It Took a Fall Off a Cliff to Get Me Here

I'm doing standup in a neckbrace and I feel comfortable with myself for the first time in 22 years

I was born blue. Chord around my neck. C-section. The first wanted child in my mom's life.

When I was a baby, my father played Janet Jackson songs and "My Girl" on the record player. Dancing was always a daytime activity. I was a child actor and being this, I was his pride and joy. He loved going to his tuxedo shop and bragging about the fact that I booked a Pillsbury doughboy commercial here and a TARGET print ad there. My parents didn't get along though. They weren't a good fit. They bored each other and in the boredom, the climactic event was divorce. I rarely saw him. He didn't want custody. He wanted to travel the world in a VW bus with no money to his name. He told me that he could live on one box of pasta a week and that was why he wasn't getting a job. He was the definition of irresponsibility-or maybe depression. No one knew what was wrong with him because he was always a mystery.

Then one day, when I was seven years old, my father sent me this box of dead bugs for my birthday. Being a nurturing school nurse, my mother vowed never to let this happen ever again. But, my insecurity set in and somehow lasted for the next fifteen years. I really didn't know what to think of my father other than the fact that I didn't want to see him ever again. A once very witty and silly little girl, I suddenly became fairly shy and introverted. I took part in dance, music, and theater-but I was always panic-stricken regarding the quality of my performances. I was never really a social butterfly in any sort of way. I stayed at home most of the time because my mother was slightly overprotective and controlling. She had a thing against men, so boyfriends were not allowed.

I never knew how to kiss until I was 15. But, when it happened, it was in a moonbounce while wearing a red wig and a blue sparkly hat. I creamed myself. The idea of touching bodies threw me over the roof. I started wanting to kiss everything I saw-boys, children, animals-even flowers. But- despite the sexual drive, I regarded academics highly and never wanted to be thrown out of focus. I loved performing, but I didn't think it was practical to pursue. Ironically, I went for something that ended up being even more impractical. Film school. I thought it'd be more business-like than theater, something that would land me a big house and a really comfortable $1000 couch. Ha.

I wanted to go to NYU so bad - but my mom couldn't handle the thought of her daughter leaving Los Angeles. I compromised by moving 20 minutes away from her. USC. It was a time to become more social - more attuned to real grown up life. Academics went out the window. My drive wasn't there. I did internships, but I wasn't passionate about what I was doing. I was concerned about boyfriends and nothing else. I met someone online after desperate attempts to connect with frat boys and in eight months, I stuck with him – an unthrilling engineer that had no desire but to relax and watch TV all day. It depressed me. Love didn't happen until my last year of college and when it wasn't mutual, I took a three-month trip to Africa to escape the disappointment that was college.

Ghana was the place I learned to listen and write. I stayed in villages in the middle of nowhere where English was rarely spoken. I started learning how to be a more independent adult. While overseas, I made the decision to get my own apartment and a job once I got back to the States. It was the best move I ever made and certainly the most productive.

NBC took me in as a page. I suddenly learned what networking was. I worked on The Tonight Show, The Ellen Degeneres Show, and I got to speak to highly regarded VPs. It made me realize I wasn't for the film industry. I wasn't corporate enough. I started going to comedy shows and studying the art of making people laugh. It was a passion of mine when I was ten years old to somehow end up on SNL one day, so I started taking classes in order to edge my way back into the performance world. I hadn't performed yet and I was honestly confused about where I was as a person.

Then one fateful day, I fell 60 feet off a cliff. I was hiking and somehow managed to slip into creek, breaking my neck, jaw, ankles, and feet. All I remember is the whir of the helicopter taking me up to the sky.

I was in the hospital for a week. It was then that it became clear who my friends were. It also became clear that it was time to really pursue my life goals. If I wanted to perform, I had to just get up and do it. My friend Asterios invited me to do a bit with him one night two or three weeks after my accident. It felt so good to be up there and try something I had let go for five years.

Now, every Tuesday at Santa Monica's Westside Ecclectic, I'm doing standup in a neckbrace. I feel comfortable with myself for the first time in 22 years. I'm starting to know myself, as cheesy as that may be....and what's also way cheesier is that www.alessandrarizzotti.com finally feels somewhat complete .....

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