Happy June, Oakland. It’s officially Pride Month and I can’t wait to gay it up all month long for Wear Your Voice.
Since 2010, comedian, producer and Oaklandite Charlie Ballard’s Hella Gay Comedy has combined two of America’s favorite pastimes: standup comedy and homosexuality. On June 26th, Hella Gay takes its final bow with the SF Gay Pride All Stars Comedy Show. Yes, it’s in San Francisco, but five out of seven of the comics are Oakland residents, and sometimes it is okay to leave the East Bay. (Just be back by midnight, or BART will turn you into a pumpkin). Charlie’s ability to pack a house is incomparable. I was lucky enough to perform in Hella Gay’s Big Dyke Comedy Show and Bad Girlz of Comedy, and I’m thrilled to be in the SF Pride All Stars Show with fabulous comedians Kelly Doyle, Justin Lucas, Sampson McCormick, Zachary Toczynski and Karina Dobbins. I sat down with my comedic colleagues to discuss all things queer, funny and Oakland.
Charlie got all sappy on me when reflecting on Hella Gay’s legacy, and y’all know I love me some sap. “Hella Gay Comedy has always been about bridging communities,” he told me. “Our shows brought people together who normally wouldn’t be caught dead in the same room! We were a success at bringing people together through laughter.” Aw, yeah ya were, Charlie! Hella Gay started at La Estrellita Cafe in Oakland, and according to Charlie, “I came up with the name Hella Gay because I wanted to create a show that perfectly described the Gay East Bay!” Though it tends toward the queer, Hella Gay is inclusive of performers and audience members of all identities. “When I book a comedian I only care about one thing: are they funny?”
I met Kelly Doyle at the Bad Girlz of Comedy, where I witnessed her triumphant return to comedy after a years-long hiatus. Kelly’s always writing material and as she puts it, “I am always performing, just not always on an official stage.” Ah, comedians, we are a special breed. Kelly encourages young comics to be themselves and work their bums off. “Rework your material after every performance till it’s tight and seamless, let go of the outcome, and have fun.” (Kids, if you ain’t having fun doing standup, don’t do it!). I’m so happy Kelly is back on the comedy scene to share her unique voice that is, “Usually queer. Sometimes gay. Though I do have a little lesbian in me as well as a tad of fag and, on occasion, leather dyke. It really depends on the day and how I’m feeling.” Whether you’re feeling gay, lesbionic, leathery or faggy, we can’t wait to see your stuff at the show, Kelly.
Sampson McCormick is a recent East Coast transplant, and I would like to personally congratulate him on moving to the superior coast. He’s been a comic for 12 years and is already taking the Oakland comedy scene by storm, performing regularly at places like Bella Ultra Lounge and Grand Lake Cafe. “I’m definitely a big time, bona fide, card-carrying homo. And all parts of my identity fit in my performance: being black, gay, liberal, etc. It’s all a part of what I want people to know about me and equate with my work.” To new queer comics, Sampson offers this: “You should do comedy because you love doing it, no other reason. Embrace your voice and your identity, own it and constantly work on being great! Especially if you’re gay. We don’t have a choice! We don’t play that.” Truth, Sampson. Welcome to Oakland, we’re happy to have you.
I sort of immediately fell in love with Jesús U. BettaWork Fuentes, in a totally platonic, still-a-big-dyke way. How can you not love someone who ends every email with, “You betta work!” I will, Jesús, I am, I’m writing this article right now! Jesús lives in Redwood City, but we forgive him because he was recently a featured comedian in Tourettes Without Regrets at the Oakland Opera House. When I asked him about what influences his standup, I was informed, “Hunty, my standup isn’t an act, it’s all me. I serve the beautiful people authentic Jesús homemade chili made from itchy-and-scratchy!” Duly noted, Jesús. His advice to young comics is practical and classic “Get up on stage as often as you can, record your sets, practice, have a pen and paper handy for material always, and attend standup shows regularly as an audience member.” That advice can be boiled down to “You betta work!”
Zach started out doing comedy in Washington, DC a decade ago, “Mixed in with 3-4 semi-retirements, mainly for the attention, acting out is fun!” He is coming out of his current self-imposed retirement for the Pride All Stars Show! As he proudly puts it, “I am so Cher, but with bigger cheekbone implants.” I just remembered that Zach also asked me, “If you print this, can you not use my real name? I don’t want my wife and kids to know I’m gay…” Oops. His name is actually Wallace P. Heterosexual. Just kidding, guys, he’s a big ol’ homo, and we’re so lucky he came out of retirement for this special show.
Justin Lucas is a San Francisco native who’s performed all over Oakland at Yoshi’s and other venues. He identifies as gay and says, “I usually go on stage without caring if any audience members may or may not be homophobic. From what I can tell, people just see me as someone funny rather than someone who is gay trying to be funny. I’d say 10% of my material is LGBT-based, though I can get pretty flamboyant throughout 95% of my performance.” We wholeheartedly support flamboyance here at Wear Your Voice, Justin. Like most of the comics, he encourages newbies to “Just be who you are on that stage and it’ll be enough for people to want to listen and come into your world.”
Karinda Dobbins got her start at an open mic in Oakland and has been kicking ass on the comedy scene ever since. She’s opened for David Alan Grier, Greg Proops and W. Kamau Bell, which makes me immediately nervous to share a stage with her. Karinda lives in Oakland and performs regularly at The Layover, Legionnaire Salon, Stork Club, Spice Monkey: basically, she is an Oakland comedy star. In her standup, Karinda talks about “being black, a mom, a lesbian, my family and my political world view. I take all parts of me on stage.” We can’t wait to experience all parts of you onstage, Karinda. That sounds kind of dirty but I meant it in a genuine and supportive way!
What do these comics adore about our beloved city of Oakland? Zach’s favorite thing may be my favorite response: “I love watching hipsters having their bikes stolen while they buy organic coffee or beard conditioner at CVS.” Jesús was dead-on: “Oakland has no many great artists, so much talent!” Kelly, in true dyke fashion, loves Oakland’s outdoors: “I’m madly in love with nature and Oakland has some of the most beautiful parks and trails in the area.” Sampson couldn’t commit, he seems to love everything about Oaktown: “the scenery here, the weather, food, people.” Karinda also loves it all: “the people, the restaurants, the cultural diversity, the farmer’s markets and occasionally bumping into Too Short.” Justin also loves “the rich arts that Oakland has to offer; its history and definitely the food.” If anyone reading this doesn’t live in Oakland yet, this better convince you to move here. Nature, food, art, diversity and funny gay comedians, what else do you need?
Oakland and the entire Bay Area comedy community will sorely miss the Hella Gay Comedy shows. Make the trek to San Francisco’s Magnet Center, 1422 18th St. on Thursday, June 26th at 8 p.m for the final Hella Gay show. It will be worth it to experience some hella gay and hella funny comedy. Did I mention it’s FREE and there will also be free cake and ice cream? That’s totally worth the Bart ticket or Bay Bridge toll. We hope to see you there, Oakland, wearing your voice and supporting your local funny gays.