all words: Rachel Dearborn
photos: Lindsey Barnhart
Last Friday night gay fans of comedy huddled en masse for an anticipated performance by the one and only cussing-on-live-television, post-d-list diva, Miss K Griff. I wasn’t there.
I was at EFN Lounge, where a much smaller gaggle of gay comedy fans sipped, mingled, and laughed. The comedy show – put on by Jacob Pring – featured five comics, two of which originally hail from the District.
Disclaimer – I’m not a comedy buff or anything, but I was curious. I wanted to know what necessarily would make this a “Gay Comedy Show”? Is it that the comics themselves were all gay? Is there a gay litmus test at the door to screen out the audience? Was the material going to be all gay-themed?
Turns out, it’s a little bit of all of that, but of course that’s never the whole story.
When you get a bunch of funny gays and lezzies up on stage, and you fill a venue that’s becoming a mainstay of DC gay nightlife with an audience who is similarly inclined, the jokes that get the biggest laughs are about being gay and the gay community.
Shawn Hollenbach, host of the show, listed out the top ten reasons he should have known he was gay before he came out of the closet. No. 9: when pressed at a young age to name a female celebrity he had a crush on, he named Sandra Bullock. Chris Doucette – previously in DC but now based in NYC – informed us that, yes, homophobia is still alive and well in America, and it drives an SUV. Makes sense, since every time he’s a victim of a hate crime, a polar bear dies. Lisa Kaplan dryly admitted it’d be nice to be gay with someone else for a day, because usually she’s just gay by herself. Claudia Cogan, a cute, (single), hilarious lez sporting cowboy boots, recounted to us her error of trying out Viagra for kicks. Yes, ladies, it works even on us – Claudia couldn’t take her strap-on off for four hours.
Comedy lets us all laugh at ourselves a bit, often at the things we aren’t usually supposed to talk about. But it wasn’t long ago that gay comics weren’t out when they were on stage. But now you can regularly see DC’s Zach Toczynski making as many jokes about being raised Catholic as he does about the homophobia he encounters as a performer, and Lisa making cracks about her weight (current weight loss goal = feel warm again) right after she describes how ridiculous it is that a facebook quiz told her she’s only 24% gay.
I talked to the comics a bit after the show – after declining an offer of $10 to report that one of the male performers is only 22, I pressed the comics for the real story. What’s it like to be a gay comic, outside of a gay comedy show? Do prominent gay comics like Ellen and Wanda set the stage for success by smaller-time gay comics? The answer is a mix of good and mediocre – but lately not too much bad. DC’s got a decent comedy scene, but it’s still pretty tough to perform here on most days of the week, gay or not. New York is one of the few cities where a gay comedy show has a demand to keep it on its legs. But the good news is that from New York, New York to Pensacola, Florida people want to connect. Even in the most rural or straight of audiences, people are open to meeting gay people, and they’re open to a good time. It may not always be easy, but it’s growing. And people are laughing.