There’s a long-held rumor that lesbians aren’t funny— but like most rumors, uncovering the truth isn’t difficult. Just talk to an actual lesbian, like veteran comedian Poppy Champlin.
Champlin, who boasts appearances on Showtime, LOGO, VH-1, Comedy Central and Oprah and the title of America’s Funniest Real Woman from The Joan Rivers Show, is heading to the midwest with two other lesbian comedians on a hit tour, The Queer Queens of Quomedy.
Joined by Jen Kober (Curb Your Enthusiasm, NPR’s Snap Judgement, Stand-up Sit-down with George Lopez, Twisted Tuesdays with Kevin Hart) and Columbus-native Brooke Cartus (Size L for Lady, TedXColumbusWomen, Arch City Comedy Festival, Whiskey Bear Comedy Festival), the Queer Queens will stop at the Toledo Funny Bone on Tuesday, May 2 in a show sponsored by Equality Toledo.
Before her first ever visit to Toledo, we chatted with Champlin about how she’s spent two decades shattering the humorless lesbian stereotype.
TCP: Your humor does have a decided focus. As a lesbian comedian who tells jokes about being a lesbian to mostly lesbian audiences, you’re often considered to be a niche comedian. Is that a choice, or the natural result of being you?
Poppy Champlin: After I won the title of America’s Funniest Real Women on The Joan Rivers Show I went out to Los Angeles thinking I had to get a sitcom. I had an agent and he was going to make me a big star, but then he went into the insane asylum. It was sad. I lost the first agent who saw ‘me’ for ‘me’.
After that, everyone kept asking what my slant was. I’d just say “’I don’t know, I think I’m just funny.” Everyone kept telling me to get an angle and finally I said “Well, I’m gay. How about that?”— and it worked. The gay community picked up on my act, so I started writing for them.
I’m much more comfortable writing for gay people, because I’m gay, and because gay people get my humor. But lesbians understand it even more. And I have to tell you, there’s a big difference between gay women’s and gay men’s humor. So, really, I’ve carved out my living working for lesbians.
How much did you adjust your
humor after coming out?
My whole career was focused on mainstream, hetero jokes done in male-dominated spaces. The main thing was to make the straight men laugh so I could keep getting booked. Granted, those jokes were great and they’re some of my strongest jokes, still. It was a good testing ground and made me write really strong jokes, but it wasn’t all that much fun for me to have to hide my gender preference. I wasn’t really out until 2000.
Were you out in your personal life?
I was out to my friends and everyone knew, but when I went on stage I was still somewhat closeted. My mother hates that I’m gay and has always chastised me about it, so there’s an inner-homophobia that I deal with. Plus, I want be liked by everyone. It was such a grueling game to play, until finally I said, “Fuck that.”
What did you do to pretend to be straight?
I said “my boyfriend.” I had to just change the pronouns in my jokes. I don’t drink anymore, but back then I would drink with the people after. We’d get drunk and go back to their room to get high. Eventually I’d have to say that I was stepping out, but I would never come back.
Did that manager in L.A. first encourage
you to come out?
Well, James Masada at The Laff Factory in L.A. used to say, “Why aren’t you doing you’re ‘gay thing’? Why aren’t you talking about being gay?” I’d say, “Hey! Don’t tell me what to do. I don’t want to come out yet.” I just wanted to be the next Ellen DeGeneres and not have people really think I was gay. I should’ve taken his advice and just done it earlier on.
Do you think it would have been easier
(to come out) today?
Well, I wouldn’t want to be a comedian starting out right now, male or female. I think it would be really difficult to get solid footing right now. I don’t go out much to open mics, but I remember how grueling and what a grind it was to find them, then do a shows in front of your peers when they’re all doing the same thing you’re doing. Plus, I don’t know what goes on in terms of thievery and stealing jokes. There’s no rules about it, no laws. And with this President we have now… lying is an art. So it just seems like it would be very hard now.
How has the experience of being gay been
for the other women on your tour?
Jen Kober, the headliner, is in her late 30s and she’s doing really well. She’s been on Stand-up Sit-down with George Lopez, Twisted Tuesdays with Kevin Hart. Her acting is also getting really sharp. She was in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm and in the movie Anger Management. She also goes on tour with NPR’s Snap Judgement, which is just comedians telling stories.
Brooke is a Columbus (Ohio) comedian in her 20s. I put on this tour last year in Cincinnati and she did really well, so I decided to crown her a Queen this year.
That age range creates different generations of lesbians, do you talk to them about the decision to write lesbian jokes?
Honestly, they don’t think about it. They just incorporate being a lesbian into their jokes. It’s not a big deal. Jen is just a comedian who happens to be gay. Brooke is more of a feminist activist, and she does bring that into the show.
The tour’s title uses the word ‘queer.’ My generation uses that term, but when I speak to older gay people I’m very guarded using that word because they are connected to its history. What does the word ‘queer’ mean to you?
It is definitely a word that was derogatory, but I am interested in reclaiming it. I want to take back words like that and desensitize people to their derogatory impact. Plus, I thought three Q’s in the title was cute.
Proceeds from the show will benefit Equality Toledo.
After the Toledo show, the Queens will head to Columbus (May 3) and Dayton (May 4).
$25/general admission. $40/VIP tickets, which include preferred seating and a meet and greet with the comedians before the show.
7pm. Tuesday, May 2.
The Toledo Funny Bone
6140 Levis Commons Blvd., 419-931-3437.
toledo.funnybone.com | queerqueensofquomedy.com