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Joe Lo Truglio is one of those actors that the mainstream audience knows they have seen before but can hardly remember the name; yet in the comedy world he is very well known and respected. He has a memorable face, he often steals the show and he has an extraordinaire comic timing. In the past three years he has seen his popularity increase thanks to the TV show Brooklyn Nine-Nine which has brought him into the homes of millions of Americans. At the midseason presentation of the third year of the show I had the opportunity to meet Joe and talk about his Italian upbringing and heritage.
“I love it!” was his immediate reaction about learning of our publication’s interest in exploring the life and career of Italian-Americans in the movie industry. “I’m Italian on my father side,” he proceeded to explain. “My grandfather was born in Brooklyn, but my great-great-grandfather was born in Sicily. He had an olive vineyard; he was forced out and went to New York. About a year ago I tried to get my Italian citizenship and I couldn’t because they couldn’t find my great-grandfather’s birth certificate.” Lo Truglio talks proudly of his ancestors and he has not given up about getting his Italian passport, hoping to be able to find a way to sort out the paperwork.
The busy schedule has prevented him thus far to give it another try and to visit the places where his great-grandfather grew up. “I’ve been in Italy only once so far, I didn’t make it to Sicily. I went to Rome, I went to Tuscany. It was when I was shooting Wanderlust. It was my parents 45th anniversary; they took them to Italy so I met them there. It was beautiful. I’m still in the process of learning about my heritage. When I have the time I want to go to Sicily and go to the town. I have a few relatives that are still alive that knew where he lived. I need to go to that place.” The movie that really put him on the map was the 2007 comedy Superbad; he was the guy backing up in the parking lot who almost runs over Jonah Hill and bargains his way out of a sticky situation by offering to get alcohol for the two teenagers. “Superbad was wonderful because it was the first big studio movie that I had done and there was a lot of improvisation which I was very comfortable with. What was also great was that for Michael Cera and Jonah Hill, who are both terrific actors, that was their breakout movie. It was great to see them so young and already professional at that young age. Before everything that’s happened they were so funny and so good; so nice to see them before everyone knew them. That was where I met Bill Hader, a good friend of mine, and the director Greg Mottola, another paesan who I’m still friends with. It was a special movie because I met a lot of people that I respect and still know to this day.”
Lo Truglio was born in a very Italian environment, and he constantly tries to honor the traditions and the culture that make for fond memories of his childhood. “I grew up in Queens, New York. Sunday was family day, lot of cousins would come. We had the feast of the seven fishes, endless amount of food; all I did was eat! Pass the gravy we would say, it’s called gravy, it is not called sauce,” and we both burst into laughter, at least he knows the difference between the two. “I was always surrounded by a lot of cousins, a lot of laughter. My grandfather would always cut through at the end of the dinner and tell a story. My grandfather was a mechanist, he built machine parts and then in his retirement he bought a motel in Hollywood, Florida on Sheridan Street. In his retirement years he ran the motel.” He suddenly becomes shy when asked to show off his Italian although we are positive he could manage. He would like it to be perfect for us; in order to avoid any embarrassment he promises to do it at the next occasion. “When I went to Italy I remembered some phrases and after I went to Italy I went to Japan. So all the phrases I learned from Italy were replaced by Japanese phrases and then I went to Greece… I have to do more work on my Italian.” Is being Italian an added value when going to auditions? Did it help you in any way at the beginning of your career? “I did a movie called Beer League with Artie Lange; he is a comedian, very funny guy.
He is Italian American and all the people that were in it were, Ralph Macchio was in it; that was the reason why I got that job. It was written by a writer from Saturday Night Live of the name of Frank Sebastiano. So the movie was produced and written by a lot of Italian Americans. I think in retrospect that might have helped.” But the Italian connection to his characters didn’t end there. Also the ever optimistic detective he plays on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which was created by Emmy Award-winning writer/producers Dan Goor and Michael Schur, has an Italian background which has allowed the actor to work into the show some of his own experiences. A little nod here and there to the place where he comes from.