The incredibly funny Gastor Almonte has his debut stand-up album, Immigrant Made, coming out this Friday (4.5) on 800 Pound Gorilla Records, plus there’ll be a video version hitting Amazon on the 12th. If you’re not familiar with Almonte, he was born and raised in East New York, and his comedy and storytelling reflect what it was like growing up as the son of Dominican immigrants in real Brooklyn. He is HILARIOUS, and I would highly recommend getting to know him below // we had a phone conversation yesterday to talk about what it’s like balancing his day job as a landlord with his comedy career, how things like gentrification, immigration and fatherhood have affected his material and MORE, so read up on all of that right now:
Brightest Young Things: Congratulations on the album! How long did it take you to figure out the material you wanted to include on Immigrant Made?
Gastor Almonte: A lot of the stand-up bits are things that I’ve done throughout my stand-up career, so those pieces are from four to six years of my time performing. As far as the stories that I chose and the general outline of the project, that probably came together over the course of a year. I really wanted to tell the stories of my family and how they came to this country and established their roots here. I felt that those stories kind of highlighted that best; they show a little bit of who my grandfather was, a little bit of who my parents are, and a little bit of who I am now because of what they did.
BYT: And growing up, were you always known as a funny kid? Were there specific influences around you that made you interested in storytelling through the lens of comedy?
GA: It’s kind of a big tradition in my family. I touch on it a little bit, but on Sundays we always went to my grandmother’s house, and all the guys in my family (my uncles and my father) would tell stories to each other. The kids weren’t allowed into that group, because the stories were about their lives, their jobs that week, or if it was one of my younger uncles, it would be about who they were dating. I wanted to be in that circle; it felt like that was where the cool stuff was happening. So they let us (meaning me and my cousins) come in to tell a cool story each week. It was a challenge of sorts, because you’re seven, eight, nine years old, so what do you have to talk about? You know, “My teacher grounded me,” or “I played tag this week.” None of those things really held weight in the room. But every now and then you’d tell something interesting that would make the grown-ups laugh, and you sort of got this approval to be sitting with the grown-ups. So A) it got you into this cool circle, and B) it also gave you a point of pride among your cousins, like “I’m one of them now. I’m one of the grown-ups before you.” I kind of fell in love with being in that circle, so a lot of what I do performance-wise is really just mimicking what I learned from my father and from one of my uncles in particular. The two of them were always incredible storytellers, and I’m just doing it now in English.
BYT: Take me back to the moment that you decided you were going to take the Gotham class that kind of set everything in motion. Because you’d signed up for that more for the purpose of building your interpersonal skills, rather than with the aim of doing this professionally, right?
GA: I was working as a sales manager at a Fortune 500 company, and I read an article that a bunch of CEOs did stand-up classes to get better at presenting. So I took the class strictly with that intention, but then at the class show at Gotham, they have a downstairs room where we were performing, and there was an actual show going on upstairs. One of the comics who was at that show happened to come downstairs to kick it, and he was very direct and said to me, “How long have you been doing stand-up? That set went great!” And I said, “Seven weeks.” It sounded cocky to the guy, but it was very truthful; I literally just did the classes, and that was my first-ever performance. So afterwards, my family and friends who’d come out were with me hanging out at the bar next door, and the comic came to talk to me a little bit about it, and he told me I should consider pursuing it more seriously.
At the time I didn’t really know much about comedy outside of the major people that were doing HBO specials, so I didn’t know who he was, but when I went home I looked him up and it was Roy Wood Jr. At the time, he wasn’t even where he was at now; this was when he was just sort of starting to cross over, but I appreciated that this guy was a professional comic, and he took about a half hour of his time to talk it over with me and let me know that I shouldn’t just throw away what I did there, that there was a talent there, and if I put the time in then it could lead somewhere.
When I started performing more and more, I felt genuinely happy doing it. At the same time, I felt that my job wasn’t giving me that kind of satisfaction. So about a year after that, I talked it over with my wife, and she asked me very directly, “When was the last time you were really happy?” And I said, “Honestly, at that show.” So she said, “Why don’t you just take a year off and do that?” So that’s what I did. And it’s kind of snowballed into where it is now.
I got lucky and got the This Is Not Happening appearance very early in my career, and when the clip went up, a lot of people gave me kudos for the story, but what really kind of moved me and pushed me in the direction of doing the album in such an immigrant-focused and East New York-focused way was the fact that so many of the comments were people saying things like, “Oh, that’s from my hood,” or “I know that block he’s talking about,” or “I’ve been to that pizzeria,” or “I know the block that Gastor’s family’s from,” or “I’m from East New York, too.” That connection we had to the neighborhood made me realize that there’s an under-served group of people who weren’t seeing their voices, who were underrepresented in this art form. And it gave me a chance to do that and hone in on it.
BYT: Well that’s what I really love about it, too. I’ve lived at Flushing and Broadway for the past eight years, so everything that you talk about feels very familiar. And those are the stories I want to hear. This is obviously a good opportunity to bring up gentrification, too – how do you feel that’s influenced both your storytelling and your day-to-day life?
GA: One of the things that’s come up a lot is why that’s so central to what I do, and I think a big part of it is that (unlike a lot of the peers I’m coming up with currently) I came to comedy almost after the fact. I had a life, I own properties in New York with my father, I have a wife, I have two kids that I’m trying to raise in this neighborhood, and the effects of gentrification are directly affecting the decisions I make as a homeowner and as a family man. You know, what is the best decision that brings me the most income vs. what’s the best decision to keep this neighborhood my daughter and my son’s neighborhood. I’m constantly weighing those things out, and I’m having real discussions with my father, so that’s starting to come out in my comedy.
There are things that are happening in my neighborhood now that are going to change it, and it’s a matter of us (being the people that are here currently) voicing what we would like to see happen within that change. The more that we do that, the better and more positively affected residents’ lives will be. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the neighborhood changing in terms of who lives here; that’s always happened in Brooklyn. That’s what makes Brooklyn Brooklyn, in particular East New York, which has had moments when it’s been mostly Jewish, mostly Italian, mostly Black, mostly Latino, and it’s always going to change, because it’s always been an affordable place for people that first live here to kind of establish themselves and then grow from there. So there’s nothing wrong with that happening, it’s just that there should also be an opportunity for the people that are already here to benefit from those changes.
BYT: Absolutely. So what does an average day look like for you in East New York, then? Does one exist? How do you balance out the different things you do and divide up your time?
GA: I get up pretty early, around 6 o’clock, and I usually go to one of the properties, do some work, only because my dad’s a little bit older now and I try to be more active in the ones he owns. Usually from 6-7:30 or so I’m doing some sort of cleanup at a property or checking in on an issue that needs to get repaired the night before. From 7:30 to 8:30 I’m getting the kids ready, dropping them off at school and dropping off my wife at her job, and then from about 9 to about 2 o’clock I’m writing my own jokes, making sure I’m doing the work to be able to perform that night. Then from 2:30 to 4 o’clock I pick up the kids, run any errands that I need to run for the home, and then from 5 o’clock I pick up my wife. From 5 to 6 I try to be really present in my home in some capacity. I rotate that because, realistically, it’s hard to do, but I try to pick one of the three of them or the group to do something with, whether it’s directly helping one of my kids with their homework, if it’s Friday directly playing with them, days with no homework taking them out to ice cream, or if my mom is free I’ll drop them off there and take my wife out to get coffee, just to make sure that we connect in every single version of those relationships. From 7 to 10 I go out and perform, and I try to do that four to five times a week.
I don’t do the seven day every night out thing, because it’s not fair to my family. I take four to five days where I actively go to three or four shows, and I try to sneak in a show that I’m not performing on just to kind of see what my peers are doing. Then I try to get home and get some sleep from there. It doesn’t always pan out that easy, but that’s the ideal thing. I’d say I get to that about 80% of the time. Every now and then there’s a great show that I want to do that’s later, or there’s an issue with one of the properties that requires a bit more of my time, but that’s the general plan, and that’s what I try to aim for daily.
BYT: That’s amazing! What do your kids thing about the comedy thing? And do they have any interest in it themselves?
GA: So this past summer we went to Disney World, and we decided to do it as a road trip. It was really fun because A) we were going to go to Disney World, and B) after three or four days at Disney we were going to drive to Miami for my brother-in-law’s wedding. Up until this point they knew I did comedy and that I was funny on TV, but they also respected the fact that they couldn’t see it; even though they’re on YouTube, they try to avoid seeing adult content, and I told them that while I don’t curse gratuitously, I do curse, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for them to see it yet.
But during the trip to Disney World we did the safari, and our truck actually broke down during the safari. We were in the middle of the last pass of the safari for an hour, and it went from that moment where they try to add a little bit of fear, like, “Oh no, don’t do this!” and then the truck actually broke down. There was a rhino and jaguars near us, so people were a little tense and nervous, and the kids were hugging up on me, like, “Yo, dad, what’s gonna happen?!” I’m like, “It’s gonna be fine,” trying to calm them down. This all takes place and they finally get everything repaired, get us out of there, and then the next morning we’re driving to the wedding. My brother-in-law’s wife calls us to make sure everything’s okay, and during the conversation I recap the story, but now it’s the day after so I’m saying it funny. I’m like, “Oh, you know, the lady tells us how dangerous these rhinos and jaguars are, and then the truck breaks down in front of them for an hour.” She laughed at the storytelling aspect of it, and when we were done, my son was in awe of it. He was like, “Dad, how did you do that?!” I was like, “What are you talking about?” He’s like, “I was there yesterday, and it wasn’t funny at all, it was very scary! But you made it funny!” I was like, “Yeah, that’s literally what I do. I take moments where I feel an extreme emotion, and I get over that moment because I’m able to reflect on it and make it funny for other people, and they can relate to it and see how they felt during similar moments.” My daughter and him literally spent the entire rest of the drive asking me what the tricks were that I did to tell the story funny. And then the whole wedding reception they kept trying to tell the story funny, and it was just beautiful to me, because they got to see what I do.
I’ve never really had a chance to translate that for them, and particularly coming from where I’m from…like, my father has been a property owner, he owns a bodega, my grandfathers both owned farms, so my whole life when the men in my family took me to work, they could physically point to what they did. What I do for a living is abstract, so it’s harder to show that to my kids. It was cool to have that moment, like, “Oh, there is a craft to what dad’s doing, and I get it.” So they’re really excited about it.
And this past February I told a fully clean set on TV for PBS’ Stories from the Stage, and I got to watch them see it. It was about me getting a dessert for my wife when she was pregnant, and the amount of money I spent on it and the ordeal of getting it. Seeing them get to see the whole performance itself and asking my wife if I really did the ridiculousness that I did on the show was beautiful. Getting to have a moment where I could see they were proud of what I was doing. It’s allowed me to push harder. The only negative is that now whenever I go out to a show, they always ask me, “Hey, dad, am I in the jokes today? Did the jokes work from yesterday?” I’m like, “You don’t have to worry about any of that, but thank you for checking in.”
BYT: I love that! Alright, so speaking of taking a sort of extreme emotion and translating that into comedy, what sorts of responses have you had to the fact that immigration is so central to your material, too?
GA: So far I’ve gotten a lot of people that have related to it, especially in the material where I talk about my grandfather. It’s such a fish out of water moment when you come here to this country, especially when you’re in your sixties, seventies or even eighties. Of the people I know, our parents were the first ones here, and we’re the first generation that was born here, but there’s also the act of bringing their parents over once they’re established. It creates this weird dynamic where the most experienced person in your family, the archetype for the head of household, now almost becomes a child; they’re dependent on your parents, too. They don’t speak the language, they have to establish themselves here but they’re probably too old to go to work, and it created these awesome relationships as a result.
While most of my friends had relationships with their grandparents, the ones who were first generation have or had incredible relationships with their grandparents; they almost became our unofficial caretakers, and it gave us license to do things that I don’t think other kids could, quite frankly. Grandparents like to spoil us, and having my grandfather with me all day was a beautiful memory that I wish I could recreate for my kids. Hearing other people’s stories now when I perform about the incredibly reckless things their grandparents let them do or that they did together, it’s just…I get it now as a parent that there’s a certain level of security you’re always trying to provide for your kids, and the older you get, at some point I think you realize that you’re going to lose the adventure in the process. I feel like grandparents realize that and try to instill that in their grandkids, and all the stories that I hear about are about that – grandparents try to remind their grandparents that, “Yes, your parents are going to keep you safe, but you need to gamble a little, too.”
BYT: I really enjoyed the incorporation of that into this album, too. I think it’s a great collection as a whole, and obviously it’s not even officially out yet, but what have you got in the works once it’s released?
GA: I have two big plans that I want to do after this. One is a sketch series where I show my life as a landlord. I think for the most part, my other comics on the scene here who rent will talk about the other side where there’s a renter and they’re dealing with a bad landlord. I want to show the other side of that, like, “Hey, for the most part most of us are normal people trying to get by,” and I want to show the things that we deal with in trying to provide the best home possible for our tenants, the level of care that we have for them, and the odd interactions that take place with that.
In terms of my next album, I have it in mind to do this big kind of love story to all the women in my life; I hold dear the relationships that I have with them, and how they’ve molded me. So my grandmother, my mom, my sister, my wife who I’ve known since I was thirteen (who literally told me no one would want to marry me based on what I wanted to name my son, and then we ended up dating and I kind of got my way with the name, so that worked out), and now my daughter. So I have in mind to do a big love story to them, just because of the amount of time that they devote to me and to the men in their lives in general. I think it’s important to highlight that. It’s what’s moving me now.