Martha Chaves comes out every time she’s onstage.
“I was not out for the longest time,” says Chaves, a Nicaraguan-Canadian comedian who lives in Toronto’s Church-Wellesley Village. “I was never in, like I never talked about having sex with a man . . . but I wasn’t totally out until maybe five years ago.”
Now, the gay material usually comes out at the set’s halfway mark. You have to warm them up before you dive in, and Chaves is a pro at working the room.
“I have a lot of material that has nothing to do with me being gay,” she says. “The first thing that I have to overcome in front of people is my accent. Then if I put cunnilingus in the equation it’s like, ‘Is she speaking with an accent and we heard vagina too?’”
Of course, there are plenty of audience members who already know Chaves, a popular comic who’s performed a dozen times at Montreal’s Just for Laughs Comedy Festival. She’s also performed at festivals and stages across the country and in the United States and South America.
On Oct 25, she’s taking the stage at the Stand Up for Nicaragua fundraiser alongside comedic favourites Mike MacDonald, Luba Goy and Wafik Nasralla. The fundraiser is in the afternoon, and she’s topping up the day with two headline performances at Yuk Yuk’s.
“I’m used to performing with big names, but it’s a thrill to perform with Mike MacDonald,” Chaves says. “I hosted a benefit for him when he was hoping to have a [liver] transplant. I’m good friends with him and with Luba — we did the same benefit two or three years ago.”
MacDonald has since had a liver transplant and has returned to the stage, to the delight of his fans and peers. For Chaves, Stand Up for Nicaragua has a personal connection. Her cousin Mariamanda Espinoza organizes fundraisers to support Las Yahoskas, a home for girls and teens who have experienced abuse, exploitation and homelessness.
For this year’s edition of Stand Up for Nicaragua, Espinoza joined forces with Maureen Monette, who is raising money for another charity in Nicaragua. Proceeds will be divided equally between Las Yahoskas and Proyecto Generando Vida, a group of community programs that includes support services for women with cancer, as well as community education and early detection programs.
Anyone on Twitter knows Chaves is passionate in her dislike of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug. A staunch Olivia Chow supporter, Chaves doesn’t think Doug Ford has a chance at being Toronto’s next mayor, but she’s still on high alert.
“There is something really evil and strange happening in Toronto because even ethnic people are enamoured of the Fords,” she says. “I don’t know why. It’s like a self-defeating spiritual disease. Even gay people . . . I don’t understand how you can vote for someone who is so homophobic because it’s so obvious they are homophobic.”