Thursday, June 18, 2015

Memoirs Of A Gay Show: The Return of Denver Pride Comedy

By Mona Lott

I remember several years ago when every June not only brought us PrideFest and a Pride Parade and Pride Day at Elitch's, but it also brought us Pride Comedy with the Laugh Out Loud Comedy show. This was before text messaging so the show title was actually spelled out as opposed to being just LOL. It was a lot of fun, bringing nationally touring gay comics to town like Bob Smith, Kate Clinton and Suzanne Westenhoefer. I found it very refreshing to laugh at comics who weren’t being misogynistic or homophobic like the more popular comics of the time, for example Andrew Dice Clay and Sam Kinison. Both were funny comics, Kinison being a favorite of mine, but neither of them drew the sort of cruisy, hot crowd that the Laugh Out Loud Comedy Show did. For me though, it was realizing how much we all had in common and being able to relate to the comics and their stories and for once being allowed to laugh about being gay from our own point of view that made this event one of my favorites.

I miss those shows and those comics. Clinton and Westenhoefer are mostly doing shows on the East Coast and Smith, I was sad to discover, has stopped doing stand-up due to the progression of ALS which he was diagnosed with in April of 2007. I’m not sure who was producing those shows back then and I’m even less sure why they stopped. I would hazard a guess though that the decline in the popularity of stand-up comedy in the late 90’s brought an end to those annual shows. But comedy is having a resurgence and gay comics are much more mainstream these days, so I wondered, why not have a gay comedy show for Pride week again here in Denver?

So I presented the idea to Amy Jenssen King at The Denver Improv. I also suggested to her that I create a float for Denver’s Pride Parade promoting the show and the club. King loved the idea and I was off and running, well as much as a 300-pound drag queen can run. I was also proud to be representing The Denver Improv for Pride as this club has been more than gay friendly to me in the past and well worthy of being exposed to the gay community in a positive light. Though the club is known for booking more urban type comics they also booked my show, “Stripped Down Stand Up” for several months as well as my friend Chuck Roy (who let me feature for him when he headlined his own show there). Roy is a popular Denver comic who hosted Film On The Rocks for many years and is now featured in Ralphie May’s Filthy Animal Tour on Hulu. I was thrilled to have Roy agree to sling some jokes in my Pride show, 'Memoirs Of A Gay Show' playing on June 24th at The Improv.

Roy found me almost three years ago doing stand-up at a popular gay bar on Colfax and asked me to perform in a show he was booking at a gay bar on South Broadway. This led to a show we worked on together for several months featuring myself, a transvestite comic and a transgender comic, or, as we referred to ourselves, The Holy Trinity Of 

Chuck Roy
Cross Dressers. That bar is now gone and so is the show, but Roy and I have remained friends and continue to do shows together. So I decided to ask Chuck some questions for this article and found myself intrigued by his answers.

Mona: When did you first start doing comedy?
Chuck Roy: I first tried to tell jokes when I was all alone in my parent’s living room. I hooked a microphone up to my Dad’s tape recorder and improvised 45 minutes of "comedy." It was terrible, all cursing. Not much has changed! My first real set was July 27, 1992 in Boston.

Did your material identify as gay when you started or did you keep that hidden?
I came out on stage in 1994. The guy who owned the show fired me. Jimmy Dunn was in the office and raised Holy Hell. He called everybody. Greg Fitzsimmons, the headliner of the show, called the club owner and said if I wasn’t on the show he wasn’t leaving New York. The best club in Boston called me and said, “What happened to you is unfair. You work here now. Try your bits, gay, straight, whatever. We know you are funny.” All that from Jimmy Dunn, the best mentor a Bear could have!

Do you think of yourself as a gay comic?
Fuck yeah! I’m “Bearly” gay and wicked proud of it. Frankly, as soon as Joe Biden forced President Obama out of the closet on gay marriage then things got a lot easier to tell jokes. At just about that time I was learning to use ‘date night’ to relate to the audience. If I talked about ‘dating a girl named Steve’ then the audience could relate. The more I related to the audience about dating in a genderless, numberless way the more the audience agreed that it was the funniest approach.

Do you think there is a lot of homophobia in stand up?
Fuck yeah there was, until Todd Glass cut ‘em all down. I’ve never heard the podcast interview he did to rip apart homophobes. I just hear their private apologies.

Have you ever been heckled by someone for being gay. How did you handle it?
Yeah, do you mean gay people heckling me for saying ‘fags’ or bigots heckling me because they hate fags? I still have a bruise from a fight with a bigot last November. I’ve steeled my nerve and readied my fists 1,000 times to tell jokes. It wasn’t easy in 1994 to try gay jokes in South Boston or Northern Maine but I did. Every time I failed I got back up again. I still do. I win a lot of heckles. And since Joe Biden changed the nation I’ve shown homophobic hecklers that they are outnumbered. It’s not about the bruise or the fight in November, it’s about the audience that insisted I finish my set while cut up and bleeding. “You tell your jokes, Bear!” Nobody thinks it’s cool anymore to be homophobic. You can have your opinion but to shout out hate during a comedian’s routine? Not a lot of audiences are going for that lately. Unless it’s you performing, Mona. The audiences want you to become a Republican.

HA!! Yah right. How do you think the comedy scene in Denver is in regards to gay comics and gay acceptance?
I moved here because I thought Denver audiences would be the first to enjoy my using the word ‘boyfriend’. Now, I think that’s true. People in Denver go to shows, any kind of shows, with a lot of gay acceptance. I don’t think the audiences here really care about gender, race, sexuality, etc. They care about quality. As far as the Denver comedy scene goes, I quit that shit about a year ago. The Denver comedy scene is irrelevant to the audience. People go to a comedy show to see outstanding comedy. I don’t think they give a shit about the Comedy Prom Committee or who’s commenting on Facebook.

I hope Chuck wasn’t referring to me and my love affair with Facebook. Though I’ve never been on any Prom Committee, I do post ad nauseam on my page and you are welcome to friend me there or follow me on Twitter, both being full of plugs for my show, 'Memoirs Of A Gay Show'. 

Stacy Roquemore
Stacy Roquemore is also booked to do some “gay comedy” on this show and recently posted on his Facebook page, “My view point is that funny is funny! As subjective as comedy is, I think it's my responsibility to bring a voice to the stage that represents the LGBT in a positive light.”

Roquemore is a Denver comic, who recently returned from the West Coast where he was developing his chops and racking up credits. A comic who easily reads gay, Roquemore states, “… to be a comedian who is gay and puts it out there, is hard as hell to pull off, with all the people who try to keep you pigeon holed into a tiny bubble, even though your jokes are solid and well written.” But Roquemore doesn’t let that stop him and continues to progress in his career and build a fan base.

As for myself, I love being openly gay and appearing on stage in drag gives me no other option. I haven’t found any hatred directed towards me on stage for being a stand-up comic drag queen, with the exception of one drunken guy who yelled out to me, “Where are you from, Oz?” I shut him down quick by retorting, “When I want to hear you speak, I’ll pull my dick out of your mouth!” But mostly I find a great deal of acceptance, if also confusion, when I walk onstage. I usually address it fairly quickly, though, and put the fire out. I actually address people in the audience who have that look of shock on their face and tell them, “It’s ok; I’m just a drag queen.” Then I joke with them and make them feel relaxed and I think it gets them on my side. I don’t do a lot of what I would call "gay comedy" anyway. I mostly joke about pop culture, my weight, celebrities and some politics. I find that my biggest fan base is middle aged women who ask me for makeup tips and swoon over my jewelry. When I do play a gay crowd though, it’s great fun as I can relax a lot more and they allow me to make a lot more fun of the straight people in the crowd. I’ve had to sit through some homophobic sets from other comics, but I always take them to task when I get on the stage and I think I may have shamed a few of them into cutting those jokes from their sets. I think the more authentic I am, the more the audience is ready to go with me regardless of how different I may be.

And so yeah, a Pride Comedy Show is back, this time with local gay comics who will make you laugh and hopefully give you something to relate to. You can see all three of us, myself, Chuck Roy and Stacy Roquemore on the Denver Improv Pride Float this Sunday and you might even get some valuable coupons to see our show, 'Memoirs Of A Gay Show' on June 24th.

'Memoirs Of A Gay Show' plays on Wednesday June 24th at The Denver Improv Comedy Club and Dinner Theater. The club is located at 8246 Northfield Blvd Unit 1400 at Stapleton North and you can reserve tickets by calling 303-893-4100. Mona Lott is a drag queen stand-up comic and has been seen on Comedy Central, The Game Show Network and NBC. Named 'Denver's Outstanding Drag Queen' by OutFront for 2014 she is more popular than ever!