Jill of all trades

From the Emmy red carpet to phlebotomy school, out comic Margaret Smith always has a plan

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

comedy

LAUGHING LESBIAN | Former Ellen writer and newly-minted Texan Margaret Smith steers clear of gay jokes.

For someone who’s been in a Martin Scorsese film (a bit part in GoodFellas), written a book about single motherhood and won six Emmys, it’s hard to find out much about comedian Margaret Smith. Her bios online are mostly mirror images of each other, and don’t even think of checking the social networks — she’s not on them.

“I think I’m the only person I know that’s not on Facebook,” she says. “People from way back pop on there.

If I haven’t seen them in so long, there’s probably a reason. Really, I’m just lazy. A friend of mine told me that there is only one YouTube video of me out there. ”

But the recent transplant to Texas (she moved to Austin with her two children last year) and former Ellen

DeGeneres joke writer is busy working on her stand-up again, so her focus isn’t likely on who her next friend request is from. Instead, it’s figuring where her next paycheck might come from. And that could be anywhere from telling jokes to drawing blood. Fortunately, she’ll be doing the former this weekend at Backdoor Comedy.

“I’ve sort of been ticking around, wondering what I want to do with the rest of my life,” Smith says. “After Ellen, I moved to Austin and became a phlebotomist, but then I couldn’t find a job doing that! People don’t want a joke and a poke — just the joke. I did some open mic stuff and got a writing job here. I liked it.”

Smith picked up several of her Emmys writing for The Ellen DeGeneres Show, leaving just before the writer’s strike of 2007. That move forced Smith to rethink her career strategy. With the strike, a writing gig wasn’t an option. Stand-up comedy was, but custody issues of her two sons forced Smith to move, either to Atlanta or Austin; the latter won. She became a Texan last year.

“I wasn’t gonna go anywhere without my kids,” she says. “But things were different in Austin. I was in a different arena of comedians and there was none of the Hollywood shit going on. It was kind of refreshing.”

Although she’s driving up I-35 for a Friday and Saturday performance, she might stick around Dallas to spend Sunday at the State Fair. She was thrilled at the idea of fried butter and fried margaritas.

“If I get invited and someone is willing to go with me, then I’d stick around,” she says. “With all that fried stuff, I guess I better serve up some fried jokes, huh?”

Most of Smith’s shtick relates to her experience with her family and as a single mom to two boys. She jokes about taking her son to get tested for ADD; it turned out he was fine — she was the one with the problem. She deadpans her family’s supportive nature of her comic memoir, What Was I Thinking, was evident in how they passed it around eight times rather than buy each family member their own copy.

But the out comedian doesn’t joke too much on the gay stuff, which she calls “not that funny and a little dirty.” Besides, not having dated anyone in over six years, she’s a little detached from the scene.

“What’s funny about being a lezzie? “ she quips. “I talk about dating guys when I was in my 20s but  I think those experiences are funny. Jokes about women can get easily graphic and I’d never do that onstage. Gay or straight, the crowd may not relate and start to disconnect. But I did receive the best compliment in the women’s restroom when this lady asked me if I had a tampon. I just wanted to make out with her because I’m too old to have one!”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 14, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

TNA Wrestling launches anti-bullying campaign

TNA Wrestling World Heavyweight Champion Jeff Hardy: “If the bullies have a problem with you, then they have a problem with me.”

We’ve seen a lot of celebrities and political figures get in on the anti-bullying action lately. Fort Worth’s own Joel Burns made a big splash. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made videos. So did folks like Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, financial expert Suze Orman, actress Jennifer Love Hewitt and comedian Margaret Cho. Singers like Gloria Estefan, Adam Lambert and Kesha made It Gets Better videos.

Even Kermit the Frog made a video for the It Gets Better project.

But today I saw something that really caught my attention. It’s an anti-bullying campaign from what I would consider a totally unlikely source: Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling’s new Eliminate the Hate campaign.

“Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling wants to put a headlock on bullying, an epidemic that has gripped the U.S. for decades, but has recently gained national attention this fall with its link to a number of teen suicides,” says TNA’s news release. The campaign will feature public service announcements during TNA programming, including its Thursday night line-up on Spike (TNA iMPACT! and ReAction). The spots will be placed on all other TNA Wrestling platforms, including the website , DVDs and all social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter.

“TNA is also working closely with the hit Sirius XM primetime show Derek & Romaine as well as other Sirius XM® programs, and with broadcast partner Spike, who will air the PSAs across their network,” the statement says.

“Everyone at TNA stands firmly behind this new anti-bullying campaign.  The bullying must stop, and we want to take a stand,” said TNA’s chief marketing officer, Al Ovadia, himself a father of two. “There’s no place in our schools for bullying, be it based on a student’s looks, race, sexual orientation or anything else.”

And there’s more. The statement identifies several TNA stars who were bullied growing up, like Mr. Anderson and Kazarian. “The Pope” D’Angelo Dinero says he was bullied when he was younger, but when he got to high school he “turned the tables” by protecting other children from bullies.

And reigning TNA world heavyweight champion Jeff Hardy kicked off the campaign with a videotaped appearance on The Talk, delivering a special message to 11-year-old Tyler Wilson, a TNA fan who was bullied because he was on a cheerleading squad and ended up with a broken arm. The message included an invitation to a taping of TNA Impact! and a backstage meet-and-greet with Hardy and other TNA stars.

Hardy told Wilson he was proud of him for standing up for himself and standing up to the bullies, and that in doing so he had become an inspiration to youngsters around the world. Hardy ended the message with this: “And remember, if the bullies have a problem with you, they have a problem with me.”

Ya know, there’s been a lot of talk in the last couple of years in North Texas about how the LGBT community is always preaching to the choir by having its rallies and parades and so on always in the gayborhood. The message, critics say, needs to get out there to the rest of the world. Well, I can’t think of any audience further from the gayborhood than the TNA Wrestling fans. And to have these wrestlers tell those fans that bullying is not OK will, hopefully, have a huge impact, on at least a few people who might not have paid any attention to what Tim Gunn or Kermit the Frog had to say.

—  admin

Broadcast TV getting gayer, GLAAD says

Every fall season, GLAAD issues a report about LGBT characters on the main networks’ scripted series, and whether that indicates an improvement from years past.  This year’s report notes a “significant increase” in gay characters, according to the study — the most, in fact, ever.

ABC leads the pack with 11 of 152 lead or supporting characters (7.2 percent), helped by shows like Modern Family and Brothers & Sisters. Fox has  5 of 100 (5 percent), including Kurt from Glee, pictured, animated character like Smithers on The Simpsons. NBC marked a decline from last year (only three of 143) and CBS was again in last place with one of 125 (Emmy winner Archie Panjabi from The Good Wife).

The study has its flaws. For instance, the report claims zero gay characters on Fox in 2007, yet one listed now includes Smithers, who has been on the show since 1989 but is considered “recurring” (the study doesn’t including recurring characters in the main figures). And it doesn’t account for, frankly, qualityBrothers & Sisters has never been good, but this season has swan-dived into especially odious melodrama with gay stereotypes.

A separate report counts basic cable series, where gay characters (often with more interesting and frank storylines than on broadcast) are more common and realistically portrayed. I mean, True Blood: Who doesn’t watch that for the hot bodies? The study also doesn’t include reality shows, which really dominate the TV landscape. With Dancing with the Stars judge Bruno Tonioli swishing up the most popular show on TV right now, as bisexual comedian Margaret Cho dances, you’d think that would warrant a mention, as would Jeff Lewis, Jackie Warner and half the contestants on Bravo’s competition series. That would paint a fairer picture. But it’s still nice to see progress.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones