Cassi Bruno is a Pittsburgh-based comedian and writer. She’s also her ailing grandmother’s caregiver. I spent seven years as a caregiver to my own mother and understand the challenges of balancing a comedy career with caregiving. I wanted to sit down with Cassi to learn more about her journey with both worlds.
Hey Cassi! Thanks so much for doing this. What made you want to get into standup comedy?
Well, I used to watch stand-up on cable as a kid and memorize jokes and then tell them to my friends and their parents for attention. To this day, I think I still have Sarah Silverman’s special Jesus is Magic memorized. It never actually occurred to me, though, that I could do standup myself until one of my friends in high school suggested I do it. I don’t know if that friend was serious or not, but I went with it.
How long have you been caring for your grandmother?
I’ve been officially living with and caring for my grandmother for about a year now.
In comedy, the open mic scene is the place to grow your voice but I would imagine it’s very hard to leave your grandmother for unpaid work. How are you managing the comedy scene and caring for your grandmother?
I think open mics are important. For me, being in the environment of an open mic would inspire me to write, so it sucks not necessarily having the freedom to go out and do that as I please. With that being said, when you are caring for somebody with dementia, there comes a point where they cannot be left alone, and even when you sneak out to do the grocery shopping at 3 a.m., you keep imagining your grandmother starring in a Life Alert commercial. Like, what if our house burnt down, and I was four vodka cranberries deep, telling an abortion joke to an audience that consisted of five other comics and somebody’s drunk dad on a Wednesday night?
I’m very grateful that there are people who have been asking me onto their shows despite my partial absence from the scene. That’s how I’m managing, by prioritizing those shows and showing up to anything else when I can.
Do you feel you miss out on certain shows or opportunities?
I think it’s possible that, had I the time to fully commit myself to being a comic at this point in my life, I would have made more progress in some aspect, whether it be my ability to produce more writing or just being seen or getting booked more.
Does your sense of humor help you cope with the stress of being a caregiver?
I think it would if my grandmother thought I was funny.
Do you ever talk about your grandmother and being her caregiver on stage?
I have a bit right now about how my grandmother’s so old, if she were a dog we would have had to put her down by now. So, officially, no.
Over the past year, I’ve mentioned a few instances between me and my grandmother onstage offhandedly that I thought were pretty funny. It wasn’t until about a month ago, however, that I have actually been able to work out a bit about it.
Do you find it cathartic?
When I tell people that I live with my grandmother and help her out, they always say something like, “It’s so great you’re doing that,” like I’m a saint or something. In reality, I wasn’t trained to be a professional caregiver, and I’m probably not super great at it. It just happened to work out this way in my family, that it was the best option to have me take on this role at this time. Those conversations are always awkward and feel undeserved on my end. Talking about my caregiving situation on stage in a comedy bit changes that dynamic a little bit. Getting people to laugh about it with me instead is a great feeling.
More and more people are facing the role of caregiving for family members. What’s the best advice you can give to someone about to take on that challenge?
Get a therapist, and make sure you can take breaks. It’s a hard role for anybody to step into and not everyone has the resources to get help. As a caregiver, you need to advocate for yourself as well. Give yourself time to unwind and focus on something you enjoy, even if it’s just an hour every night to watch serial-killer documentaries. Whatever you’re into.
I know your time is divided in two worlds right now, but where can people catch you doing comedy?
I’ll be at Brillobox Halloween Show Friday the 19th at 7 pm, and the following Friday the 26th at 10pm, I’ll be at Arcade Comedy Theater’s That Time of the Month show.