy.
Hyzer arrived in Florence just a month before the lockdown. “We were able to sign a lease on an apartment the day before lockdown started. At least we found a place, but it was unfurnished. We had an air mattress and there was a mattress that came with the apartment, but we couldn’t order any furniture. It was six weeks of camping out in this apartment in a new country where we didn’t know anybody.”
After surviving the intensity of isolation, Hyzer and his family settled into a routine. After dropping the kids at school, he gets down to work. He’s written an independent film and is now putting the finishing touches on a series pilot. “I usually write for four to six hours every day. A fair part of writing is just staring into space daydreaming, so it’s not like I’m hitting the keyboard for four hours straight. Sometimes you just have to organize things in your head.”
While some creatives use the city’s co-working spaces or cafes to focus, it’s the sights and sounds of Florence that Hyzer finds distracting. “I tend to be a procrastinator who’s easily distracted. When I go out, it’s like, oh, let me go and look at this thing, or this shop I’ve never seen before, or I’ll get one more thing to eat before I start working. If I make myself stay inside till the work is done, then I get the work done.”
I was wondering if Italy has been a source of his inspiration for his work. Hyzer says: “Having lived here only three years, I don’t know the place well enough to start writing about it. Joking is a sign of fluency in a language. If you can joke in a foreign language, you’ve achieved a certain level of mastery. I feel the same way about places. I don’t want to try to write about somewhere too soon as first impressions can prove to be misunderstandings. They can be misguided, trite or lacking in sensitivity. The first two scripts I’ve written are set in the Midwest of the US, where I grew up. I do have an idea for something about Niccolò Machiavelli, although it would take some research. I live right across from Palazzo Machiavelli and my landlord is a descendant. There’s the popular idea that’s come down through history that he was very scheming. My understanding is that the use of Machiavellian as an adjective came from French political rivals who were threatened by his involvement in the Republic of Florence. It was a way of casting people with Republican political persuasions at the time as untrustworthy compared to the upright aristocrats. He was a much more interesting character than he’s portrayed to be. I think a film about him could be quite funny and endearing if the research plays out. I’ve got to read my books. I still have a lot to learn about Florence and Italy.”
When not working, you’ll find Hyzer doing the school run, biking around Florence or cooking. “With so much amazing pasta readily available, it’s hard not to make pasta. Stracci al carne. Puttanesca. Carbonara. These are the things that I’ve made my children sick of because I like to make them a lot.”
Hyzer has found that Florence has been the perfect place for a slower creativity that comes with the longer ongoing work of screenplay writing. “I love the energy of New York, but it can also make it hard to sit at your desk for hours. There would be this pull between writing and going to the shows, so I could be around people and network. Writing is a solitary activity and takes time day after day. With the pace of life here, the pleasures that come from good food, taking a walk, finding some surprise in the city, taking some turn that I’ve never taken before and finding some secret thing that I haven’t seen before, it’s helped allow myself the time.”
Comedy has recently returned to Hyzer’s life with regular performances at his friend Scott Shanahan’s once-a-month comedy show at Fitzpatrick’s. “I still enjoy doing stand-up, but I do it for fun. I’m really happy my friend’s doing it as it gives me the chance to perform again.”
Hyzer describes his comedy as a way of communicating the “absurd situations that I see or find myself in. When the absurdity strikes me, then writing the joke is about finding a way to convey that to somebody else, so that they are struck by the same sense of ridiculousness that I am.”
If you need some laughter relief from life’s absurdities, see Hyzer at the English Stand-Up Comedy Firenze show at Fitzpatrick’s Irish Pub on Friday, May 19 at 9pm (10 euro). Follow @Firenze_standup_comedy on Instagram for announcements.