BY JENNIE MCNULTY
I had an interesting experience at my show last weekend. I come out every show. I think it’s extremely important. It may seem passé as more and more places are moving toward equality and/or providing more protections for the LGBT community. But, let’s face it; there are still a lot of places where it’s not cool to be openly gay. In some places, it’s even dangerous. So, I feel that if I can make a room full of people laugh; make them like me; make them see I’m just like them (minus the homophobia part); it might just make a difference. So I come out on stage every time, well, almost every time.
I made an exception when I performed for the US Military in Iraq and Afghanistan (among other bases) in the 2000s. I went several times. They were the most rewarding and exciting shows I’ve ever done. (Except that one that you saw – that was my favorite.) We signed contracts with clauses that indicated we were to perform relatively clean material and not be political or controversial. So I didn’t do any “gay” material at all for those shows. I didn’t change pronouns; I just didn’t say anything about relationships at all.
Occasionally, in the course of talking to the crowd, I outed myself in answering a Soldier’s playful salvo from the crowd with, “You got a sister?” And I wore more rainbow stuff than a newly out divorcee and a 5 year old kid combined. I remember distinctly a female soldier in Iraq saying to me, “I like your bracelet.” It was one of those little rubber rainbow ones you get at pride. So those two things made me feel a little less guilty – “Hey, it was in my contract. I’m normally Super Queer but, what could I do?” Was that a rationalization? Yes, probably, but I did continue to get military gigs and, thus, I became an overseas asexual. I’m sure there’s a dating app for that.
That brings me to this past weekend. I was working at a Marie Calendar’s Restaurant – don’t laugh, they’ve been doing comedy every Friday and Saturday in this little pie shop for over 18 years and it’s actually quite a good little room. It seats about 75 – 90 people; it pays okay; it’s only 35 miles outside of LA and you get a pie. How can you beat that? I was filling in for a last minute cancelation and was “featuring.” In the comedy world that’s the middle act: there’s an MC, then a feature act, then the headliner and I was the feature. A short, cushy 30 minute set where the crowd is warmed up and the pressure’s more on the last guy. And, you get a pie.
On Friday night, there was a non-profit women’s group and their husbands in attendance and I would guess the average age was about 50-something. They made up about 85% of the crowd. Any comic reading this is cringing. Big parties can sometimes be a pain in …well, you know where. The only thing worse is a bachelorette party. (And, to whatever company makes those penis straws, please stop.) But, these guys were fun. Really fun. They were there to have a good time and they did. There was a woman in the front row – I can’t remember now why, but I dubbed her “Bong Hit Betty.” She was in her 70’s and I have no idea what her real name was but, for the whole show – even for the headliner – she was Betty. By the end of the night, even her friends were saying, “Bye, Betty.” It was fun. And, did I mention the pie?
And here’s where the guilt sets in – no, not about the pie, about my set. I was having such a good time playing with Betty and her pals in the group; I was shocked when I got the light. That’s your 2 minute warning. A small stage light or flashlight or some signal that you only have 2 minutes left. And, unlike football, it really means 2 minutes. I wasn’t anywhere near done. I had only gotten to about half of what I was going to say. And, I hadn’t yet “come out.”
So, what to do? Do I stop what I was talking about and cram in something about my girlfriend? Or just blurt out, “Two guys walk into a bar – not me I’m gay.” It would have felt forced. Where I was in the set was a perfect place to wrap up. Performance-wise, I shouldn’t switch gears at the point. So I didn’t. Alas, even the pie didn’t assuage the guilt.
Why? I just gave you perfectly legitimate reasons for not coming out in that show. It was, professionally speaking, probably the better choice. It made more sense in the context of my set and made for a great finish. And I could have lived with that were it the only reason. But, I have to admit. Deep down –okay not even that deep – there was a part of me that, when that light went on and I had to make that choice, just didn’t want to. I had a feeling that I would have dropped down a notch or two in their opinion of me as a comic and person and, at that point, I was on quite a roll.
Honestly, they would have liked me just fine. They already did. Betty and I even smoked a joint afterward (I’m kidding – she did, I had to drive). Seriously, it most likely wouldn’t have affected anything. Hell, they might even have queer grandkids and bought my DVD for them. But in that moment, I just didn’t have the energy or guts or desire to do what I feel is the right thing because I didn’t want this room full of strangers who really liked me, to look at me differently. I’m not usually like that. As I said, I come out all the time. It never feels like an effort. It was just something about that night, that crowd, whatever. I don’t really know why.
Stand Up is funny. It is quite an intoxicating feeling to make a room full of people laugh and I’ve been doing it for long time now. There’s nothing like it. But, it’s not about us, the performers. We have a wonderful opportunity to say something. Technically, our job is to make you laugh and, if we do that with fart jokes or existential brilliance it doesn’t matter to those laughing. The audience just wants to laugh. But, in this game of comedy, I feel like I cheated. The ref didn’t make the interference call and I won. So, I guess I’m throwing a flag on myself – fifteen yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Perhaps, I should have started this, “Dear Diary,” or “Bless me readers for I have sinned.” But I shall finish it with this: I did come out on Saturday night. I had the MC bring me onstage with this intro: “Your feature act is a big old queer who’s done gay cruises and pride shows. She’s taking donations for Pflag after the show and she’s a lesbian. Please, welcome the very gay, Jennie McNulty.” Okay, no I didn’t really use that as an intro. But I did do my gay material. And, they liked me just fine, a lot in fact. And I got another pie. This time it wasn’t humble.