As June winds down, it’s clear how important and unique this season of pride has been. With the current state of the world, it has been hard to celebrate in traditional ways. However, as the month comes to a close, we can still keep the celebration alive without a Pride festival.
In addition to the black, queer standup specials featured earlier this month, there are a good amount of LGBTQ+ comedians whose work is worth a watch. Veterans and newbies to the world of standup alike, all of the following queer comedians bring their own style and flavor to the table and are helping to make comedy better reflect the world around us, whether explicitly about queer experiences or not.
Margaret Cho: PsyCHO (2015) | Prime Video
The term “bicon”, shorthand for “bisexual icon,” has never been more suitable for a celebrity than it has been for comedian, writer, showrunner, actress, and activist Margaret Cho. In the arts, she’s worked in everything from Hollywood blockbusters with John Travolta to starring roles in burlesque variety shows. She even created the first prime time sitcom centered around an Asian-American family nearly 30 years ago. Cho is not only comedy royalty, having been mentored by Robin Williams and Joan Rivers, but a humanitarian that takes action to support communities of color and queer groups. It’s not often we see former dominatrixes with accolades from the ACLU, GLAAD, and the National Organization of Women, but the world definitely needs more of that.
The breadth of her talent and life experiences comes through in this particular special, even for those unfamiliar with her beforehand. Despite the packed theater, Cho feels at home and addresses the audience like family, and it makes for some revealing stories from lucky fans that most wouldn’t normally be shared in front of a live audience. Not just good for laughs, her openness about her experiences makes for a unique array of subjects, including raunchy hookup stories, “headset lesbians”, and why tattoos are so taboo in traditional Korean communities.
Somehow, Cho dives right into the Ferguson unrest and the victims of police violence that we’ve come to know by name and tops it off with a song about having large and in charge netherregions. The perfect dichotomy to celebrate during Pride month, this special can now be found on Amazon Prime Video for your viewing pleasure.
Fortune Feimster: Sweet & Salty (2020) | Netflix
A familiar face you may not immediately recognize, Feimster is an actress, writer, and veteran comic not to be reckoned with. This latest special is likely her best, as she gets real about growing up in North Carolina, attending an all-girls college, and still not realizing why she was so overprotective of her female friends, her fitness journey, and how the Lifetime channel made her realize she was gay.
Never afraid to poke fun at herself, but now knowing her worth, Feimster recalls relatable topics of childhood like the girl scouts, as well as hyper-personal ones, like coming out to her mother in a Red Lobster. For all the hardship the LGBTQ+ community faces, it’s lovely to hear the heart-warming reception from her Southern family, and the quirks of being engaged to a woman half your size.
Unexpected, but certainly welcome, Sweet & Salty also has a musical conclusion from an LGBTQ+ choir.
Cameron Espisito Rape Jokes (2018) | CameronEsposito.com
A no-nonsense pillar of standup, Cameron Espisito talks often about experiences that are often ignored, but that more than half the world likely relates to. She’s sweet, but bites back, and nowhere is this more true than in her 2018 special Rape Jokes, in which she discusses the current nightmare we’re living in, the shriveled Nosferatu that seems to lurk in every workplace, being a lesbian on the swim team, and falling in love with her high school best friend.
The special, released for free on her website, is an opportunity for her to open up about her own sexual assault story, the very real fear of men, and the one that may have saved her life. A truth so many of us can’t stand to look at directly in the face, this special is both a healing opportunity and a humorous relief for those who face similar issues every day.
Being a comedy special, there’s also plenty of hilarious anecdotes, from almost defecating in her pants and needing to call an ambulance for unrelated reasons on the same day, and the wonders of lesbian sex.
For those who dip in and want more, her special Marriage Material (2016) is on Amazon Prime Video, and her sets can be found all around YouTube.
Bob the Drag Queen: Live at Caroline’s (2020) | Rental (iTunes) | Promo
As mentioned in the previous blog of stand-up specials, this one is the second of RuPaul’s Drag Race and drag queen celebrity Bob the Drag Queen.
Performing in her natural habitat, on a stage in a bar in New York, Bob talks about gaining weight, living in Manhattan, and the joys of being queer.
Interspersed with footage of her getting ready and talking about influential moments from the likes of Wanda Sykes and Carol Channing, she also discusses some unexpected topics like Chuck E. Cheese, her mom’s code for white people, the Salem Witch Trials, and the days before internet porn.
A must for Drag Race fans and a good time for anyone who wants to hear some wild stories and catch a glimpse of a real-life queen, it’s well worth the price.
Chris Flemming: Showpig (2018) | YouTube
A living meme that made YouTube history with his webseries “Gayle;” Chris Flemming speaks to so many people with his humor that is hyper-specific and yet somehow pretty universal.
An androgynous figure who denounces masculinity entirely and openly shares his anxieties (through song) about not knowing how to behave or talk to men, Fleming answers the daily inquiry about his gender identity with the following:
“I’m not a man, I’m not a woman. I’m a showpig.”
His content often plays with gender and presentation expectations, but it’s far from all he covers. In his hour-long special, that I return to frequently, he sings about the bad vibe given off by straight couples that just “decide” to be polyamorous, the anxiety of radio DJs that cut their introduction way too close to the song’s first line, and two real-life examples he believes would be a better representative of L.A. than La La Land.
Perhaps it’s because he reminds me so much of my aunt, right down to the purple leopard print, but the vibe this special gives off is just too good. Fleming is quick on his feet but takes his time when necessary, and absolutely kills it with his similes. If you’ve ever had your self-esteem feel like “a preteen dissociating at her bat mitzvah while doing “Grease Lighting” choreography”, you’re not alone.
Unless you’re in the industry or perhaps an aspiring performer, it’s not often you’ll see a standup comedy special described as “life-changing”, but that’s the only thing I could think after first watching Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette in 2018.
The Tasmanian-born performer shines with wit, in what at first seems like an overall traditionally structured comedy special, with a reserved presentation you can really sit back and take at face-value. In an absolutely masterful move that is possibly unprecedented in other debut specials, Gadsby takes what she just built and tears it all down in a way that should shake you to your core, and grants a peek behind queer comedian’s curtain to expose what many would rather not see.
It’s hard to say much else without giving too much of the experience away, but it is an absolutely necessary watch for queer folk and allies alike, especially for those interesting in the power of performance on humanity. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a bit of an ugly cry along with the laughter, and you’ll love it all the more for that.
Due to the nature of Nanette, it was unclear whether to anticipate any further work from Hannah Gadsby, but that sure didn’t keep folks from doing so. Keeping up with the theme of named titles (but not from what you’d expect), Gadsby excels in a whole new way; though it’s not technically required, Douglas is very much the companion piece to the previous special and should be viewed in order.
Regardless of how you choose to watch, Douglas is an absolute blast and every bit as sharp and clever as its predecessor. Gadsby is back on her feet, even more confident– so much so, that she spends the first 15 minutes breaking down each and every moment of the show you’re about to see, the topic the joke will be about, and how you’ll react. Yes, this is the complete inverse of before and it’s brilliant, hilarious, and just the tip of the iceberg.
Worth highlighting in this particular special is the hugely important “reveal” that is truly a victory in visibility and intersectionality, in addition to the return of Gadsby’s utilization of her art history background. As someone who loves the field, but also loves calling out the ridiculousness, misogyny, and white-centricity reflected in art throughout time, Gadsby fills a niche many probably never knew there was. But please, don’t be turned off for fear that it’s attempting to be “high-brow” or some sort of lecture. If lectures were actually like this, a lot more people would love paying for college.
Julio Torres: My Favorite Shapes (2019) | HBO Now
YouTube Sets: Paste Studios, NY (2016) | Risk! (2016)
Julio Torres may be a new face for a lot of people, but anyone who’s watched Saturday Night Live in the past four years has likely enjoyed some of his writing. Others may know him from his series on HBO, Los Espookys, which follows a small squad of Latinx goths that form a business to provide much-needed scares. It’s kooky, it’s espooky, and an enchanting blend of the mundane and the magic.
My Favorite Shapes delightfully odd in the same way, as it centers around a conveyor belt ushering in an array of Torres’ most beloved “shapes” as he tells you about each one. In what can be described as prop comedy for the new age, the show is analogous to a young child going through their toy collection and sharing the intricate backstories they’ve come up with for each one, which may be why it resonates so much to me as a Millennial-Gen-Z cusp.
Sometimes, there are accompanying monologues from the object’s point of view, and at others, it’s enough to hold up a sparkly earring, say “Shakira”, and move on. Some things just can’t be explained other than that it “feels right”, and other ordinary objects are revealed to perhaps say a bit more about society as a whole. A few objects are used to tell Torres’ story of being an immigrant from El Salvador, and a popsicle model of the Trojan horse tells us about his past life.
Unavailable anywhere else, I went ahead and got the free HBO Now trial through amazon solely to watch this special. I’ve watched it three times since I did so, and I’m still laughing at just how much that Happy Meal toy bit absolutely killed me.
With the vaporwave-minimal backdrop and a chrome outfit complete with body glitter, Torres represents what I hope to be just the beginning of intersection, queer artists having the means to be as creative and bizarre as they’d like.