First Time Up: Bonita Elery

Bonita Elery is one actress, improviser, and sketch writer to keep on your radar. Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, she knew at an early age that she was destined for stardom. Her fun-loving, comedic personality emerged at a young age. She knew that the countless hours spent in front of a mirror, wielding a hairbrush as a microphone and donning a towel as a wig, would definitely pay off. She knew her place was to be around a camera, shining in the spotlight and brainstorming ideas behind the scenes.
After graduating from the Art Institute of Atlanta, she worked as a graphic designer for Fox News in Atlanta, Georgia. Then, after a successful experience in the corporate world, her dreaming expanded to new heights, and she wanted to pursue something bigger. She sold her house, stepped out on faith, moved to New York City, and caught the acting bug. From that point, she knew that entertaining others was exactly her dream and that she could do this for the rest of her life. Check out her reel here.

My whole life has been one big comedy show. I know I got my sense of humor from my mom. She’s the kind of no-nonsense woman who used to smoke Virginia Slims and greet people with a British accent. She’s from Alabama, dammit! If boys were teasing me at summer camp for anything, she’d puff on her cigarette and tell me to put on tights under my shorts, in the middle of July. She’d say, “That’ll teach ‘em. Boys respect girls in tights!” 

I remember being 4 years old watching Johnny Carson every night, laughing right along without having a clue as to what was so damn funny. I also remember sneaking into my parents’ room listening to my father’s collection of Rated-R comedy albums.

I was so young and I knew this stuff was bad but I couldn’t stop listening. I knew each joke verbatim. I made a room full of adults cry from laughter at a wake from retelling all this nasty stuff, and finally, I knew I was onto something. Mom wasn’t too happy about it, though!

The first live show I ever saw was Paul Mooney at Caroline’s and I was blown away. I laughed so hard I was sick. I made it a point to see more shows. I spent so much time daydreaming about what it would be like to be on stage… and then I would think of bombing, get butterflies, and my dream would disappear.

So, I never really considered actually doing stand-up

But, a few years later—I was older, wiser, and had a few acting credits under my belt—I met the one and only Lynn Harris of GOLD Comedy. I decided to dip a toe in and was honored to take classes from The Magnificent Elsa Eli. Because of them (and all the GOLDies), I’m now doing standup! 

That’s right–the one thing that I thought that I would never do. After Lynn took me under her wing and taught me a few things, I signed up for my first open mic in Louisville KY of all places.

The show took place at The Comedy Caravan and I was told that only comics would be there working on new material and that there was no pressure. I exhaled, relieved. I was also told that most of the comics would come in with notebooks and that the show would be totally casual. Again, I exhaled and convinced myself that I would be fine. 

This was gonna be just like any improv show (but for one). I could “YES AND–” myself. 

I was doing great until Wednesday night rolled around and the butterflies wouldn’t go away this time. 

I arrived too damn early, but eventually, comics started sauntering in. Male after male passed by me and gave each other high fives and hugs. 

No one–and I mean no one–acknowledged me. I knew we were in the middle of a pandemic, but a hello or a head nod would have been great. I’m very reasonable! 

By the time I found a seat in the corner, I felt totally alone and invisible. I attempted to make small talk with a gentleman that was by himself and although he said hello, he made it very clear that he didn’t want to be bothered.

A woman came in and I was afraid to say anything but our eyes met and we both knew instantly that we had to form a sisterhood in the middle of all these sharks. She introduced herself as Alice and the alliance was formed. The butterflies and anxiety had left my body. Sometimes it just takes one person to put your mind at ease.

The host arrived and put out the lineup. I was #18 out of 24 and I was right after the big headliner. I said to the Host, “Come on man, you want me to go after him?!”

He assured me that I would be fine and so did Alice. I went back to my corner and prayed for strength because I was ready to high-tail it out of there. 

Hordes of people started coming in. They started ordering food and drinks and before you know it the place was packed! Standing room only! This was not an open mic, this was a damn show! 

I had a huge lump in my throat that wouldn’t go down, and again, I thought about leaving. Each comic graced the stage and I began to panic and thought what if I forgot my material or what if I froze on stage. 

Why hadn’t I worn my tights under my clothes to this show?

I was praying, “Dear God, please don’t let me cry!” 

I hear my name being called and I jump up and walk slowly to the stage like I’m walking the plank to a sea full of sharks. 

Once on stage, I knock over the stool with my pocketbook… because why not. I take a deep breath and go in. 

15 seconds in I make a joke and I hear laughter. The more I talk the more laughter I hear. 

I get my confidence back as I walk back and forth across the stage like I’m fucking Chris Rock! My set is up and the crowd cheers and I get this high… It’s like my soul left my body. As I make my way back to my seat, all the men that refused to acknowledge me are now wanting to hug me and congratulate me. 

I was on a high that I didn’t want to come down from. After the show was over, people kept telling me how great I was and to keep going. I teared up. 

Not in a million years, did I ever think that I would be on stage telling jokes, at 50 years old, in KY. But now, I have to keep chasing those laughs, and who knows? 

Maybe in a few years, I’ll have my own Netflix special and some little kid will hear my dirty set in their parents’ room and their comedy journey will begin. Thanks, GOLD for bringing out something in me that I tried so hard to hide. See you at the Emmys!