“I just want to set the record straight, get it all out there. So I’m Puerto Rican. I’m Cuban. And I’m a lesbian. I just don’t want anyone freaking out in the middle of the show and discovering, “Oh my god! She’s a… Cuban!”
Well, it doesn’t work quite so well on paper. Your eyes may have read ahead and unlike the audience watching comedienne Marga Gomez, perhaps you’re unsurprised by the punch-line. But over and over again, audiences are caught off-guard by Gomez’s joke, laughing as much at her, as at their expectation that the “big deal” was going definitely going to be the lesbian part.
It’s in this way that Gomez is endearing. There’s a wry humour and intelligence that shines through her jokes. And while she keeps it light, there’s the odd moment, where through the laughter, there are those of us wondering, “Hmm, Are we laughing at her or is she laughing at us?”
Either way it works.
Describing herself as a “butch Ricky Martin,” Gomez is petite and boyish. She is small, seemingly dwarfed by the open space onstage. That is, until she speaks.
By mid-story, Gomez gestures wildly, growing in presence with her animated tale. And then her signature move: as she heads for the laugh, she pauses, cocking an eyebrow, holding the audience in suspense just long enough with her understated smile before she drops the killer punch-line. And they laugh, refreshed by her astute and unapologetic observations. Sometimes too, astonished by her rudeness.
Gomez stifles a smile when she’s asked what kind of person one has to be, to embark on a career as a lesbian comedian.
“You have to be an heiress. Yes, that would help. Or someone’s mistress. Or perhaps just someone with no material needs.”
Letting loose an easy laugh, she continues.
“Okay, honestly? You can’t be too serious. You have to be willing to come up against the tendency to be politically correct. You can’t be too careful or too polite. You have to be willing to offend occasionally. And you have to love the ladies. Yes, you definitely have to eat pussy.”
Gomez can say that kind of thing, and depending on the delivery, it can come across as brash or even cute. Onstage, she’s aware of the smallest details of her words — she’s measured her gestures, adjusted her nuances and the rhythm of her words over the years. Almost every line is carefully planned. In fact, Gomez has made a habit of taping her performances and studying her set from an audience viewpoint.
“Yes,” she says, concurring that there is some hard work behind the laughter. “For me, comedy is self-taught. But it’s still been a study of sorts. When people laugh at something, I go back and I study that, break it down into its simplest form to find the essence of the joke. I used to be too wordy. Now it’s about simplicity. It is a bit of an art.”
Gomez is the daughter of a dancer and a comedian. Art runs in her veins. That is something that she is grateful for. Her unconventional upbringing, on the other hand, she’s not so sure about.
“My parents were married but that was the most conventional thing about them. They slept in separate rooms. I had housekeepers who watched me because they were performing. My father wore makeup. My mother wore fishnets. Everyone in the neighbourhood thought they were vampires because they only came out at night. And they stayed together for 12 years for me.”
Typical Gomez pause.
“That, I think, has benefited my therapist more than me.”
Gomez has a sort of street cred. She’s earned her stripes growing up in a family worth joking about, then leaving home for San Francisco after being found in bed with a girl. With the experiences Gomez has had, she has no problem bringing family dynamics, pop culture, religion and lesbian sex to the stage.
“I went to a Catholic school,” she says knowingly, as if that explains everything.
“I was raised as a good Latin girl, so I was very sexually repressed. I was a late bloomer! I didn’t have sex till I was 18. And then I was just consumed by it. Now that I have a girlfriend, I don’t care about it at all! But for a long time there, it was the focus in my life. I had entire shows devoted to sex.”
Gomez mulls over whether she’ll bring that heat to Ottawa.
“I don’t always perform it. I do shows in bars and ballrooms, for Pride festivals, for politicians. You can’t always take that everywhere so I try to have a good mix to draw from. But sexuality is huge in our human condition. Lust is huge. And it’s always fun to talk about. It’s always great material.”
There’s a mischievous edge to Gomez’s voice as she adds, “I played Ottawa before and I had to say, I felt they wanted it clean. But I do have a few things in mind. I’m definitely planning to test the waters.”