LI Moonlighters Work Stressful Day Jobs, Turn Frowns Upside Down Later

LONG ISLAND, NY — Claudia Bonavita is a funny person who has always made time in her day to have a laugh.

A cut-up in her teen years, she was voted the class nudge at Babylon High School and performed in community theater.

She ended up finding a career in special education as an autism consultant for Eastern Suffolk Board Of Cooperative Educational Services and as an adjunct professor at St. Joseph’s College, where she incorporated her jokes into her trainings or classes.

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“If you can’t keep the college students engaged, it could be a gruesome three hours,” said Bonavita, a West Babylon resident. “So you have to be on your feet. You have to make a few jokes. You have to make things fun and exciting and have them laugh.”

Levity also helps in special education, if you can keep staff happy and upbeat while they are working with students who are extremely disabled, she said.

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In 2019, about one year before retirement from BOCES, she attended a comedy show with her husband and a brochure on the table for Stand-up University at The Brokerage.

“So I took the brochure and I said to my husband, ‘When I retire, this is what I want to do,'” she said. “My husband didn’t wait. That Christmas, he gave me the class for a Christmas gift.”

She went every Tuesday night for five weeks to hone her skills at the mic.

On graduation night when she was set to perform her routine, she wasn’t nervous at all like her classmates.

“I was like a horse – I couldn’t wait to start a race,” she said. “I could not wait to get on that stage.”

As she continued performing for the last year of her career, her experience at the school stuck with her, and she fondly admired her classmates.

Two years after her graduation, she came up with the idea of making a documentary about how comics make their living in their day jobs.

“From that experience, I met many people who had a job, obviously, and didn’t make their money to survive on comedy, but, had some pretty peculiar jobs.”

So she went to a family friend, John Silecchia, a filmmaker, for some advice, and the project developed rapidly from there.

Silecchia had her work up her film treatment and over two years, they filmed five comics with vastly different day jobs for “By Day, By Night: Working To Make People Laugh.”

To watch the trailer on YouTube, click here.

The film includes Ruthann “Bernie” Collins, a missioner for the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society in New York City, Donna Moran, a social worker in Adult Protective Services in Nassau County, and Ellen Orchid, a psychiatrist who has performed on “The View,” “Live with Regis,”
“America’s Funniest Viewers,” and “Oprah’s Funniest Viewers.”

The film also features Lou Prats, a senior courtroom clerk who is the liaison to the Domestic Violence sector in Nassau County, and Mitch Shapiro, a public speaker who is deaf and blind, and founded Help America Hear.

The movie premiered in Sayville last month and is set to be shown at the Plaza Cinema and Media Arts Centerin Patchogue on Monday and the Nyack International Film Festival on April 7.

The film was shot and edited during all the participants’ spare time over two years.

Its message is two-fold, Bonavita says.

“Everybody has jobs, everybody has to work but you have to make time to do something you’re passionate about,” she said. “Whether it’s stand-up comedy performance, or whatever it might be, you have to have that dichotomy of rest, and have to do, and want to do. And that’s what the whole movie is about.”

The director, Silecchia, who has worked for Troma Entertainment, Shea Moisture, and Local TV Inc., said the shooting went really well and he hopes the final product will inspire people to find their passion and explore it.

It’s a film he thinks will resonate with a lot of people.

“I really encourage people to watch his documentary,” said Silecchia of Bayport. “It’s not going to be like how these comedians operate on a day-to-day basis, how they do their jobs, then go to a comedy club and make people laugh, but also how they can find time for the passion, for what they love, and I think that’s very important, especially nowadays to find a grounded passion.”

Moran, a lifelong actress, first got into comedy when she was performing in a show doing Madonna and Cyndi Lauper impersonations.

During breaks, management would tell her to go outside and talk to the crowd.

“I was like, horrified,” recalled Moran, a Lido Beach resident. “‘What do you mean go out and talk to the audience? Why? Do I need a script?'”

She started off doing it as Lauper, and after a few months developed a routine of her own.

“I fell madly in love with stand-up, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s the performing I want to do.'”

For Prats, it should have been an easier road because it’s in his blood.

His uncle was renowned comedian Red Buttons, whom he says had a very serious side, too.

Though he loved to make people laugh, Prats ended up working in a very serious sector – the criminal court system, first as a court officer.

Due family obligations, it was not until later in life that he began his stand-up career.

Now at it around seven years, Prats reflects how it has been tricky balancing his day job with his stand-up gigs, but his family is supportive.

“Yeah, that’s been very difficult, but my wife helps me a lot with it,” he said. “She’s very understanding.”

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His 23-year-old son, Brian, also travels with him to all his shows.

If there is one takeaway from the film, Prats says that it shows comedy is not easy to do.

“If it was, everyone would do it, but as long as you have a good support system, and you keep trying, and trying; don’t give up, you can really do well at it.”

Bonavita says stand-up comedy is a form of communication.

“You almost build a relationship with the audience, and you get this connection,” she said. “There’s nothing like it.”

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