Gay City News - Apr 26, 2007

Guffaws On Gay Street

By: WILL MCKINLEY

In 1994, Bob Smith became the first openly gay man to perform stand-up comedy on "The Tonight
Show." Thirteen years later, he remains the one and only.
"I think I might have scared them," Smith told me before an appearance on "Adam Sank's Gay Bash" at
Comix in the Meatpacking District. "Jay was super friendly, but we heard that some of the advertisers
were not happy about it."

Comics like Smith, Sank, and other talented jokesters are doing their best to shatter the comedic glass
ceiling, and in the process are creating some of the sharpest stand-up in New York.

"The beautiful thing about comedy is that it bridges the gaps between communities," Sank told me. "At
its best it creates a common experience that we can all relate to."

Sank's provocatively titled monthly revue is just one of a number of regularly scheduled shows where
LGBT and gay-friendly comedians entertain crowds of all orientations.

"It used to be that there were no gay shows," comic Lisa Kaplan told me after a recent installment of
"Homo Comicus" at Gotham Comedy Club in Chelsea. "Now every club has one."

Kaplan and a cast of fabulously funny females are currently touring as the "Lesbians of Laughter," and
they're not just playing Provincetown. "We're doing a show in Jacksonville, Florida and then Alabama,"
Kaplan said. "It varies, but our crowds are often half and half."

The April edition of "Homo Comicus" featured a diverse collection of characters, including Chantal
Carrere and the delightfully dirty Jackie Monahan (both from the "LOL" tour), Jim David (star of his own
Comedy Central half-hour special), and acclaimed storyteller Greg Walloch (recently profiled in Gay
City News).

Comic Bob Montgomery started producing the show more than eight years ago, when the world was a
different place.

"Comics used to balk at being listed in the ads, but nowadays they're more willing to be out," he told
me. "But it's amazing how phobic some straight people are about going to a gay-themed comedy
show."

Perhaps that situation is beginning to change as well. At "Homo Comicus," emcee Marion Grodin
called attention to a teenaged girl sitting with two middle-aged women, and assumptions were made
about Heather having two mommies.

"I'm actually straight," mom Cleo Fogel told me afterwards. "My daughter is 18 and in four months she
leaves for college. The more she is exposed to when I'm around, the better." Her daughter agreed. "We
may be from Pennsylvania but we're not hicks!"

Gay comedy has proven to be a reliable and profitable draw for big clubs but, with $15 cover charges
and the dreaded two-drink minimum, these shows can be a pricey proposition. Those seeking laughs
of a cheaper variety need only look to the bars, basements, and alternative spaces of the city's funkier
nabes.

Each week, gay comic Dave Rubin hosts "Thursgay" at Mo Pitkins on Avenue A. But the host has only
been known as "gay comic Dave Rubin" for the last eight months. For the first nine years of his stand-up
career he was just "comic Dave Rubin."

"I was out on stage before my family even knew," said Rubin after a recent show. "I don't know if it's
good for my career but it's good for my life, and that's more important.

"Thursgay" is a true alternative comedy show and that's a niche producer and co-host Shawn
Hollenbach is happy to fill.

"Our demographic skews younger," Hollenbach told me. "Comics can say whatever they want here,
where at the clubs you have to filter your material to fit a certain crowd."

The audience that packed the tiny upstairs lounge at Mo's seemed to enjoy the intimate mood of the
show. Two young women snuggled on the couch, while another female couple sat cross-legged on the
floor. At times the evening felt less like a comedy show and more like a slumber party, particularly when
four audience members (known as the Lesbian Overtones) got up and sang a capella versions of hits
from Melissa Etheridge and the Indigo Girls. Through it all, ESPN's "Sportscenter" played silently on a
flat screen monitor in the corner of the room.

"Dave Rubin loves sports," Hollenbach joked, after a lychee martini (or two). "He's the straightest gay
man I know."

Comic Leah Dubie also made peace with her orientation during the course of her development on the
stand-up stage.

"Five years ago I wasn't an out gay comic. I wasn't even an out gay person," she told me after a show at
Pieces, a bar on Christopher and Gay Streets in the West Village. "Now I usually bring it up later in my
set like, "Well you liked me before. Are you going to take that back?'"

Every Sunday night, Pieces interrupts the boozy, cruisey revelry for "Ménage a HA," hosted by
Christian Cintron, who describes himself as "gay, Puerto Rican, and a human being." Stand-up shows
in bars can be a challenge for both the performers and the audience members.

"Most gay men have the attention span of a flea, especially when they're at a bar drinking with friends,"
said Sank, who also emcees a long-running Sunday night soiré at Therapy in Hell's Kitchen. "I have to
do a lot more crowd work to keep them involved. It's definitely looser."

Even looser than bar comedy are the alternative cabaret shows that feature gender-benders like Murray
Hill.

"I'm out shticking five times a week at various events," said Hill, who was recently featured on Logo TV
and will be headlining "Adam Sank's Gay Bash" on May 17. "I do a little something for everybody to
enjoy."

LGBT laughs are louder and prouder than ever, particularly now with national exposure on Logo. But
with such a wealth of smart, diverse voices on the scene, why hasn't gay comedy achieved more
mainstream success?

Veteran comic Danny Cohen, who has appeared on Comedy Central's "Premium Blend," has his own
theory.

"You can't write inside jokes, and a lot of gay comics make that mistake," he told me. "I write for my
brothers, who are homophobic. That's where my struggle is, and comedy comes from struggle."

"I look to the next generation," said Sank. "Watch MTV. They have these dating shows where one day
they'll have a straight couple and the next day they'll have a gay couple, and it's no big deal."

Bob Smith, who was recently selected for the new season of NBC's "Last Comic Standing," believes
that the revolution has already begun.

"For a long time there were only about eight gay men who were out and made a living doing stand-up,"
he said. "The situation is different now. I don't think it's an issue anymore."

"There isn't anybody in America who hasn't been touched by somebody who is gay, and I mean that
inappropriately," Danny Cohen quipped. "I see the future for America being very gay."