Ask a 30-something comedian to name her comic inspirations and you expect to hear maybe Sarah Silverman, Margaret Cho or even Dave Chappelle.
Gab Bonesso lists just one, reaching back for a cult figure whose heyday was the ’50s and who died in 1966.
With: Gene Collier.
Where: Andy Warhol Museum, North Side.
When: 8 p.m. Friday.
Tickets: $10; $8 members and students; warhol.org.
“I have always loved old movies,” Ms. Bonesso says, “and Turner Classic is the station I always have on, and the Dustin Hoffman movie ‘Lenny’ came on, and I was like, ‘What?! I need to find out more.’ ”
This was pre-YouTube and she checked out everything they had on Lenny Bruce at the Carnegie Library.
“I was like, ‘Now THAT’s comedy, because he did so much more.’ He woke up an audience. He wasn’t afraid to have levels. He would cry on stage, he just seemed so fearless to me and seemed to have a reason behind what he was saying, and that was really intriguing.”
Ms. Bonesso, who will release her debut comedy album, “Everyone’s Dead,” on Friday, didn’t set out to be a comedian when she was studying theater at Duquesne University.
“For me, to be honest, growing up, I would watch stand-up and never wanted to do that. It just seemed contrived, like getting on stage and pretending I just thought of this funny thing.”
But when she went to graduate in 2003 and asked her mentor what type of roles she should pursue, they told her “you’re not really an ingenue” and recommended stand-up comedy. It took one trip to Funny Bone to conclude it wasn’t “my cup of tea,” but then one of her three brothers talked her into joining him in signing up for a Funny Bone comedy contest. He ended up dropping out, she ended up making it to the finals.
“And then I never wanted to stop doing stand-up,” she says.
For the last decade-plus, she has worked comedy clubs (opening for such stars as Richard Lewis, Chelsea Handler and John Hodgman), has done a radio stint as sidekick to John McIntire and tours the country as part of Josh & Gab, an anti-bullying pop-rap show for school kids with Josh Verbanets of the band Meeting of Important People.
On stage, she has a breathless, high energy style for what she calls her “hyperbolic memoirs.” She has funny bits on nearly beating a snake to death with a broom, the mystery of who buys Grapples, freaking out at a doctor who thought Groucho was the one with the horn, and her own dealings with being bipolar.
“From the minute, I was diagnosed, it sort of took over my life,” she says, “because it was like, ‘This is a lifestyle change.’ Now that comes first in everything I do. I have to go ‘Oh my gosh, is this going to make me manic? Is this going to do THIS?’ I felt like I had to talk about it on stage. So from the minute I was diagnosed I was talking about it, and politics, I always felt like I had to insert that. I was raised by very political people. My mom and dad were always obsessed with politics. They were insane liberals, and I was, too.”
Except for that brief moment when she almost identified with Alex P. Keaton.
Her mom was a big factor in the material that appears on her album, most of it she started developing in 2010.
“That was when I started taking care of my mom, being back in Robinson, living in the suburbs. I started writing a column for Patch and the whole thing was me being a weirdo in the suburbs and it just started taking over my act, me being this eccentric, which I always was. When I do the anti-bully stuff, it’s ’cause I was a weird kid, and it was like the weird ‘kid comes back to take care of mom,’ sort of.”
When her mom died in November 2015, she started started talking with the local music label Misra about making the live album because, she says, “I knew I had to throw myself into a creative project to not go down a really sad path, because my mother was my everything. I make Norman Bates jokes ’cause it’s kind of true.”
They set a date to record the album live at the Arcade Comedy Theater in early January, and then her brother, who factors into the set as the wild sibling, died suddenly on Christmas Eve. She had to decide whether she could be funny in the midst of all that grief.
“With Josh and Gab,” she says, “the year my mother was dying at the hospital and I was putting in 10 hours at AGH every day sitting with her, Josh and I would do be doing sometimes three to four shows a day and we would be going to Erie. I really got into that show-must-go-on mentality. For a second, I thought, ‘Am I going to be too manic, too depressed?’ But we had already booked The Warhol [for the release show] so we knew we had to record the album. We had to move forward. I just didn’t know if I wanted to talk about him leading up to it. ‘Can I do this without breaking down? Can I do this and make it a good comedy album?’ That was my debate over that week’s span.”
That Friday night, the first night of the recording, she said she knew people were really rooting for her and she rolled with the material she had done opening for national headliners.
“I felt, ‘This is my night of A material,’ ” she says. “And afterwards, people were like ‘That’s the take!’ Josh Verbanets came up and said ‘That was a master class in comedy right there.’
“On Saturday,” she says, “I thought ‘I’m going to do my weird bits, the bits I like, the B-sides.’ We already have a good night on Friday, I’m just gonna go wild on Saturday night, and it might have been the best show I’ve ever done. The audience was amazing, like they understood a weirdo. I felt like I could be myself.”
It was a case of laughter being the best medicine, something that she and her mom learned over the years of her illness.
“My mom and I were so close, as much as she was going through hard times, I can say we laughed so much together. Every day was an adventure for us and she liked seeing life through my hyper-color lens, so we really got along and really had fun.”
She considered naming the record “Comedium,” based on a fan who had the notion she could really channel Lenny Bruce, and “Meatball Baby.” and “Serial Killer Tendencies.” In the end, she settled on “Everyone’s Dead.” She hopes it will make people will laugh, and it seems pretty likely it will.
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576.