Sep 29, 2016
30 Under 30: Gabe Gonzalez, Journalist, Comedian, Producer
If one were to draw a Venn diagram that encompasses the New York digital media world and the New York comedy scene, you’d find plenty of names somewhere in the middle. A news producer at Mic, Gabe Gonzalez got his start in the comedy world, training at the famed Second City theater in Chicago. It’s there he learned how to infuse political commentary with a sense of humor—something he’d admired in the work of some of his comedy heroes.
Thanks to social media, and the fact that everyone with a phone also has a camera at their disposal, it’s easier than ever to find an audience. But it’s tougher to keep that audience, something that Gonzalez hasn’t had trouble doing. With a fresh perspective, a sharp sense of humor, and a genuinely curious and open-minded worldview, Gonzalez has learned how to build and retain an audience by being himself.
Where do you live and how old are you?
I live in Bed-Stuy and I’m 25.
What made you first interested in your profession, and how old were you when that happened?
Oh man, I’m still not sure I’ve settled on a profession; in the last four years I’ve worked as a video editor, journalist, camp counselor, director, and comedy writer. I mean, most of my work orbits around this “new media” vibe and there’s definitely a common thread there—I’m a storyteller at heart. I’m drawn to politically heated topics, and my voice tends toward satire, so news and comedy kind of naturally collided in my work. I’m at Mic now and it’s been a great environment to keep that going.
I think satire is one of the strongest tools we have at our disposal to educate and engage people about injustice in our political system. That’s something I started feeling confident about during my time in Chicago. I took a class with a director at Second City named Jen Ellison, and we’d bring in articles or headlines and write scripts or commentary inspired by current events. It was day three and I was like “I want to do this all the time. I could do this all the time.” I was about 20 or 21 and I kind of found my direction there — I didn’t have to have a bag full of characters or stand-up zingers to be a comedian. There’s no formula or “right way” to do comedy. It’s a wide open space to play in. And I realized I could write or talk about the news and still make people laugh. The news doesn’t have to be somber to be taken seriously.
Although if you ask my mom she’ll probably tell you this all started when I started re-enacting telenovelas in front of my grandmother’s fireplace. There’s a VHS tape somewhere.
Do you feel Brooklyn is still a viable place for a young person to build a career?
Brooklyn’s always been a place where people have successfully built families and careers. I think you can learn the most from people who’ve been living here for a while. I mean, it’s changing — the whole city is. The cost of living keeps rising, there are a lot of young people landing here looking for a place to live, and it can feel kind of daunting. And sometimes you feel like some weird, shitty invader who doesn’t belong.
But I think Brooklyn is viable for young people if they’re real with themselves and the people around them. It’s not all art galleries and apartments with balconies and cute weed dealers. The young people that grew up here know this — there’s a hustle and a level of conscientiousness that’s required to build something worthwhile. Barring a trust fund or some strategic financial planning, you’re going to be broke for a while. You’re going to struggle for work. And you’re going to have to engage with your neighbors, no matter how “awkward” it makes you feel, because you’re all sharing this space and you won’t be able to thrive in this city alone.
I went through that struggle moving here. I crashed on couches for two months, I took underpaid gigs as a PA or editor, I spent the better part of a year convincing the Cuban dude at my bodega I was actually Puerto Rican (and not just a nice Jewish boy with a convincing accent) before he sold me the “cheap” cigarettes.
I joke that the biggest “life hack” to making it in New York is just paying attention. And not being an asshole.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I couldn’t have predicted where I am today, and looking too far into the future sets up dangerous expectations about what I “should” be doing to get there. I try not to think about it too much.
I can tell you what I’d like to be doing: I’d like to keep making people laugh. I’d like to keep elevating stories and highlighting voices from marginalized communities, specifically queer/trans POC. I’d like to live with a pet, but not a boyfriend.
I guess I see myself having fun. That’s the only expectation I hold for the future.
Have you ever felt like leaving your career path?
In the last year or so I think I’ve found work opportunities that really make me happy. I feel pride in the work I do. The path twists and turns sometimes, but I’ve never felt like calling it quits entirely.
Although I think we’ve all entertained the notion of deleting our Twitter accounts and running off into the woods where we’ll never have to cover another election or Tomi Lahren segment from Fox again.
What’s felt like you’re biggest professional accomplishment?
Chrissy Teigen liked a meme I shared on Twitter, so that was pretty major.
That sounds flippant. It wasn’t. I dunno… I think it’s unhealthy focus on professional accomplishments. How do you measure that? Awards? Retweets? Promotions? I think my biggest accomplishment was rolling with the punches. Don’t get me wrong, I’m blown away by some of the opportunities I’ve had this year: working with HBO Latino, joining Mic’s video news team, performing with some incredible comedians. But I don’t think I’d have these opportunities if I hadn’t had a ton of determination. And patience.
What’s some advice you’d give to people trying to get a foothold in your industry?
Don’t wait for someone else to let you create something. Do it yourself. Find the DIY venue, find the friend with a camera they’ll let you borrow, find the website where you can self-publish. Always reach for something you think is beyond your ability — you’ll often find it wasn’t, and half of the game is not psyching yourself out. People will take notice if you’re passionate and persistent about whatever you do.
Don’t stop because someone else said “no.” Say yes to yourself every damn time.
Who are your role models in your industry?
I feel like everyone says this now that he’s off TV, but Jon Stewart really changed the way I thought about comedy. I loved his time at The Daily Show. It was the perfect marriage of thoughtful journalistic work and irreverent commentary. The Colbert Show made me feel similarly — it leaned into satire in such a satisfying and impactful way. I think back to the time Colbert formed his own Super PAC and how it helped put campaign finance reform and Citizens United on the map. Samantha Bee and John Oliver very much feel like they’re carrying that torch.
Other comedians that really informed my sensibilities include Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor… comedians that were brutally honest. Their jokes cut, often because they exposed painful truths we don’t like to talk about. But they got you talking. And John Leguizamo — he was one of the first Latino comedians I remember seeing on U.S. TV. It meant a lot to me. He’s Colombian, I’m Puerto Rican, but I felt something there. Like “Oh, I can embrace the weird specificities of my culture. I can embrace my Latinidad. Fuck those kids that make fun of my leftover rice and beans for lunch.” Same with Cristela Alonzo — I was a lot older when her show came out, but she produced, wrote, and starred in Cristela. She was the first Latina to do that on network TV. I call her “The Latinx Shonda Rhimes,” and I need like a dozen more shows from her. She’s hilarious and so on point. Her Twitter was killing it during the primary debates this year.
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