JC Coccoli grew up Catholic in McKees Rocks – and while she hasn’t lived in Pennsylvania for years, she too is kind of upset about the grand jury report that alleged sex abuse in the church.
“I’m planning on flying in on Sunday and going directly to a Catholic church and yelling at as many priests as I can,” said the comedian, speaking by phone last week from Ojai, Calif.
Expect to hear about it if you catch one of Coccoli’s sets at the fifth annual Pittsburgh Comedy Festival. The event includes four nights of performances by local and touring standup and improv talent at two South Side venues, plus workshops for aspiring comedians.
The standup headliner is New York-based Marina Franklin, from the movie Trainwreck and HBO’s Crashing. The top-billed improv troupe is The Cast, a long-running all-female team from New York City that doubles down by improvising the backstage comedy for its own improvised plays.
Coccoli is a featured standup act. She started doing comedy in college in Florida, and has gone on to star on MTV (Hey Girl) and VH1, as well as being a favorite at comedy festivals.
“I cover the not-so-glamorous things about life,” she said of her sometimes-raunchy act. “The theme I am working with lately is, ‘I just want to be happy, but this planet seems to be messing that up for me. And here’s why.’”
Coccoli is also an activist: Since 2011, she's worked with women's rights group Equality Now to address such issues as sex trafficking and female genital mutilation.
It’s heavy stuff, but Coccoli said it needs to be talked about, even in a comedic context. “It’s time to bring it onstage, it’s time to make you laugh so you activate,” she said.
But how to address topics like the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests?
“We don’t talk about it with making fun of the victim, which has really changed around a lot in comedy, too,” she said. “The victim is no longer the butt of the joke. It’s the person doing it. And I think when you shift comedy in that way, we’re really getting things done.”
The Pittsburgh Comedy Festival starts Wednesday, with an opening-night showcase at City Theatre on the South Side. Performances continue through Saturday at City Theatre, at 1300 Bingham St., and Club Café, at 57 S. 12th St. Comedy workshops run Thursday through Sunday.
Tickets for individual events start at $10 (and a few, including the Kids’ Comedy Cabaret and Marta on the Move Podcast, are free). Festival passes are $50. More information is on the festival’s web site.