By Ryan Meehan
Leah Bonnema is a Stand-Up Comic based in New York City. Huffington Post named her one of their Favorite Female Comedians and College Candy listed Leah as one the Ten Funniest Female Comics. She has been featured on AXS TV’s Gotham Comedy Live, VH1’s 100 Greatest Series, IFC’s Comedy Drop, Above Average, Elite Daily, ComedyTimeTV, Patrice O’Neal’s The Black Philip Show and is a regular on Riotcast Radio’s The Hole. Leah has had the honor of performing for the troops in Iraq, toured throughout the Middle East and performed for the US Marines at the famed Friar’s Club. Leah was a finalist in ‘New York’s Funniest’ during the NY Comedy Festival and was featured on ‘The America Stands Up Showcase’ at The Magner’s Glasgow Comedy Festival. She has performed in the Women in Comedy Festival, The 360 Comedy Festival, The Maine Comedy Festival, The NY Underground Comedy Festival, The Reel Recovery Film Festival, The Charleston Comedy Festival and at The Piccolo Fringe. Leah has opened for comedy legends Darrell Hammond, Kevin Nealon, Paul Mooney, Sarah Silverman, Pat Cooper and Gilbert Gottfried. She headlined the Breakout Artist Series at Caroline’s on Broadway, which was rated a “Top Pick” by AM NY. Leah is a regular comedy writer for United Stations and Lizz Winstead’s Lady Parts Justice. Triple J Magazine recently featured Leah as one of Funniest People You Should Know About, The NY Times called her “a promising favorite” and The Scotsman called her stage performance “A force of nature”. Leah hails from the mountains of rural Maine and received her degree in Honors Cultural Studies from McGill University. For more information please check out www.LeahBonnema.com, and enjoy her interview as she’s out guest today in 7 questions.
RM: I’m guessing there wasn’t a whole lot of theatrical opportunities in rural Maine where you grew up…When was the first time that you had the opportunity to get on stage and showcase your performance abilities? What was it about that experience that made you want to follow down that career path?
LB: I didn’t know I wanted to be a comic when I was young. I wanted to be Han Solo. But I did take dance classes while I was growing up and when I was in the 5th grade I got to play The Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz local dance recital – I had the hair. Also my parents were big into stories; they played records of comedians and storytellers all the time and I think that’s where my love for stand up partly came from. In college I studied film and then after moving to NYC I was working on writing a show and the director asked me to take a stand-up class to punch of the script and that’s when it all fell together into place.
RM: If you had to pick the top three comedy clubs in New York City that you enjoy working at what would that list look like; and at which club do you feel the most comfortable on stage?
LB: I am sort of the type of person who likes things easily, or, stated differently, I like to like things (and using commas) which is probably a weird quality for a comic – ha! So I happen to like any club that plays me;) One of the things I love most about being a comic in NYC is that there are so many different types of stages and spaces and that hopefully you can get to learn how to play all of them, the different set ups, the feel of the room, the crowds, etc.
RM: How did you end up doing comedy in a dog park? What are some other non-traditional locations where you have performed stand-up?
LB: Doing comedy in a dog park was a project with IFC called “Comedy Drop”. They asked where I would like to perform stand up (where people were not expecting it) and I chose a dog park because a) animals are an important part of my life and b) I think then it becomes less about me being awkward in a moment where no one was ready for stand up and more about interacting with dogs (which I love). I was so thrilled to get to do it!
Non-traditional locations… I performed stand-up in a cafeteria in Iraq. We also did some shows there outside at night with no lights so people couldn’t tell where we were. Probably one of the best experiences of my career so far, I felt so honored to get to perform for our troops overseas.
I’ve performed at a friend’s wedding which was terrifying because you really don’t want to f*&k up their big day. Performing at a bar where there are TVs on is always really difficult because a lot of people came to the bar to watch the game and then some comics showed up. When I first started comedy I MC’d a burlesque show which was a challenge because it’s hard to be more exciting than boobies.
RM: When you get off stage and a male audience member starts obviously hitting on you, how do you go about handling that? Do you think to a certain extent that there will always be male patrons who think that because they paid money to get in they get a free pass to flirt with the talent?
LB: I can honestly only think of a handful of times that an audience member has hit on me. I think there’s something about women on stage talking that scares people not arouses them – ahahahaha! Also the times where people have been aggressively sexual with me I was still on stage and they were sort of yelling stuff – so I just sort of dealt with it like a heckle. But, the few times that men have some over and sort of, um, extended their olive branch, they were polite and I just took it as a compliment.
Sometimes either a male and female patron (I don’t think it’s related to gender – more to the type of person) will come up to a comic and say whatever they want, suggesting how you could be better, who they like more than you, etc., which I think happens a lot in the entertainment industry in general – the talent sort of becomes public property and that can be hard sometimes, and hurtful. But it’s a part of it. And there are far more people who come up and say nice things. But sometimes you think, who the f comes up to people and just says that, I would never… But then you go home and eat an entire ice cream cake and watch all three LOTR movies and then get back on stage the next day.
RM: In your AXS-TV Gotham set, the first couple of jokes are about watching porn…Why is it that some women are so afraid to talk about watching porn? Do you have the tendency to place that bit and others like it at the beginning of your set so that it will help loosen the crowd up a little? Have you ever had to re-sequence the order of your jokes before you go on stage because of the material a comedian before you has done?
LB: I personally don’t know a lot of girls who are squeamish about discussing porn. However I do understand that culturally it’s still considered sort of “un-ladylike” which is partly why I do jokes like that. But in that particular instance I chose to open with it because of the structure of the joke – it’s quick to a punch. And I like to get one out fast so I can relax:) And then it also leads directly into other jokes.
I’ve switched my set because of material a comic before me did many, many times. Also sometimes (not in circumstances of taped shows or auditions) I don’t know what I am going to do until I get on stage and get a feel of the show. I’ll have specific jokes I want to work on and a general idea of what I want to do, but sometimes the crowd just really feels a certain way or something comes up that takes you in a different direction. But yes, if a comic just did a topic that I am going to discuss I will say – so and so was just talking about …. Or I won’t do it that time depending.
RM: Out of all the online video projects that you’ve been a part of, which was your favorite and why?
LB: I am always so thrilled and grateful when people bring me into their projects – it’s really wonderful to be thought of and have the experience of working with others. If I had to choose a favorite online video project I would have to pick two:) I co-wrote a sketch with two other comics, Dustin Chafin and Jason Salmon, called “Empowering Catcalls” and then we got a whole bunch of awesome comics to come on board to work and improvise with us and I was really happy with it. And then my other favorite was produced by Elite Daily “Why It’s Ok To Be A Single Girl On Valentine’s Day” and I got to yell a lot – which is always fun:) And I thought it came out so funny – they really did a terrific job. In both instances I felt like the character I got to play was funny and strong which is important to me.
RM: What is the most important thing that you’ve learned about the comedic writing process over the last five years?
LB: I think that everyone has a different writing process and you have to find out what works best for you. One of the hardest parts for me is that you’re always writing a bunch of different things at the same: working on script ideas, sketches, submissions, auditions, etc. Sometimes a lot of your energy just goes into keeping so many balls in the air at the same time. I think the most important thing I’m learning is that I tend to focus on the things that have immediate deadlines but then all my personal stuff gets pushed back – so I have to create deadlines for my own stand up writing.
RM: When you watch a video of yourself performing, what is the first thing you notice about yourself that you wish you could change?
LB: Watching oneself is so hard for a myriad of reasons but I’m trying to get better at just using it as tool to see what worked and what didn’t (as opposed to an opportunity for self loathing “Is that really my voice – what am I wearing right now”- hahahaha). I would say the number one thing that bothers me in my stand up videos is when I say “you know” or “like” too much. I am working on it, you know?
RM: What’s up next for you in 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
LB: I have a lot of very exciting projects on the burner! One of the hardest and simultaneously most exciting things about comedy is that you never know what’s going to pop off and when and that you can never say anything about it until it does:) Here’s to 2015 and punting it in the c*&t! All the best to everyone – thanks for coming out J!
Official Website: http://www.leahbonnema.com/
Leah on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/leahbonnema
Leah on Twitter: http://twitter.com/leahbonnema
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