Pittsburgh native wins Friars Club roast contest
Amadeo Fusca's entrance into the Frank Sinatra Room at the Friars Club in New York City on March 15 was nothing less than unforgettable.
Portraying North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, riding in on the back of a Secret Service agent, the Churchill native waved an American flag while shouting greetings to the former NBA star he was there to roast.
The crowd laughed as Fusca, in the role of Kim, bellowed, “Dennis, I miss you!” referencing the very real and controversial meeting Dennis Rodman and Kim had just a few weeks earlier in North Korea.
The 2004 Woodland Hills High School and 2009 Point Park University graduate, now a New York-based actor, continued the impression for two minutes then transitioned back to himself in take-no-prisoners-roast mode, delighting the audience, including Rodman, who traded good-natured quips with him.
The performance also captured the judges, who named Fusca, 27, the winner of the Friars' “So You Think You Can Roast!?” contest.
It earned him the grand prize of a place on the dais April 5 at the 2013 Friars Club Roast to skewer actor-comedian-musician Jack Black at the New York Hilton ballroom.
Fusca will be joined by a celebrity panel of roasters that includes Ben Stiller, Cyndi Lauper, Gene Simmons, Sarah Silverman, Bob Saget, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Oliver Platt and Jeff Ross, among others, all of whom he also can roast. It will not be televised.
The talent-search started with 55 men and women competing for the coveted industry spotlight. Fusca survived the three rounds, including the Jan. 15 opening, in which contestants were given two minutes in front of a panel to pretend to roast a celebrity of their choosing.
He selected Owen Wilson, earning a place in the second round March 1, where he and others directed their comical observations at Ricky Schroder at a dinner attended by the actor. The effort advanced six hopefuls, including Fusca, to the Rodman finals.
Fusca already has had some high-profile opportunities in his fledgling acting career, including a role on CBS' soap opera “As The World Turns” and Discovery ID network's “I Married a Mobster,” a supporting role in the forthcoming feature film “A New York Heartbeat,” filmed in Pittsburgh, as well as commercials for ESPN, Glamour magazine and the World Wildlife Fund. But he believes emerging victorious in the Friars club contest is his “big break.”
“This was a big achievement, and I have been meeting with many great industry professionals who are now, all of a sudden, listening a little bit harder to the beat of my drum,” he says.
Fusca says he “couldn't be less nervous” at the prospect of performing April 5 in front of some of entertainment's biggest names.
“It's an adrenaline rush. It's exactly where I want to be. This is the most exciting event of my life thus far,” he says. “I will get nervous when the time comes, but that will be a good kind of nervous.”
He is quick to credit his longtime friend, writer Mike Smith of Wilkins, who was in Fusca's graduating class at Woodland Hills, for the current opportunity.
“I say ‘We won,' because he truly is my partner in crime when it comes to all of this,” Fusca says.
Smith, a 2008 University of Pittsburgh graduate, is not being honored in this contest, because the focus is on the performance and delivery of material. “But, to be honest, the only reason I have made it this far is because the material Mike has written has just been so stellar,” Fusca says. “He's a genius.”
They have a creative relationship reminiscent of the early days of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, having collaborated on screenplays, short films and roasts since high school.
“Mike basically comes up with 85 to 90 percent of the punch lines, maybe more, and we collaborate on constructing the script together,” says Fusca, who also is helped by family members. Older brother, filmmaker Damiano Fusca, has supplied some jokes, and it was his brother Vinnie's idea for the Kim Jong-un impression.
“I have the most supportive and inspiring family behind my entire journey,” Amadeo Fusca says.
Smith, hard at work writing material for the Jack Black roast, says he considers this contest “a game changer” for his friend.
“It's been such an amazing ride. Seeing a guy come out of the woodwork like this and win such a prestigious opportunity against established standup comedians has been a thrill,” he says. “And just being able to say I was a part of it has been the greatest moment of my writing career. Amadeo's about to be part of one of entertainment's biggest events, and he's going to nail it.”