Gay comics take Pride by storm

by Kevin Scott Hall

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday June 19, 2008

As the city's Pride celebrations continue to kick into high year, gay comics will be among those taking Gotham by storm throughout the remainder of the month. EDGE New York talked with five prominent comics to get their take on being out on stage and the importance of laughter.

Adam Sank, a former television producer who is a prolific feature writer for many publications, is among those comics who said they feel being out in comedy remains important.

"I was out from the moment I got on stage," Sank said. "If I was going to talk about anything in my life, it would have to include me being gay."

Bob Smith, an original member of the groundbreaking Funny Gay Males and author of several books, will co-host the Pride rally alongside friend and fellow comedienne Judy Gold. He has been a comic for more than two decades, and he said being gay on stage was never an issue.

"Back in 1986, I was writing jokes about being gay and my friend Michael told me they were hilarious," Smith recalled. "That and the Reagan administration's non-response to AIDS made me feel I should talk about being gay in my act."

Gold, on the other hand, included her family-and not her sexual orientation-into her initial acts. She decided to go gay (or lesbian to be more precise) after she had her children.

"I had so much material and I didn't want my kids thinking there was anything wrong with my being gay," Gold said.

This process eventually led to her one-woman show, "25 Questions for a Jewish Mother."

"So many people were thanking me after that show," Gold said. "These older Jewish women couldn't wait to tell me about their gay children."

Born and raised in Texas, Sirius Out Q in the Morning deejay Keith Price, whose life is chronicled in the documentary "Ebony Chunky Love: Bitch Can't Get a Date," told EDGE growing up in the Lone Star State provided a lot of his comedic shtick.

"I'm black, gay, Latino-and overweight!" he said. "20 years ago when I started doing standup in Texas, calling yourself big and fabulous was not a big sell!"

Price recalled coming out on a Big Apple stage 10 years ago as a very liberating experience. Los Angeles-based comedienne Sandra Valls, who is featured on Showtime's "Latin Divas of Comedy," had initial reservations about branding herself as a lesbian comic because she thought she would not get caught. She changed her tune, however, after she heard more and more performers talking about their husbands, girlfriends and partners on stage.

"I thought, 'That's their life so fuck it, I'm going to talk about mine,'" Valls said.

Everyone agreed their decision to be out on stage probably caused some barriers to obtain a certain kind of success. [What does this mean?]. But the personal benefits outweighed the negatives.

"If you're trying to be a Jerry Seinfeld or a Bill Cosby, that won't happen," Price said. "It has to be the pursuit of art over money. I can live my personal truth, which is more than what money can bring you."

Gold related.

"I wrote a funny sitcom about a family with gay parents," she said. "Nobody wanted it." Noting that early in her career, she was told that she was "too Jewish" and advised to blonde and straighten her hair, she said, "Unless I follow my gut, I have nothing."

"I thought, 'That's their life so fuck it, I'm going to talk about mine.'"

Smith and Suzanne Westenhoefer appeared on a well-received half-hour comedy show on HBO in 1994. It appeared long before Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O'Donnell had come out, but no other television network showed any interest in developing a series for either of them.

"I didn't care, because my goal has never been to have my own sitcom."

Sank was a bit more simplistic in his perspective. He said it's difficult for anyone-gay, lesbian or straight-to break into the comedic big leagues.

"It's about being talented, working your ass off and luck," Sank said.

Coming out stage can have additional benefits, according to Valls.

"I perform mostly for straight audiences and have always spoken about gay rights and marriage in my act," she said. "They are very receptive and I know I make them think. Even if I make just a few people really ponder on gay rights, I know I've succeeded."

Valls added she is proud to call herself a role model.

"I get so many emails from people thanking me for being an 'out' comic, for empowering them to be proud of who they are. I never thought I would have such an impact," she marveled. "That, my friends, is success."

Valls further concluded being an out comic is crucial in the struggle for gay rights. She quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., who said: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Others added performing for gay audiences at Pride is as if they have come home.

"We have a lot to be proud of in New York, we can openly live our lives as gay men and women," Gold said.

Price agreed.

"It's an opportunity to be yourself as much as you can and we celebrate all of that."

Judy Gold co-hosts the Gay Pride Rally at Bryant Park on Sunday, June 22, from 2 p.m. to 6 pm and appears in Homo Comicus at Gotham Comedy Club (208 W. 23rd St.) on Friday, June 26, at 7:30 p.m. (212) 367-9000

Keith Price headlines at Caroline's (1626 Broadway) on Thursday, June 25, at 7:30 p.m., (212)757-4100,

Adam Sank hosts The Electro Shock Therapy Comedy Hour at Therapy (348 W. 52nd St.) on Sunday, June 22, at 10 p.m; Dykes on Mics at Rubyfruit Caf? (531 Hudson St.) on Monday, June 23; Pride and Shame at the Broadway Comedy Club (318 W. 53rd St.) on Saturday, June 27, at 7:30 p.m.

Bob Smith appears in "In the Flesh Erotic Reading Series" at Happy Ending Lounge (302 Broome St.) on Thursday, June 19, at 8 p.m., (212) 334-9676 and co-hosts the Gay Pride Rally at Bryant Park on Sunday, June 22, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Sandra Valls appears at the Gay Pride Rally at Bryant Park on Sunday, June 22, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and appears in Homo Comicus at Gotham Comedy Club (208 W. 23rd St.) at 7:30 p.m., (212) 367-9000.

Kevin Scott Hall is the author of Off the Charts! (2010, iUniverse) and the memoir, A Quarter Inch from My Heart (2014, Wisdom Moon).