A GoPride Interview

Poppy Champlin

Chigaygo's anniversary-ish Pride Show has Poppy Champlin

Mon. June 23, 2014  by Michael J. Roberts

Gay comedians bring an honesty and vulnerability that straight acts do not bring.
Poppy Champlin
As ChiGaygo, Laugh Factory Chicago's premiere queer comedy showcase, looks to celebrate its first anniversary, I talked with Producer/Host Scott Duff and Comedian extraordinaire Poppy Champlin about the popularity of the event, the status of Queer comedy in today's media as well as the importance of stand-up comedy from a socio-political standpoint.

MJR: (Michael J. Roberts): As ChiGaygo is celebrating its first anniversary, how did each of you first become involved in the project?

SD: (Scott Duff): I was approached by Laugh Factory to produce, curate, and host the showcase in January of 2013, and we had our first show at the end of May of that year. They have been amazingly supportive, not just of the show but in trying to become a greater presence in the LGBT community here in Chicago. For our first five shows, we donated 100% of the door to five different non-profit LGBT organizations. It's been a total blast!

PC: (Poppy Champlin): I became involved through Ellen Miller - and have been bugging the Laugh Factory to do one of my Queer Queens of Qomedy shows. So this is a fun way to play at that club.

MJR: What are some of the highlights that this year's patrons can expect?

SD: Right now the show is once a month, but we are hoping to move it up to bimonthly. Gotta serve the "B" in LGBT, you know. And we would love to continue to work with non-profits in the community. We will continue to feature the city's top gay and gay friendly comics, and we are playing around with throwing some eye candy on stage, too. Personally I want to have Homos A-Go-Go Go Go Dancers escort us to the stage. But I have thing for hunky boys in spandex. It's a weakness.

PC: My highlights would be maybe the SM song parody I am singing from the sound of music "My Favorite Things".

MJR: Why do you each think the particular realm of "gay" comedy has become so popular across the country in the past ten years?

SD: Personally I don't think that it is popular enough! Out lesbian comics have been killing it, because they have been working their asses off. Out and proud women like Ellen DeGeneres, Wanda Sykes, Cameron Esposito, and, of course, Poppy Champlin (just to name a few) are representing our community extremely well. And I say more, more, more! Gay male, bi, and trans comics... let's follow their lead. Frankly, I find it curious that we aren't seeing a broader representation of our community. I know several queer comics who are brilliant at taking the universal and skewing it through a queer lens. We all have similar experiences; it's just that ours are... gayer.

PC: Because people are accepting and curious and it is a great form of entertainment. Live in your face current and funny.

MJR: What do gay comedians bring to the stage that straight comedians do not?

SD: Well, after that diatribe... I think it IS our experiences as queer folk that makes us unique. Drop me in a football stadium and I will give you a completely different color commentary of the game than most straight guys. Oh... and anger. Gay comics bring anger. Covered in glitter. Lots and lots of glitter. [Laughs]

PC: Gay comedians bring an honesty and vulnerability that straight acts do not bring. And a sense of it is okay to buck the system.

MJR: I have said in my interviews with comics that I feel that stand up comedy is really the last bastion for Free Speech in the entertainment industry, were boundaries are aloud to be pushed without too much backlash from critics, the audience and more importantly owners of the facilities. Do you agree with my statement, and if so why and if not, why?

SD: Yes and no. I think it depends on the medium. Comics get blasted on Twitter all the time for making "insensitive" jokes about things. It's hard to discern tone and intent in a Tweet. But when you are in a comedy club, you kind of enter into this silent agreement that what we are going to talk about here tonight is just for funny's sake. A live audience lets you know when you have crossed over any lines, and you can address that issue in the moment. And let them know they are wrong to be offended. It's a just joke, people!

PC: Yes I agree with your statement and thank God we have this outlet - and the audience needs to feel some relief because of it as well. We are not being monitored and anything can happen and we are living on the edge during a comedy show.

MJR: With the extinction of variety shows and late night hosts like Carson, Leno and Letterman who moved the amateur comedian into the spotlight, what is your advice for someone starting out to get their name known?

PC: I guess starting out you just have to do the open mic's and find a way to keep honing your craft and finding your voice and try to get in front of some established comics and ask them where they think you should go.

MJR: How have you seen social media changed they way a comedian works?

PC: Thank God for Facebook and email because I can promote my own shows and build a fan base and work the rest of my life without an agent.

MJR: How have you changed as a comedian since your early days?

PC: I have become my own agent - I sobered up - I am more consistent - I sing - It is still a grind to find work - but I am a bit more relaxed now that I have experience under my belt and a sureness about myself.

MJR: Has your national success on television changed how your approach your act?

PC: No nothing really has changed with the national television if I was on all the time I would have to be constantly writing but since it is not that saturated I can write when I feel it - and usually write on stage. I am living large these days.

The effort and dues are paying off now and the Gay community is my home and they support me and I am so thankful that we are a force in America now.

Chigaygo, Laugh Factory Chicago's premiere queer comedy showcase, is celebrating Gay Pride with its "Big Gay Pride Anniversary-ish Show" on June 26, 2014. Laugh Factory Chicago is located 3175 N. Broadway at Broadway and Belmont. All shows are 18 and over. For details and reservations please go to LaughFactory.com or call (773) 327-3175.

Scott Duff is a Chicago based actor, comedian, and professional gay. He is a founding member of About Face Theatre, Chicago's premiere LGBT theatre dedicated to creating and producing plays that advance the national dialogue on gender and sexuality. In addition to over 15 AFT productions, his Chicago credits include the Goodman, Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare, Lookingglass, iO, and ATC. Scott is also the host of OUT CHICAGO, a weekly live talk show for the LGBT community airing Sundays from 11am-1pm on WCPT, Chicago's Progressive Talk AM & FM.

Poppy Champlin is the creator/producer and host of the successful touring comedy show, "The Queer Queens of Qomedy," now in its seventh year. Her comedy special for Showtime, "Pride: The Gay and Lesbian Comedy Slam," is now on Netflix, and she has had two specials on LOGO. Champlin, a graduate of Chicago's Second City, has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey show, The Joan Rivers Show, Comedy Central, and Entertainment tonight as well as comedy clubs around the world.

Interviewed by Michael J. Roberts. Michael J. Roberts is theatre editor for the ChicagoPride.com covering Chicago's diverse arts and entertainment scene.