Chances are, if you live in Rhode Island, you’re familiar with the Iannotti name; Iannotti Funeral Home is a staple in the community. But perhaps you’re not as familiar with Rob Iannotti, a 23-year-old third generation funeral director, embalmer and stand-up comedian.
“Funerals aren’t funny,” said Rob Iannotti, a 2007 Toll Gate graduate who knows his career and his hobby don’t necessarily mix. But Iannotti still finds the right place and time for his jokes, and said the only thing he likes more than laughing is making others laugh.
His passion to make others chuckle is what got Iannotti into comedy and pranks, and just a few weeks ago Iannotti pulled off a prank that nabbed the attention of late night television personality Jimmy Kimmel, and E! Entertainment’s “The Soup.” Both Kimmel and Joel McHale, host of “The Soup,” praised Iannotti on national television (though they didn’t know his name at the time).
So what exactly did Iannotti do? He entered two phony names into the NBC 10’s First Birthdays, and they made it onto the air. Both look like normal names at first glance, but when spoken aloud they sound distinctly like phrases that are inappropriate for a television anchor to utter on air.
Still, the names got by whoever organizes the First Birthday notices and made it to the teleprompter. The video of Frank Coletta – who instantly seems to realize what he’s reading aloud is a prank – reading the names went viral in a matter of days, and grabbed the attention of the websites Gawker and DeadSpin. From there, Kimmel and McHale caught on, and the rest is history.
Iannotti said he hasn’t heard anything from NBC and offered his praise to Colletta for being a good sport.
“I like Frank; he’s a true professional,” he said.
The idea to put a fake name on First Birthdays started years ago, when Iannotti first submitted his own name and then the names of his friends. Then he started putting through fake names that were difficult to pronounce. Eventually, he and his friend had the idea to submit names that looked harmless, but sounded slightly off color.
“We didn’t think it was going to make it through,” he said of the two names he submitted just the week before Hurricane Sandy hit.
“It aired the day Hurricane Sandy hit, and the news coverage was hot,” explained Iannotti.
Iannotti said the timing was a “perfect storm” that led to national exposure. Never did Iannotti expect that he would get into the spotlight for entering what he said were “just another two names.”
But getting recognition from McHale and Kimmel was a huge reward.
“It was, as a prankster…it was pretty unbelievable, as in just not believable,” he said with a laugh.
Iannotti has been playing pranks and jokes on his friends “since he was conscious” and credits his parents and his older brother with his sense of humor.
“We call each other and laugh every day,” he said.
Iannotti said his family’s sense of humor help them cope with what they see on a day-to-day basis at the funeral home.
“If you couldn’t laugh it would be really depressing,” said Iannotti. “It’s not a funny job… but a lot of the times the [clients] appreciate it, too.”
When he was in his teens, Iannotti began getting into pranks. He started with crank calls to places like Petco, where he told the staff that he found a shark off the coast of Goddard Park and needed an aquarium big enough for it. He put recordings of the calls on YouTube, always with the intention of getting laughs out of his friends.
Iannotti said he never means anything malicious by his pranks, it’s always just in the name of a good laugh.
“It’s all in good taste though, it’s all in good humor,” he said.
In the past, Iannotti has submitted several silly Craig’s List posts to Jay Leno. Although he saw similar jokes run on The Tonight Show, he never got any credit. Iannotti said it’s been fun and exciting to get credit for the silly things he’s been working on for 10 years.
In addition to his most recent prank, Iannotti performs stand-up comedy at the Comedy Connection, records comedic music with his friends and even has a fake account on Plenty of Fish, an online dating website.
“He is extremely popular,” said Iannotti of his fictional identity on the dating site.
Iannotti also recently campaigned for Mayor of West Warwick, an elected office that doesn’t exist. The 23-year-old posted signs throughout the town that read “Rob Iannotti for Mayor. I look good in a suit!”
Iannotti said the “campaign” was satirical.
“People don’t know who they really vote for,” he said. The “I look good in a suit” pitch was a commentary on the current workings of politics. “If you look the part, people usually vote for you without even knowing anything about you,” he said.
Ironically, Iannotti was voted “Best Dressed” at Toll Gate for his choice to wear formal attire every so often.
Iannotti’s family and friends think the recognition he’s received from his pranks is great, though he’s careful to keep it separate from his work as an embalmer and funeral director. Since it’s the family business, Iannotti has been surrounded by death since he was a child, living above the funeral home for years and starting in the business at the age of 13. Humor, he said, is what makes life bearable.
“If you can’t laugh at yourself, then life’s going to be long,” he said.
Iannotti said he plans to continue on the prankster path and has his sights set on a prank that involves the Today Show’s 100th birthday announcements.
Although he said he loves working for the family business, Iannotti’s ultimate goal is to host a game show.
“That’s the dream,” he said. “I haven’t woken up yet.”