Chrissy Costa joins me for brunch at The Porch in Oakland on a Sunday morning. It’s a big, bright space bustling with college students and baby-toting couples enjoying their morning coffee or sipping on morning cocktails — the way only that not-quite-breakfast, not-quite-lunch time slot allows.
Costa and I aren’t here to mess around, so we pour ourselves glasses of water from our table’s carafe and then order two coffees, a Bloody Mary for her and a Peach Bellini for me. We agree that coffee is always better when someone else makes it for you, and the coffee talk flashes a memory into Costa’s mind.
When she worked in her last corporate job about 15 years ago, Costa discovered that her male colleague, who did the exact same work she did and started at the same time, was being paid more than she was, even though she had the college degree that he lacked.
“So I figured out, ‘okay, if you make this and I make this, that means I’m going to take an hour of downtime a day,’” Costa says. “So I brought a coffee pot in and I started making like Starbucks-type drinks at my desk in that downtime. I had my own little coffee station.”
She’d make drinks and find ways to avoid work for that unpaid hour each day, and she certainly wasn’t hiding it. If someone came to her desk in that hour, she’d tell them they’d have to take it up with someone with a penis.
“I think they were excited to see me leave when I finally went to Chicago,” she says.
Costa went to Chicago to study with The Second City, the famed improv and sketch comedy troupe known for producing a pantheon of comedians who would end up on Saturday Night Live or with their own sitcoms.
“I was out in Chicago for three years and all the people that I was in the writing groups with, most of them were doing stand up and I thought I could never do that,” she says.
Costa always considered herself primarily a writer. She’s been writing stories and jokes for as long as she can remember. Back in the days of Myspace, before she knew of The Onion and long before Trump cried ‘fake news!,’ she garnered a following from writing humorous fake news stories and posting them online.
“I wrote this story when Oprah realized she had a half sister and made a big deal out of it on her show; I rewrote the story as if I was the half sister,” Costa says. “And I wrote a story once on how Tom Cruise had been hiding a vagina.”
By this point, we’re already digging into the dishes our server has placed down on the table. I ordered fried chicken and biscuits with sausage gravy and Costa got the brunch ‘nachos.’ They don’t look a whole lot like nachos, but the components are there–pulled pork, salsa verde, queso, refried beans, cheese, scallions and cilantro. It’s all been arranged in a neatly layered tower and topped with a sunny side up egg to make it, you know, brunch.
So while she’d been writing comedy for a long time, Costa didn’t start getting on stage to tell her jokes until seven years ago. She found herself at a low point, having gone out to live in a trailer in Missouri for a rebound relationship that resulted in a neck tattoo and getting cheated on.
“But when I came back I felt so low that I thought, ‘why not do comedy now?’ I felt like I had nothing else to lose.”
She ended up doing her first show as a part of a showcase at the Brillobox with only five days to prepare. And she’s been doing it ever since.
“I do comedy and I just so happen to be gay and I talk about it, but I notice that I’ve gotten labeled a queer comedian. There’s so many other things I could be called,” she says. “It’s fine, I just feel like comedy is comedy and if you can connect with people it doesn’t matter.”
Costa says that she will vary the content of her sets depending on what she thinks the audience will relate to most. She’s been able to open for national names like Dana Goldberg, Jessica Kirson and Suzanne Westenhoefer, who are particularly well known in the LGBTQ scene, and she approaches those shows slightly differently than she’ll approach something like The Improv’s ‘Stand Up Pittsburgh’ contest, where she’ll be competing on Nov. 28.
She’s also developed characters through videos she posts on social media. Her friend and fellow comedian Maria Fusca requested that she perform as one of her characters, Patty, at his holiday show.
“Her name is Patty but her friends call her Barb — it’s kind of a gay joke because there’s a lot of lesbians named Patty and Barb for some reason,” Costa says. “So I dressed up as a woman with really bad hair who was joining an online dating site because she was looking for the right man, and she’s the only one that doesn’t realize she’s gay.”
Costa (and Patty) will appear at Fusca’s Special Sessions Live on Dec. 15 at Black Forge Coffee House at 7 p.m.