JC Coccoli headlines Pittsburgh Comedy Festival

September 8, 2018 GMT

“There’s a certain kind of sarcasm in Pittsburgh,” asserts JC Coccoli, a Los Angeles-based comic who grew up in McKees Rocks. “Just listening to friends and family talk, you pick it up.”

She’s coming back to town as a featured act in the Pittsburgh Comedy Festival, the city’s premier annual showcase for comedy of all kinds. Headliners this year include Marina Franklin (HBO’s “Crashing,” “Trainwreck,” “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”), and The Cast, an all-female group that creates a fully-improvised play in any one of a hundred-plus genres.

Of course, like most teenagers, she couldn’t wait to leave town. Now, after years in LA, she’s begun to appreciate the preparation a life in Pittsburgh gave her.

“I have incredible memories of growing up,” says Coccoli. “My family was pretty poor. Polish-Italian background. We didn’t have a lot of money to do things in Pittsburgh. Luckily, you can do almost anything by just playing outside.”

She got hooked on comedy through listening to albums. “Roseanne, George Carlin, Bill Hicks,” recalls Coccoli. “Even Gallagher. Mary Tyler Moore, on ‘Nick at Nite.’ ”

Growing up in McKees Rocks, toughness was a virtue. She was always ready to fight, primarily with her brain and with her mouth.

Going to Point Park Conservatory Theater opened her mind up to the possibilities of performing. Though, to be fair, she prefers standup comedy to acting any day of the week.

“I am best at being me, which is why I love comedy. Acting is pretty boring,” she says. “I’d rather be working with the crew than on camera. Though, when Judd Apatow calls and has a small part for you, you do it.”

She was on the radio in Florida, where her yinzer accent was treated as an amusing novelty.

Moving to LA, she quickly got a job at The Laugh Factory on Sunset Boulevard, where she booked shows during the day and was a cocktail waitress at night. If the comedy business in LA has a beating heart, you can feel its pulse at The Laugh Factory. She was there when Michael Richards (“Seinfeld”) had his career-ending meltdown. Jon Lovitz was one of her instructors.

Over time, she began to lose her Pittsburgh accent. “I didn’t really wave the Pittsburgh flag,” says Coccoli. “People would be like, ‘Is that Philly?’ ”

She worked on developing a distinctive comedic voice, finding a few subjects irresistible.

“Racism is my wheelhouse,” says Coccoli. “Equality. Activism, in a comedic way. Getting people to be motivated to act. The ‘Me Too’ revolution. I grew up in Pittsburgh around all boys. I had to have the ability to laugh those things off. Of course, nobody ever stepped up to me or they’d have been dead.”

Another perennial subject: the future.

“Outer space! The Space Force with Donald Trump!” says Coccoli. “I work with NASA and JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) scientists, ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’ -- all these shows need funny writers. Don’t tell me we’re not going to space.”