Funnylady Poppy Champlin brings Queer Queens of Qomedy Tour to Texas
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
Being a standup comedian is difficult business. Being a gay standup is even harder. But being a gay female standup? You’re talking Herculean effort there.
I mention this to Poppy Champlin, who has been making her living as a comic for a quarter century. As recently as just a few years ago, I note, there was a controversy when a Chicago club owner was quoted as remarking that women “just aren’t funny.”
“You’re saying it nicely,” Champlin sighs. “That’s been going on for a long time. Yet Ellen DeGeneres just got the Mark Twain Award — the highest award for comedy! Ellen has a brilliant mind. It’s not your sex, it’s your mind — what your mind does with subjects and information and twists them — that makes a good comedian. Women have great minds, just like men do.”
Not that men and women think the same way. She admits that “men have a different mentality. I suppose that’s dictated by their cocktail of testosterone. There is a different sensibility to our humor. When I’m performing on men’s cruises, I play a bit more risqué and dirtier. I always say to them, ‘I’m gonna push the envelope to the edge’ … and then they move the edge! So I push it even further. Women are a bit more timid about sexual stuff. They want to keep it in the brown zone.”
Carving out the audience that appreciates her humor — and during our conversation, she’s very funny — has been as much a part of shaping her career as honing her timing. “It’s been a hard road as a female comedian and a lesbian comedian. I eventually said, ‘Fuck you’ [to straight audiences] — I decided I’m just gonna play to my tribe. And by tribe, I am really saying lesbians.” (Not that she doesn’t want and enjoy gay men to laugh it up with the ladies — everyone is welcome at her shows.)
Which is why Champlin is delighted that her Queer Queens of Qomedy Tour — which kicks off Sunday at Hyena’s in Dallas before heading to Austin, San Antonio and Houston — isn’t just showing audiences the talent that’s out there, but doing it in mainstream venues.
“These are straight clubs [we are playing at] that usually cater to a straight male audience, which is the way comedy has been for a real long time,” Champlin says. “But they see I can bring in the audience.”
Partly that’s because standup — which started its heyday in the late 1970s — is always looking for the next big funny thing. And that’s becoming gay humor, from the likes of Ellen and Tig Notaro, among others.
“I think they are finally hearing from gay comedians cuz other kinds of humor are all tapped out,” she says. “You gotta come up with new stuff all the time.”
Gay comedians find common ground with accepting straight audiences by showing the universality of experiences — something that was hard to sell just a decade ago.
“Ellen [is amazing] but has always been really clean — she doesn’t really talk about gay stuff. I was not going to be wildly out and gay in my show, but I talk too much about sex and my relationships. If I can’t say ‘my girlfriend,’ I don’t have an act. It’s about the girlfriend because that’s where people connect. They want to hear about that stuff. I tell them, ‘My mother was horrendous and continues to be. I’m 50-plus and still get the when-will-you-be-getting-a-boyfriend speech.’” Everyone can relate to that.
The “qomedy” tour will feature Champlin and three other female standups, specifically tapped to appeal to Texas audiences. She will be joined in Dallas by Sandra Valls and Mimi Gonzalez, both Latinas. She intentionally wanted a contrast to her last Texas show, which included comedian Vicki Shaw.
“Vicki’s from Texas but really white — like, Casper the Ghost white,” Champlin says. “So am I — I’m practically a pilgrim.”
Hey, funny is funny.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 8, 2016.