The Los Medanos College LBGTQ+ Task Force assembled a crew of LGBTQ+ comedians to perform at the first ever Queer Comedy Showcase, a free event held Nov 9 at 7 p.m. in the LMC Little Theater on campus. The LGBTQ+ Faculty and Staff Caucus and ALLIES STUDENT GROUP put on the event and its funding came from The Professional Development Advisory Committee, LMC Associated Students, the Drama Department and the Division of Equity.
The motley crew of “five stand-up comedians from the San Francisco Bay Area,” according to the showcase promotional poster, consisted of Baruch Porras-Hernandez, Irene Tu, Alexandria Love, Wonder Dave and Natasha Muse. Originally, the poster listed a performer named Luna Malbroux and omitted Love, but the aforementioned roster was the one that performed.
Professor Liz Green worked with Porras-Hernandez — a personal friend of hers that she met in the Bay Area poetry slam community — to recruit the other four acts, most of which had ties to either Green or Porras-Hernandez via the same community.
The performers comic styles were as diverse as their backgrounds, and all touched in some way upon their personal experiences as members of the LGBTQ+ community and/or being persons of color. There was no distinct crowd favorite, but almost every joke and anecdote drew a roaring applause from the attendees.
After the performances, most of the comedians gathered in the center of the Little Theater for a panel discussion in which they took turns answering questions from the audience.
One of the first questions was how the performers became interested in stand-up. Dave cited George Carlin and the Comedy Central “Gay Comedy Hour” as influences, noting that the latter aired before his parents came home and gave him an early sense of self and inspiration. Love talked about growing up in a “stand-up heavy household” watching the Kings of Comedy Tour, stating “Def Comedy Jam” performer Bernie Mac as a specific inspiration. Porras-Hernandez described his experiences growing up around hilarious cousins and older relatives, dealing with stage fright and eventually getting into open mic nites with a friend. Muse talked about her time performing in a burlesque-type show and eventually coming to prefer performing on the mic to performing as a dancer.
As the questions came in, the performers all got the chance to share some personal stories about not only their journeys as performers but also as people.
“I think being gay made me funny,” Dave said in response to a question about how coming out changed the performers’ lives. He revealed that growing up in a small town, he was the first person to ever be publicly out at his local high school.
“Maybe not the best decision,” he laughed in retrospect, “But someone’s gotta do it, and I’m a very angry teenager… [because of this, today] I don’t own a bait and tackle shop in Wisconsin.”
“For a split second, I had one thing in common with this guy I never would have spoken to otherwise,” Love stated, describing a moment after a politically-charged show held a few weeks after the November 2016 presidential election in which an audience member approached her to respectfully air some grievances they had with the material, which led to a discussion between the two.
Another question asked was how the performers go about more sensitive topics in their routines.
“My rule for comedy is… it’s not funny if it’s not honest to you as a person,” Love answered.”
“To be honest, I’m not super sure I’m there yet,” Porras-Hernandez admitted, describing a few jokes that landed badly at previous events and stating that he hopes to one day be able to take on serious issues, like mental health, in an entertaining yet tactful manner. “Do I have an eating disorder?” he questioned jokingly.
“I record my sets and listen to them,” Dave said. “Sometimes even changing one word can make a joke more or less offensive.” He also described a technique he calls “couching”, in which he places newer material in the middle of sets so that if a hit-or-miss joke misses, it doesn’t cause the whole show to start (or end) on a flat note.
One of the last questions was if the comedians ever felt pressure to address, or avoid, LGBTQ+ issues in their stand-up — whether their own personal ones or larger community ones.
“Yes, depending on the room and the gigs I want,” Porras-Hernandez said, describing a show done in Santa Rosa attended mostly by ‘old white couples’.
“None of the immigrant stuff worked… they weren’t feeling the gay stuff,” he said. “I made fun of myself running as a fat guy and they loved that.”
Muse described a feeling of having to upfront with her gender identity in some shows, and sidelined it in others.
“I wanna know that you know that I know… that I’m trans,” she said adding, “Sometimes there’s a pressure to expand and talk about things outside of that when I do queer shows.”
“When I do queer shows,” Love stated, “I tend to be [the only or one of the few] bisexual people on the line-up.” She went on to describe how early in her career, she sometimes felt the need to ‘overcompensate’ for that, and also talked about times she was booed ‘like crazy’ at LGBTQ+ events for mentioning that she is bisexual.
“I have to be very precise with my jokes about sexuality,” she continued. “I try to think a lot about what I want to get out of that joke.”
Overall, the panel discussion was very insightful and inspiring to many audience members, and the performance itself was a hit.
“For a free show, that was really great,” LMC student Kenneth Prado said after the show, adding that Muse was his favorite performer.
“I appreciated the diversity… of all the comedians,” beamed student Mary Abusafieh. “I really liked them all, I felt like I could relate to them all.”
All of the comedians are on Facebook under their stage names. In addition, Porras-Hernandez, Dave, Tu and Muse can be found on Twitter at @baruchisonfire @TeamWonderDave @irene_tu and @NatashaMuse respectively, and searching the name of any of the comedians yields a several other profiles and videos for each.