By Rachel Jones | Photograph from Epicast
By day, the local comedienne is half of The Josh & Gab Show, traveling to school districts across 10 states (and even to Mexico!) to spread the important messages of accepting and defending others. Bonesso co-created the anti-bullying assemblies with friend and musician Josh Verbanets to be “part comedy, part motivational speaking, part music,” and resonate with the students on a significant level.
“You finish the assembly and there is a line of 50 kids waiting to talk to you,” Bonesso says. “These kids just tell me the horrible things they’re going through, whether it’s at home or being bullied at school. I can’t tell you how many kids come up to me and say they are bullied specifically because they have autism. That just kills me so much. I try to speak to that a lot, and I try to speak about standing up for people.”
When she was a student herself, Bonesso had a friend who was severely bullied in high school. She stood up for him, which made her the new target for the bullies. “But what they did to me was nothing in comparison to what they were doing to my friend. So I always try to explain that to the kids,” she says. “If it’s something you can handle and someone can’t handle, help.”
The concept is one she believes should not just be taught at an elementary level. In a recent TED Talk, Bonesso addressed the issue of bullying later in life. “You expect an 8-year-old to [stand up to bullies] but you, an adult, won’t do it? I hate that double-standard that’s put on kids,” she says. Hoping to someday reach an audience with a wider range of ages and zip codes, Bonesso’s ultimate dream for the anti-bullying movement is to create a scholarship fund specifically for kids who got bullied. “I think school’s hard enough, trying to get into college is hard enough, trying to do all of the extra-curricular activities to get into college is hard enough,” she explains. “When you’re also being harassed at school on the daily and dealing with the depression and anxiety that comes with that, I think you could also use a little help. I would love to do something like that.”
Her supportive nature resonates in her stand-up comedy career as well — a career that started with a comedy contest her brother encouraged her to enter, turned into open mic nights at the Funny Bone and weekly showcases at Club Café, then grew to headlining shows from San Francisco to New York City. Most recently, Bonesso released her first comedy album, Everyone’s Dead.
“When I co-created Josh & Gab, it was because I had been my mom’s caregiver. It was really important for me to be home with her as much as I could. That’s why the day job was so perfect for me,” Bonesso explains. “Unfortunately, in 2015, my mom lost her battle and passed away. I knew I needed to throw myself into something artistic because that’s who I am. My mom was the biggest supporter of my comedy, and I knew I needed to start focusing on my adult stand-up to honor my mom. About two weeks before we were going to record my album, my brother unexpectedly died. That really wrecked my whole family. I sort of used the album as a catharsis to deal with that.”
I was always more of an artistic, dreamer, weird kid. I know people hate the ‘w word,’ but I love it. I embrace my weirdness. In third grade, I’m carrying a briefcase to school and I also think I’m a T-Rex. I was always to the beat of my own drum. Having experience being bullied, it was important to me to remind kids like hey, that kid’s calling you a weirdo? Well, you don’t get to be an actor if you’re not a weirdo. Or a comedienne. So is being weird a bad thing necessarily? — Gab Bonesso
Nervous to expose her edgier side, which her Josh & Gab fans weren’t used to, Bonesso felt relieved to receive overwhelming praise from fans of her adult comedy. She even earned the title of Best Comedian by “Pittsburgh City Paper” — as the only female nominated, we might add. “I’m so appreciative of Pittsburgh and how they let me reinvent myself and be a kid’s performer and a crazy adult performer,” Bonesso says. “This is quite a city.”
Giving back to those who helped her, Bonesso makes a point to lift up women and members of the LGBTQ community in the world of comedy, which “is still very much a boy’s club.” She says, “There is a double-standard, and with everything in the news, I can honestly say I’ve had a #MeToo moment within comedy. Guys have definitely been inappropriate. I know there have even been headliners who say, ‘Oh, I can’t have a woman open for me because what if she’s funnier?’ You’re losing opportunities. But, we do try to look out for each other as women.”
“[As a producer,] my shows are extremely diverse. I pride myself on that, and I pride myself on trying to have a very safe atmosphere. I will not tolerate hate speech in any form as part of someone’s comedy. I will not let anyone be triggered at my shows. I think if more producers could do that — and I’m sure they do — and we really start looking out for each other, the world is changing.”
Gab Bonesso, gabbonesso.com.