Chopped Liver Improv’s “‘token gay’ explains why he has no shame in dropping F bombs
Performing improvisational comedy must be like walking a tightrope. Taking spontaneous suggestions from audience members and trying to make people laugh can go either way: crash-and-burn or a miraculous punch line pulled from thin air.
Stephen Whitley knows a thing or two about catastrophe.
During the day he works for the U.S. Small Business Administration in Disaster Relief. And for the past five months, he’s been working with Chopped Liver Improv, a five-member troupe that performs regularly at Ad-Libs, a downtown comedy club.
We caught up with Whitley to find out a gay dude would want to subject themselves to so much on-stage stress.
Describe the moment you knew you wanted to be a comedian: In 2004, I was in a musical. In one scene, I introduced myself to this guy at a serious sit-down meeting. But I started making sexy eyes at the guy, and the audience laughed. It was intoxicating, and I wanted more like sex and drugs used to be for me. Well, drugs at least.
What’s your role with Chopped Liver Improv: I’m the token gay. Some of the straight guys revert to flaming characters. But none of them play gay as good as I do. I’m also the token redneck. And when necessary, I play a great sorority girl. I always wanted to be in a sorority, so it’s perfect.
What does improv have in common with gay sex? It can be really messy. And sometimes it’s over way too quickly. But I keep going back for more.
The worst things about being a gay dude in Dallas are: Dallas is very materialistic even more so in the gay community. When I was working in Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale, the first question from someone I met wasn’t “What do you do?” or “What do you drive?”
I think a lot of guys in Dallas feel they have to prove something because they don’t live in Los Angeles or New York. So many of my friends are either house-poor or car-poor because they are chasing some illusion about what their lives should look like. It’s sad.
Best thing about being a gay dude in Big D: Dallas’ gay community is very cohesive. In other cities, there is no gayborhood. Dallas is like living in a small town, which is nice except when you meet someone and find out that your best friend tricked with them two years ago.
Oh, and Southern Methodist University there are more hot guys at SMU per capita than any other university I’ve ever attended. And I know, because I’ve been kicked out of some of the best universities in the country. Dallas is also a great place to be a top or so I’ve heard.
Weirdest audience suggestions you’ve received. One guy wanted me to go home with him and his wife. But I told him I make it a policy never to meet the wife. One time we asked for a household chore, and this lady from Mesquite said, “Beating the kids.”
What’s your best strength in improv? I have no shame, and I don’t edit myself, which is bad when I drop the F bomb Ad-Libs doesn’t like that. I have a good stage presence and I can contort my face really well.
And I understand obscure references people sometimes throw out like when we asked for a time period someone said “Regency.” I was able to put a tutu around my neck and prance around.
If you could write one joke for Michael Richards, what would it be? “A funny thing happened to me and Mel Gibson on our way to the KKK Rally ”
For Richards, I think whatever career he wants to salvage is pretty much over. Although America is the land of second acts just ask Charlie Sheen.
If someone tossed out the suggestion “Gay Dallas Guy,” what type of characteristics would emerge? Very Southern and gentlemanly. And very syrupy, witty and caustic all that the same time much like I am in real life.
HAMS AND SPONTANEOUS CUTUPS
Chopped Liver Improv performs at Ad-Libs, 2613 Ross Ave. Jan. 5 at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. For reservations, call 214-754-7050. Admission: $5 in advance, $8 at door. Chopped Liver returns to Ad-Libs on Jan. 26. ChoppedLiverImprov.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, January 5, 2007.