Philly Improv Theater and NightlifeGay. com have joined forces to present QComedy Fest 2011, an extravaganza featuring LGBT comedians, improv performers and spoken-word artists from throughout the United States in venues across Center City, Oct. 9-15.
QComedy Fest producer and comedian Alejandro Morales — organizer of Camp Tabu, a bimonthly alternative comedy night at Tabu — said the impetus for the festival came when he was trying to help find a place for a visiting gay comedian to perform.
“I got put in touch with a comedian from San Francisco and he was coming into Philadelphia for a wedding and he needed a venue,” he said. “So I got in touch with Greg Maughan at Philly Improv Theatre to see if he could arrange a venue. He couldn’t, but he mentioned he wanted to put together a festival featuring LGBT talent. He and I sat down together and talked more about it. I talked to some other improvisers who are in the community and they were all really excited about it. It sort of grew from there.”
And grow it did. Headlining QComedy Fest for its first time out of the gate is Alec Mapa, who has appeared on television shows “Desperate Housewives,” “Ugly Betty” and Logo’s “Gossip Queens.” The actor and comedian will perform 9 p.m. Oct. 15 at Voyeur Nightclub, 1221 St. James St.
“A couple months ago, the gig didn’t exist and they called out of the blue and asked me to come to Philadelphia, and I immediately said yes because it’s one of my favorite cities,” Mapa said. We believe he loves our city: He headlined Philly Pride in 2009. For the festival, Mapa will appear in the cozier indoor space of Voyeur instead of the open-air main stage of Pride, which is somewhat of a relief to him.
“Pride outdoors is challenging because you’re dealing with a lot of distractions,” he said. “I just did Pride in Las Vegas and it was a similar venue. I kind of like having everybody up closer. On a festival stage, there’s more of a distance between me and the audience. I prefer a more intimate setting. It becomes more of a conversation as opposed to a shouting match.”
So why on earth would a comedian sign up for that — you know, besides the big payday?
“It’s so hard. It’s really hard,” Mapa said. “But when it goes well, it’s incredibly gratifying and also you get to see more diversity when you perform at festivals. When I do Pride in Long Beach, that is not going to be the same crowd that I see in a theater in West Hollywood. I’ll be seeing a more diverse group of people.”
Diversity is key to the ambitions of the QComedy Festival, as both the performers and the target audience get little support from area comedy clubs, none of which are part of the festival.
“They just cater to sort of a different crowd,” festival producer Morales said of the clubs. “They don’t really connect to the [LGBT] community in a way that is meaningful.”
Mapa added that the climate in stand-up comedy is to blame.
“It’s a lot of homophobic comics,” he said. “Any time I go to a straight comedy night, even if it’s at the Laugh Factory or The Comedy Store, you’re always kind of bracing yourself because a homophobic joke or a homosexual panic joke is a really easy go-to. It’s something designed for the straight guys in the audience that are drinking and their girlfriends. It’s designed to establish a rapport really easy. It’s kind of like, ‘I hate gay people too.’ The thing about comedy is you’re forced to be as outrageous as possible and homophobia is still a really easy blunt weapon to use in a comedy club. So I think that it’s a matter of, if I’m paying money to be entertained, I don’t want to go to a straight club and hear a bunch of homophobic comics, who are probably all closeted, do their antigay stuff. I saw one comic get up there and he had like maybe 10 minutes about how much gay sex grossed him out. And he went on and on. And the longer he went on, all I could think was, Clearly you’ve given this a lot of thought. We are a really underserved audience. There aren’t hundreds of gay comics working the circuit all the time. We’re still a minority and, as a result, we don’t hear our own stories up there and we don’t hear our experiences related back to us for our culture. And there is an absolute need for that because when your story isn’t told, ever, you start to feel that your story doesn’t matter or isn’t as important. But I’ve found the more specific you are, the more universal you become because everybody is going through the same thing.”
Mapa balances his comedy performances with his many acting gigs, which, thanks to the faltering economy, are plentiful.
“Everybody is broke so there’s a benefit every week,” he said. “There’s always some organization that needs me. I did a cancer benefit on Monday and I’m doing a benefit for the gay and lesbian center at the end of this month. I’m pretty much on stage in front of an audience a couple times a month, sometimes a couple times a week.”
When asked about his upcoming TV projects, Mapa said he’s waiting to hear if there is going to be any new episodes of his talk show, “Gossip Queens.”
“We’re in a holding pattern right now, which means somebody is scrambling to see if they can get enough money to buy us another season.”
He added that the bulk of his TV work is moving in a new direction.
“I’m actually doing a lot more children’s programming now, strangely enough, which is great because I have a kid,” he said. “So it’s things he can actually watch. It’s a venue that allows me to overact, which I enjoy. The right wing likes to go on and on about the bad influence of the gay community on children and what they don’t know is so many gay people work in children’s television. There are so many gay people working at Disney as writers and designers and executive producers. There’s so many gay people working at the Children’s Television Workshop and Nickelodeon. So we are influencing children but in a very positive way, because you look at children’s television and the casts are very diverse. There’s ethnically diverse and there are all kinds of people, and a lot of the messages in many of the mainstream Disney comedies are about being different.”
When it comes to being different, Morales said he hopes enough people will connect with the festival so it can be an annual event.
“I hope that we can connect with the community and the audiences and really let everybody know about the work that we are doing,” he said. “I hope it is a tremendous success. I would love to do it again next year.”
Morales also said that organizing the festival allowed him the opportunity to discover some local performers that, up until recently, had flown under his radar.
“I was surprised I hadn’t met all these people who are working in the improv community,” he said. “I was surprised at the number of people who were doing their own separate thing, and I had hoped that something like this would happen at some point. I’m happy to be a part of it. I think this a really great time to be involved in comedy. The improv community is doing some really great work. The Philly Improv Theater is doing wonderful work. There’s just this real sense of excitement right now because people are making these great connections and doing these wonderful performances. I’m also celebrating the show that I host, Camp Tabu. Through that I have been able to meet so many comics that are friendly to the cause and have a sensibility that jibes with our community. Now, comedy in the city isn’t necessarily something that someone for the LGBT community is going to connect with. It just doesn’t jibe. So I’m just glad there’s an offshoot of that that doesn’t rely on rank misogyny and homophobic sentiments.”