Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Comedy for gays

Laugh Out Proud just what the doctor ordered

These comedians are queer and they’re coming here, get used to it. On Jul 7, Laugh Out Proud brings queer stand-up comedy to Yuk Yuk’s Ottawa Club with headline comics Martha Chaves, Richard Ryder, Ted Morris and Trevor Boris.

Nicaraguan-born Chaves has been in comedy since 1993. After completing a linguistics degree at Concordia University, she often made jokes at her day job as a translator, but she never intended to leave. Nevertheless, a stand-up spot in the Comedy Nest in Montreal turned into a serious career.

“I express my beliefs and opinions and impose them on people,” says Chaves with a laugh. “This profession, traditionally, has been very difficult for women, so I think that we are breaking barriers.”

Some nights are better than others. One of her best shows was to an enthusiastic, eclectic crowd in Nunavut as part of CBC Television’s Madly Off In All Directions. Her worst experience? Performing at a high school prom in Walkerton, Ontario. The first bad sign was the students getting drunk behind the school.

“Everything was horrible – the lighting, the stage, the microphone,” says Chaves. “The crowd started yelling, ‘Go back to your country!’ and I lost it right there. They had already insulted my opening act, who was of Pakistani descent. You cannot print, even in Capital Xtra, what I told them.”

An actress by day, Chaves’ recent credentials include playing a medical assistant in the new US Kojak television show starring Ving Rhames.

Having entertained audiences worldwide with her humour, Chaves is happy to be part of the all-gay bill in the nation’s capital.

“I’ve been to Ottawa many times,” says Chaves. “It’s one of my favourite towns to play.”

But perhaps because of her mainstream success, Chaves downplays her sexuality.

“Do you know how I identify myself? As a Montreal comic who lives in Toronto. Of course you’re going to have gay content, but [I’m] not making a big deal of it. When I talk about being Spanish, I don’t say, ‘All Spanish people are like this.'”

Richard Ryder, a founder of Oot & Aboot, is quicker to embrace his queer identity.

Ryder and Ottawa native Ted Morris, along with Susan Stewart, founded Oot & Aboot in 2000 so they could book their own shows.

“We noticed… that, as with female comics or black comics, it’s hard to get on a show when you’re a [sexual] minority,” says Ryder. “Black comics can do white shows and they’re alright, but you’ll always get someone in the audience who’s going to insult a black comic.”

Oot & Aboot started off at Tomfoolery’s on Toronto’s Bloor St, and those in the business were soon contacting them to find new, hot gay comics. The group is now working on a potential television deal, planning a provincial tour and doing one show a month. While Stewart is no longer with them, the two other members are Stephen Sharpe and Doug Taylor.

An actor and costume designer, Ryder has acted in shows such as Road To Avonlea and Forever Knight.

Ted Morris performed in one of Ryder’s open mic sets at a local club (he lives near Toronto’s gay village, as do the others in the troupe). The comedy became an addiction. A veterinarian for four years, Morris’ work affects his stand-up through black humour and with the odd surprise, such as running into clients.

“One night, I saw one woman I was counselling about her ancient dog,” says Morris. “Fortunately, I was not doing any jokes about euthanasia!”

In one unfortunate event, Morris opened for a gay illusionist.

“I didn’t realize that it was mostly his relatives over 60 and some children with tickets from a cancelled matinee show,” says Morris. “It went well at the beginning. Then I got into religious material. I did a bit about being a homo. I heard a voice in the audience say, ‘We don’t want to hear that!’ I made some references to being hated and moved on.”

Morris spun the experience into new material for his act.

“You don’t scare easily after you’ve bombed in front of 500 senior citizens,” he says.

Yuk Yuk’s Ottawa scheduled Laugh Out Loud for Jul 7 to coincide with Ottawa Pride. Although the dates for Pride have since changed from early July to Aug 28, Yuk Yuk’s general manager Howard Wagman is still enthusiastic.

“We’re very excited about it,” says Wagman, adding that the market for gay and lesbian comedians is a largely untapped one, and that many gay comics are unfortunately still closeted.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever tried something like this and we think it’s long overdue,” he says of Laugh Out Proud.

At press time, Yuk Yuk’s had sold about 100 tickets of the available 1,000. The event is a fundraiser for the cash-strapped Ottawa-Gatineau Pride committee.