Queer in the Wild: Come Out at the Open Mic

I feel like a universal experience among queer stand up comics is deciding how out you want to be. Stand up is a unique experience. When you're onstage, you're very vulnerable. You're talking about your life and experiences and trying to get the audience to relate to you, or at the very least sympathize. You want that common point of connection so your material is accessible, and you're trying to subvert it in some way to make it funny.

For cishet and especially for male comedians, you can very safely assume a broad baseline of common experience. There's really no need to set up "this is what my experience of gender or sex or relationships is." The audience is already with you, that experience is like water to fish. It's invisible, so when the joke is a specific story or a subversive joke, the context is already set up for you to knock it down.

So the problem of being out onstage is two-prong. First of all, my identity is not immediately accessible. I’m nonbinary and bisexual, two labels that are widely misunderstood or potentially completely unknown. I have to strike a balance between over-explaining what those things mean and being patronizing or boring and under-explaining so my punchlines aren’t sufficiently set up for people unfamiliar with (primarily) my gender. It’s so easy to alienate people. Secondly, the transphobes. Even not considering people who straight up “don’t believe in” bisexuals and enbys, there’s people who will shut down when gender identity comes up, there’s people who will dismiss it, there’s people who will be uncomfortable with the topic and won’t engage with the bit. I haven’t really run into this is an explicit way yet, but sometimes there’s a shift in the vibe, like you can hear some buttholes collectively tighten up.

I’ve been incredibly lucky in that at every mic so far the people hosting them have been super chill about my pronouns. Honestly my biggest fear was that it would be either dismissed or a whole thing, but so far it’s been a great experience. Like people are even correcting themselves unprompted when they misgender me. It’s a low bar that so many people do not clear. There’s also a couple gay comics I’ve seen at mics, but I didn’t realize the dearth of trans comics until I started doing this. Like for genderqueer people there’s pretty much Eddie Izzard and Rhea Butcher, dassit.

So far I’ve been starting my sets with something about being nonbinary and/or bisexual. I have this thing in my head that’s like, I HAVE to be upfront about it or I’m lying. I kind of don’t want people to hear my material not knowing I’m queer. It’s a little bit petty, like if you can’t take me at my nonbinary jokes you don’t get me at my clone humor, and a little bit I don’t know, self immolating? By trusting the audience to be chill with queer folks I’m dipping myself in gasoline and handing them a match. And I know that I don’t owe anyone this information, but I can’t escape the feeling that it’s fake and bad if I’m don’t say anything. I think that was the big thing that kept me from trying stand up for so long, I just wasn’t ready to be that out but didn’t want to do it without being out. I’m still terrified that my mom is gonna find out because I am being extremely careless. But, not gonna lie, I kind of love that I’ve cornered the market on queer jokes. I get them all. The power is truly going to my head. I’m gonna say cishet onstage and no one can stop me.

Another thing is I love talking about being queer. It’s such a baby queer thing, to want to talk about your identity endlessly but fuck, we’ve earned it. I’m fully prepared to exhaust the topic, if the straights get to talk about handjobs I get to talk about my metaphorical penis. Luckily all of it seems to be landing fairly well, nothing has felt forced or uncomfortable. Literally everyone has been super nice about my material and I have received many hearty handshakes. I just gotta get better at going to mics even when I’m in a funk.

Also! I just ordered a book on queer people and the labor movement  and hopefully what the next Queer in the Wild will be about, so look forward to that. I’ve going to try to make less of these about comedy but also I just started an improv class so probably more of these will be about comedy.