Matteo Lane on Why We Need to Laugh: “Comedy Can Ease the Pain of the World Around You”
Comedian Matteo Lane's standup special premieres June 11 on YouTube. "I used humor to come out of the closet," he told us. "It can be very healing."
Comedian Matteo Lane is sort of like Leonardo Da Vinci: He’s extremely talented at a lot of things, and making people laugh just happens to be one of them. Lane is also a trained opera singer who studied in Rome, and a former storyboard artist (he studied oil painting and drawing at School of the Art Institute of Chicago and even created a mural for the Obamas’ Chicago headquarters). Oh: And if you’re one of Matteo Lane’s million Instagram followers, you might not be surprised to learn that he cooks pasta like a Top Chef.
But this week when Matteo Lane spoke with The Healthy @Reader’s Digest, he said he considers comedy his true calling. Popular for his lovable observations on topics like dating, self-image, and amusement parks, Matteo Lane’s first full-length stand-up special hits YouTube June 11. “Just type in Hair Plugs and Heartache, Matteo Lane,” he says. “You shall find it.”
Here, the 36-year-old comedian opens up about his self-care routine, how he stays grounded when he’s touring…and why you’ll never see him tipsy onstage. “This is just for me,” he says. “This is my health journey.”
Matteo Lane on his path to comedy
Jerod Harris/Getty Images
The Healthy @Readers Digest: You have so many talents—you trained in Rome! How did this all lead you to comedy?
Matteo Lane: I think as a young gay man, I didn’t think comedy was something [I could do]. The same way that I look at sports, it was clear from when I was a kid, I just assumed comedy was a world that didn’t exist for me.
And then I started seeing Kathy Griffin perform when I was 15. And I remember she was the first person I ever heard in my entire life ever say anything positive about gay people. So I really fell for her standup because I didn’t see a gay man do standup comedy until I was 23 years old. That’s how many years I had to wait until I saw an actual gay person do standup. I know there were gay people that did do standup, but they just weren’t accessible to me in the suburbs of Chicago. I had been studying art and I’d lived in Italy and studied opera. I saw Joan Rivers perform on a Bravo special when I was 22, and that was a wake-up call—I was like, “Oh my God, this is what I meant to do.” It just was immediate, like a calling.
I did my first show at a really shitty bar hosted by a great comic named Marty DeRosa. Thirty-four members of my family came, I did three minutes, I bombed, and I’ve been literally hooked ever since.
The Healthy: See, I’ve always heard that people crush their first show—which hooks them—and then they bomb for a while after that. But maybe that’s not true.
Matteo Lane: Generally speaking, you’re going to suck for a while. I think I had the advantage of being gay; and when you’re gay, you’re not oppressed, but you’re definitely marginalized, which is a position that forces you to observe. So I was already aware of what made me different, where I existed in society, how to try and fit into society. I was well aware of my voice. And I think the big thing in comedy is they say, Once you find your voice. I don’t know that I found my skills that quickly, but I found my voice pretty quickly.
The Healthy: That’s so interesting. You had already done the work to self-examine and find all of those topics you could tap.
Matteo Lane: Well, and I had a lot to get out. I wasn’t pondering about the metro system of Chicago. I had more existential issues to try and unravel. It was sort of a selfish position for me to put myself in, to just sort of therapeutically find my way through comedy. Now, obviously, I’m a much more mature comic. I do this every night and now I have the luxury of talking about anything. But those first five years, you have to come out to every audience every single night.
Matteo Lane on the health benefits of humor
Matteo Lane: Definitely on the mental health side, there’s something powerful about owning my faults and owning my vulnerabilities. I was so scared of my own shadow throughout high school that to be able to stay in my true self, say whatever I’m thinking, say experiences that I’ve had, and get people to laugh at them—not laughing at me, but laughing because they also have something that they feel shamed for. I used humor to come out of the closet. I use humor for everything. And I think it can be, for your mental health, very healing to take away that power of the thing that is haunting you.
Matteo Lane on the LGBTQ+ community and comedy
The Healthy: U.S. Census data from late 2022 suggest LGBTQ+ individuals are almost twice as likely as heterosexual men and women to experience mental health disorders in their lifetime. Other sources have stated that depression and anxiety rates among queer people are even greater than that. From your perspective, how does humor help, and what do you think we can do as a society to support the community?
Matteo Lane: I think it’s just good to have a sense of humor about everything. I mean, not everyone processes their trauma in the same way, but for me and a lot of other people, what I found healing was hearing other gay people talk about their traumas with a smile on their face, laughing.
That’s not for everybody. I don’t think comedy is for everybody, or how I process my pain is for everybody. I think that’s an impossible task. Some people do it through poetry, some people do it through acting. Some people do it through music. I happen to do it through jokes. That’s where I find my peace.
You start to walk a fine line because people say, “Well, you shouldn’t make jokes about that.” And it’s like, “Well, this is how I do it, so I’m not you.” But generally speaking, I would say the queer community has had the best sense of humor. And that’s gotten us through the worst times.
The Healthy: It’s funny that you mention dealing with trauma through humor. We’ve written on our site about something called laugh therapy, which has been defined as “taking a look at stressors in your life and finding ways to see the funny side.” So I think what you’re saying resonates a lot.
Matteo Lane: It’s like, why are people going to a comedy show? To be impressed? No, they’re going because they want a release. Comedy is about a release. It’s about something uncontrollable inside of you that releases, it’s the unprovoked reaction to something. Right?
The Healthy: Yep.
Matteo Lane: And Joan Rivers always said, “Making someone laugh is a little vacation.” You’re giving someone a little vacation for that five minutes or for that hour that you’re making them laugh. They’re not thinking about their dying grandpa. They’re not thinking about their breakup. It’s a mental break. And it’s nice because the world is so chaotic and everything tells you—CNN and Fox and everything—it’s all getting worse. [Comedy] does sort of ease the pain of the world around you.
Matteo Lane’s healthy habits
The Healthy: As a comedian, you’re on the road a lot. Traveling can be difficult when it comes to taking care of your health—you don’t know what kind of food you’re going to have access to, or you’re dealing with time changes and hotels without gyms. For you, there’s the mental aspect of coming down from that high of being on stage. How do you handle all of this?
Matteo Lane: There’s pretty inexpensive meal services that are frozen meals you can have ordered to your hotel. So that way I don’t have to worry about breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I use one of those services. The only thing you have to do is ask for a microwave in your room, and that’s it.
The Healthy: Oh, great.
Matteo Lane: So that’s what I do for my diet. Go to the local grocery store and get things like cereal or fruit, things that you can keep for a couple of days. Food can be hard, but it’s only hard if you’re not thinking about it. If you’re thinking about it consciously before you go and plan out what you want to eat, try and keep it the same: Chicken, rice, broccoli, whatever your thing is, just plan ahead.
And in terms of mental health, video games with my friends. I feel so connected to my group of friends because we all started playing video games during the pandemic together. So before shows or during the hotel the whole next day, my loneliness is gone because I just put on my headset, pull out my Nintendo Switch and play Fortnite with my friends for hours. And it has really saved my social life.
The Healthy: I love that. What about fitness? You’re pretty buff.
Matteo Lane: Go on, thank you, I’m listening! You know what, I really only travel on the weekends. I’m not a comic who can get on a bus and just do show after show, show, show. I really have to rest. I exert a lot of energy on stage and I don’t drink. That’s another one: Don’t drink.
The Healthy: Interesting.
Lane: I don’t understand how people drink on the road. I do not drink. I’ll have a drink every blue moon if I’m at dinner with friends or something. But really on the road, absolutely no drinking, absolutely no smoking weed. I’m here for work.
The Healthy: I love that. You show up as the best version of yourself.
Matteo Lane: Well, if I’m going to do a show and there’s 3,000 people sitting in a room waiting for me, why would I ruin that by getting drunk the night before? Who’s that serving? How does that help me? These people won’t come back. I won’t be sharp. I won’t be funny. This is my only job. I’m not working at H&R Block. I have a responsibility. So that’s how I view things. And truthfully, too, I really want you to preface this: Other comics all work differently. I know comics who drink every single show, and they are phenomenal comedians. So this is just for me, this is my health journey.
The Healthy: What is one self-care routine that you refuse to skip?
Matteo Lane: Sleep. I prioritize sleep. I have zero issues getting to sleep. I close my eyes and seconds later I’ve passed away.
The Healthy: What a gift.
Matteo Lane: I thank God every day. I wasn’t given nice hair; I had to pay for hair transplants to fix that. But I can sleep. I’m happy about the sleeping part.
The Healthy: You’re also a pasta aficionado. Tell me about your love for cooking and what your Italian heritage means to you.
Matteo Lane: My mother raised us to cook with her. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, which I’m sure my mother wouldn’t appreciate me saying, but we didn’t. We had no money. My mother has so much patience—every night we would help her cook, make pizza dough, make pasta, roll the meatballs. She made it something that was enjoyable. It was bonding. It was about tradition. It was fun. I didn’t view it as a chore. And then you eat the food that you cook, and it’s a collaborative process. There’s also something really beautiful in knowing the way that my hands are moving to make this meatball is the way that my mom’s moved, and her mom’s moved and her mom’s moved before that. So it’s a way of passing down tradition. And now as a result, I enjoy cooking.
The Healthy: Plug the YouTube special for us.
Matteo Lane: I’m really excited. It’s my first real comedy special, not of crowd work. It’s material I’ve been doing over the past three years that’s accumulated into a really fun hour, and I’ll never do those jokes again. So it was a nice sendoff. I worked really hard on it. And I hope you enjoy it.