We at About US took note when Anthony Scaramucci appeared on the White House stage with his frequent appeals to his heritage and heavy reliance on “old Italian sayings.” It was a personality that drew objections from some in the Italian American community. So we asked actor Mario Cantone — who channeled the Mooch’s quirks and quips for Comedy Central’s ‘The President Show’ — for his take on the culture behind Scaramucci’s style.
For an actor and comedian like me, it’s a rare day when you flip on the television and see someone who could be your long-lost brother bloviating from a lectern at the White House. But for 11 whirlwind days, the stunning rise and fall of former communications director Anthony Scaramucci took over my life as I played a character that I found all too familiar.
Scaramucci was using verbiage familiar to me. His hair pomade was perfect. His suit, tailored like an Ermenegildo Zegna original, was compact and neat. He looked like he just had a facial and a manicure.
Scaramucci could have been one of my people — the side of the family that placed the bets, not the side that made the books. Whenever I’ve heard his go-to phrase — “There’s an old Italian expression…” — it’s usually been the wind-up before someone in my family delivered a beating or tried to get repayment on a debt.
So Scaramucci spoke to me, and in a sense, came to the national stage peeling around the corner like Mario Andretti. But the difference is, Andretti is the real deal. Scaramucci is a character from a comedy, a modern stock production of a creaky commedia dell’arte circus.
Politics has always been a great divider in my Italian American family, and evidently, for most families who have roots in the boot and the isle of Sicily. Half my family voted for Clinton and the other half went to Trump. For every fan of the late governor Mario Cuomo (I’m one), you find a devotee of former mayor Rudy Giuliani. For every backer of former senator Al D’Amato, you find a fan of the late mayor Buddy Cianci.
“Republican” and “Democrat” are labels my people are not eager to claim because with them comes a responsibility to a party affiliation that demands a level of loyalty we do not assign to politics. Ever.
Any attempt to wrangle our group to vote a particular way is akin to trying to coax my sister Camille to make her magnificent lobster marinara for the whole family on Christmas Eve. She cannot cook for more than two people at a time because it causes her great anxiety. So that will never happen.
Even the great Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run on a major ticket, could not bring our Italian American family together at the polls. We did not unite to make history by making Ferraro, a capable, strong, intelligent woman — one of us — the first Italian American vice president of the United States.
When I listened as CNN journalist Chris Cuomo took on Scaramucci last week, the Mooch tried to play his Italian card with Chris like a strategic game of Scopa. But Chris wasn’t having it. His loyalty was to the story, not to the storyteller, even though they share a common heritage.
On the surface, this is American. But in truth, it is also Italian.
Loyalty is a very important element of the Italian culture, but we choose where we place that loyalty. In every speech, every interview, Scaramucci seemed like he’d take a bullet for the president, but since the president gave him the Fredo kiss-off, who knows how he feels now.
Portraying Scaramucci was not hard for me. He’s in my DNA. I’ve been surrounded by guys like him my whole life, and my feelings for them have always been divided. I love them for their charm and bravado, but I’m annoyed by the way they repeat themselves incessantly. And being a homosexual, I have to factor in the question of liberal vs. conservative and it gets very personal for me. Do my conservative Republican Italian American friends and family accept my sexual orientation or just tolerate it? My mind is not a machete and it’s difficult to hack through all that Umberto’s Clam House charisma.
There’s an old Italian expression: “Credi in te stesso.” Trust yourself, because it’s the only source you can verify. And it might speak to why my working-class family votes as they please and not in a block. The single vote is the sound of one voice, and perhaps this is our way, one Cantone at a time, of being heard.
About US is a new initiative by The Washington Post to cover issues of identity in the United States. Read more from About US below and look for the newsletter launching this fall.