Gabby OK’s comedic journey began at the age of 34 when she visited her hometown of Las Vegas for Christmas break. Her friend connected her to a local comedian, who inspired her to take the plunge into the world of stand-up, fueling a passion that had always lingered in the back of her mind.
She promptly made her way to Target, purchased a notebook, and began crafting her own jokes.
While her first stand-up performance in 2021 was a success, Gabby understood that failure is an inevitable part of every comedian’s journey. She emphasized that each moment on stage is a valuable learning experience and that “the real test is if, when you get on stage and it doesn’t go well, can you get back on stage? What can you learn from that experience to help propel you further?”
After gaining some momentum in Vegas, Gabby returned to Minnesota, where she has lived since 2018, ready to make her mark on the local comedy scene. She performed at open mics night after night. It was on stage where Gabby said she was finally “walking in her purpose.”
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
How does your cultural background and personal experiences shape your comedic style and material? Are there any particular topics or issues that you find yourself drawn to?
As a queer Black woman, everything I do is through that lens. So, when I talk about dating, it’s through a queer experience, or when I talk about family. There are things that are specific to having Black parents.
But that is the nice thing in Minnesota, people want to hear about other people’s experiences, especially if it’s something different than theirs. And sadly, childhood trauma is now a universal experience. To be clear, it’s not like my childhood was that traumatic, just in case my parents see this and they’re like, “What do you mean?” But, yeah, everything I do is always going to be through that lens.
I take pride in being able to use that lens and experience and still make it relatable or understandable, and funny to a wide audience.
What role do you think local comedians play in bringing diverse perspectives?
I don’t think anyone’s expecting me to speak for all Black people or all queer women or anything like that. I think they, for the most part, have an understanding, like, “Oh, this is Gabby’s experience,” but they also just want to hear more about it because again, it’s not an experience that is lived for them.
So, that’s kind of why they’re open to hearing it.
Does representation matter in comedy?
Oh, absolutely. I think for me, it’s just opening doors, right? I don’t want to be one of the only queer Black female comedians. I would like there to be more coming in. I think if people see me and they’re like, “Oh, if she can do it, I can do it.” I would love for that to be the attitude. I think mentorship is really important.
I’d say my comedy mentor, my sister comedian out here—Khadijah Cooper, she’s been a big help. She’s not queer, but she’s a Black woman in comedy and in Minnesota. She’s been doing it a few years longer than I have. And so, just kind of being able to have each other’s back because the reality is, white people do it all the time.
So, I think the role is creating more opportunities for ourselves and making sure we open those doors and bring in other people with us.
Have you encountered any unique challenges or opportunities as a comedian of color in the industry? How do you navigate those experiences?
There are places that will remain nameless, but I feel like it’s way less of those places and more that are welcoming and honestly, there’s places in the city that I will name. I’d say like Sisyphus, Comedy Corner Underground, that you can tell with the people that they book that they are intentional about creating diverse perspectives, creating opportunities, and that they really nurture local talent. There is so much talent in Minnesota. I’m very grateful to be a part of this scene and learn from these comedians and grow.
But there’s other places that feel kind of more like the old guard, where it’s kind of like a boys’ club, and the comedy feels kind of very 1980s sitcom type, which, if you think a lot about the 1980s, not a lot of people that look like me or have the same shared experience.
I’m trying to say that as delicately and as diplomatically as I can, but for the most part, the audiences have been receptive, even in places where you would think that we might be voting differently, and maybe share different values.
Even my experience as a comedian has actually still been very welcoming and receptive, because at the end of the day, everybody wants to laugh. And even if you’re poking fun at a group of people, if you do it kind of in a loving and a thoughtful way, they’re still like, “Yeah, I guess we do be doing that.”
It’s, I’d say, been surprisingly welcoming throughout Minnesota. I think we’re starting to move in the right direction.
What do you hope to see in Minnesota’s comedy scene moving forward?
Just more diversity. More people that look like me. I think we’re doing a good job, which is why I’ve actually decided to stay here. My friends are constantly asking me, “Gabby, why would you want to stay in Minnesota? Come back to Vegas.” And, actually, last summer, I was thinking about moving back to Vegas, but then comedy started picking up for me.
I feel like I started to hit a corner and it made more sense to stay out here where there were more opportunities. I talk a lot, mostly about mental health. And you know, my queer experience.
Those are two things that you’ll probably encounter at any point in my set. And those are things that, in Minnesota, people love. They eat it up. So, it made more sense for me to stay here.
So, I would love to just see more people with different experiences. I’d like to see more comedians of color stick with it out here ‘cause if you put in the work, then you will be rewarded. So, just know that there are real chances and real opportunities out here for people of color.