From Jan 8 - 10, Punch Line San Francisco will showcase five of our favorite comedians from the LGBT community in a show called, "A Gay Old Time." Here's a little "gay old chat" with comics Irene Tu, Karinda Dobbins and Ronn Vigh, who are just some of the performers on this show.
Who are your favorite comedians and how have they influenced you as a comic?
Irene Tu: Ellen DeGeneres, Tig Notaro, Jerrod Carmichael, Dave Chappelle. Ellen was the reason I started comedy. I thought she was so funny and likeable. I love Tig’s delivery and I think Jerrod and Dave have such interesting takes on social issues.
Karinda Dobbins: Past: Moms Mabley, Marsha Warfield, George Carlin, Richard Pryor. Present: Gina Yashere, Hari Kondabolu, Roy Wood Jr. and Wanda Sykes. They have all influenced me in different ways. I think the most important way they have influenced me is that when I study each one of them they remind me how much you have to examine your life and what's important to you to be successful in comedy. It keeps me mindful to be vulnerable enough to put every wonderful, awful, embarrassing and seemingly inconsequential morsel of life on display.
Ronn Vigh: Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, Judy Tenuta and Wendy Liebman. They all had such unique and genuine voices. I admire them because they all straddle the line of being vulnerable yet super silly in a very distinctive way. When I was a young kid, I would bargain with my parents to let me stay up late and watch Joan fill in for Carson. As I got older, it was very popular for teenage boys to stay up late and watch the scrambled Playboy channel on TV and report back to your classmates the next day. My mom caught me up late watching TV one night and was about to ground me, until she noticed that I sneaked into the living room just to watch a “Ladies Night Out” comedy special.
How did you get your start in stand up comedy and has your career exceeded or fallen short of your expectations?
Irene: I started taking stand up and improv classes because a girl I liked in high school told me I was funny. I took a bunch of different classes in college but nothing spoke to me, so I just decided to keep doing comedy and see where it'd take me. I get to not have a "real job" and make money telling jokes, which always feels crazy to me. However, I thought I would have met Ellen by now!
Karinda: I started at Wood's café in Oakland. It's an open mic at a coffee shop/laundromat. I never thought I would get to a point of opening for people I have admired and watched in movies and on television. I just thought I was going to do 5 min at an open mic, bomb, and that was going to be the end of it.
Ronn: I was raised in front of the television and always gravitated toward comedic shows an stand up. Aspiring to be on TV, I took some acting colleges in college and quickly realized that I was a really bad actor. In fact, I got kicked out of a Tennesse Williams play because the director said my Southern accent sounded Indian. During this time, I would take a train to New York City to practice voiceovers and stand up. The voiceover teacher told me that I had "too much of a regionalism" to do voiceovers. That was code for, "you sound too gay." Fortunately, stand up allows ME to be exactly who I am and I'm very grateful to perform at comedy clubs and venues all around the country. Of course, I would have liked a late night set or sitcom by now. However, I always have to remind myself that so many people doing comedy will never even have a chance to get paid work at comedy clubs or write for their idols, like I did for Joan Rivers on Fashion Police.
Comics who are gay, tend to be labeled as a "gay comic." Does this bother you at all?
Irene: I don't mind being called a gay or queer comic but I want people to think I'm funny first, gay second.
Ronn: I've always asked to be referred to as a "comic who happens to be gay." It's just one fraction of who I am. I'm very proud of who I am but I also think if you label me as a gay comic, it gives mainstream audiences the impression that "he's not for you." I want to be the comic for everybody. When I do LGBT focused shows, I for sure will dive into topics that appeal more to my community and that's a great deal of fun. However, I don't just talk about being gay on stage. I do just as many jokes about Football and living on a budget, so then why am I not referred to as the "football or broke comic?"
With the shifting political climate, how important of a voice do you think comedians have in today's world?
Karinda: I think comedians have always had a huge voice in changing political climates. We take the absurd and the horrific and for a moment in time we make people laugh and that is no small thing. I have had so many people message me after a show and tell me that they forgot their problems for an hour and people need to be able to do that when you have a former reality contestant ruining...I meant running the country.
Ronn: When I perform outside of the Bay Area in places like Texas and Arizona that are more conservative, my mere presence on stage can already divide a room. Therefore, I usually avoid politics and religion altogether and explore topics that can help people realize that we are more alike than they think. I've never been a comic to do political material. I applaud all those who do it and do it well but I think the best part I can play in this whole mess is to just continue to tell the type of silly jokes I tell best and make people forget about their worries for as long as I can.
What are your hopes for 2019?
Irene: I hope people focus less on disgraced famous comedians and more on supporting really funny up-and-coming comedians.
Ronn: A TV credit and to teach my cat how to walk on a leash.
A Gay Old Time at Punch Line San Francisco, Jan 8 - 10. 8 pm nightly. Tickets are $18.50 in advance.
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