What do you do if a nine-to-five job just isn’t your cup of tea? You become a comedian, quips funnyman, Darcy Michael.
“I floated for a long time before I found comedy. I was a stock boy at a Zellers, I worked at three banks — I had to shave and I just don’t like to shave,” he explains.
On the surface, the 28-year-old seems like every other comedian, making crowds roar night after night with jokes about sex, pot and politics.
Yet, just when you think you’ve got Michael pegged as a stoner-slacker comic, he drops his sexuality, marital and parental status on the audience like a ton of butt plugs on a PTA meeting.
Although he says he’s not blazing any paths, the robust, brazen, self-professed “dirty faggot” routinely forces audiences to question their preconceived notions of what gay looks like through his undercover fag routine.
A typical Darcy Michael set warms up with jokes about marijuana legalization and stoned driving, before moving on to pussy reconstruction and political satire.
Then he comes out.
“Yes, I am gay. Surprise! We’re everywhere! And we’re recruiting, so drink up, fuckers!” he exclaims, adding that he wears his wedding ring around his neck because “a cock ring would be inappropriate.”
“Undercover fag, that would be the lamest super hero ever,” he’s been known to joke. “But let’s be honest, my costume would be fabulous! It’s a bird, it’s a plane… it’s vintage Versace?”
Queer has many faces, he’s clearly trying to suggest between punch lines.
“I don’t fit the stereotype for any gay person. I break the stereotype,” Michael asserts. “I’m not what the general public imagines gay to be. I’m not clean-cut, I’m not flamboyant and I have horrible taste in music. I’m rumpled and unkempt. I’m not your typical gay man.”
Michael’s routine is fundamentally about parody, pun and pot — with heavy emphasis on the latter.
“I talk about smoking weed as much as I talk about smokin’ pole,” he says with a laugh. He smokes weed to combat the effects of Rheumatoid arthritis and Fibromyalgia — and simply because it’s fun.
For the past four years, Michael has taken his “undercover fag” routine to stages in Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax, rural watering holes and everything in between. Last year, Michael preformed at a Kelowna bar, an experience he says was “terrifying.”
There is always that lingering fear that the crowd will respond homophobically, he says. “Being gay is still an issue. Some people are supportive and some people are not. It’s tough every time I come out to the crowd,” he admits. “I always wait 20 minutes [before coming out to the audience]. I could be killing for 20 minutes and there’s always that possibility I could come out — and just bomb.”
The Ontario-born and BC-bred comedian says he’s not surprised or offended by how some straight people are still taken aback by his shows. To expect all people to all think the same way is overly idealistic, he says.
“I think it’s just as ignorant for us to expect they’re going to accept us as it is for them not to,” he asserts.
But Michael says public reaction to his show has been generally positive and he has, in his own way, unofficially taken on the role of unlikely queer ambassador.
“I’ve had people come up to me and say I’m the first gay person they’ve met. And I say I’m a shining example of what we are,” he jokes.
Despite being openly gay on stage and off today, Michael says he initially contemplated keeping his sexuality out of his routine, but quickly changed his mind knowing he had to be honest with himself and to his craft.
“I didn’t feel like I would be giving a realistic version of who I am,” he says. “It [being gay] doesn’t define me, but it’s a big part of who I am.”
For Michael, queer empowerment began with a visit to his first drag show at Celebrities nightclub at the tender age of 17. Underage and awe-struck, Michael recalls meeting a bevy of queens who promptly made a positive impression.
In particular, the comedian credits performers like Symone — who recently won the Drag Queen of the Year title at the Xtra West Community Achievement Awards — for helping him tap into the pride he feels today in himself and his community.
“She gave me strength,” he says. “When we’re that age we look to idols and heroes and people to help us do what we want to do, and she did that. It was people like Symone that catapulted me into not being afraid of who I am. Here is a six-foot-something black man, wearing seven-inch heels. And here I am: 18 and wondering if I want to sleep with boys. I think it was a pretty easy decision.”
To date, Michael’s credits have included appearances at the CanWest Comedy Festival, Toronto’s We’re Funny That Way Queer Comedy Festival, as well as gigs at local clubs: Lafflines and Yuk Yuk’s, to name a few. Last month he co-hosted the Xtra West Community Achievement Awards with fellow queer comedian, Morgan Brayton.
“We joked about being the Donnie and Marie of the queer world — I’m a little bit country, he’s a little bit anonymous sex in an alley,” Brayton says, of sharing the stage with Michael at the awards.
“Darcy Michael is the worst thing to happen to comedy since Rita Rudner,” she jokes. “But in all honesty, I love watching audiences watch Darcy. He’s so genuinely funny that he really lulls an audience into a sense of safety and then he’ll say these things that kind of slap you across the face. You can just see an audience thinking, ‘Why did that cuddly fun man just say that terrible thing?’ But they’re still laughing and he still has them on his side.”
Brayton credits Michael’s success to his honest and down-to-earth nature.
“Darcy is funny, bottom line. He is a great comic who shares his unique view of the world which includes being a husband and a gay parent. He’s not funny in spite of being queer and he’s not funny because he’s queer. He promotes gay acceptance by being good at what he does and by being truthful about who he is, not by trying to represent something for the sake of making a point,” she says.
“Comedy seems to find him wherever he goes,” adds fellow comedian, Ivan Decker. “He’s so likable on stage. [He has] a very unique style. It’s very hard to pinpoint; he’s such a unique person. It’s not just directed to a gay audience. He’s very relatable to everybody.”
“He’s definitely unique,” agrees Matthew Wall, general manager of Yuk Yuk’s. “There are some comedians who are gay that don’t talk about it on stage. Then there are some that are flamboyant. I don’t think anyone on stage realizes he’s gay right away.”
Wall’s business philosophy is simple: “If somebody makes the audience laugh, I bring them back. If they don’t, I don’t.” Michael is booked at Yuk Yuk’s for feature performances in June.
Then it’s off to Montreal, where he will perform at the prestigious Just for Laughs comedy festival in July, before sharing the spotlight on an upcoming Comedy Network special scheduled to air at the end of this year.