Alejandro Morales: Swapping movies for comedy

Alejandro Morales: Swapping movies for comedy

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This is the time of year when all should be merry and bright, but if you are prone to the doldrums of seasonal affective disorder, we have a cure for you.

The holiday installment of Camp Tabu XIV, a monthly comedy show that will warm your funny bones and help you forget that you have to get that Christmahanakwanzaka present for your secret Santa pick, is on stage 9:30 p.m. Dec. 9, 200 S. 12th St. This week, we spoke to a jack of many trades, Alejandro Morales. Co-host of the event, Morales has been a dancer, storyteller, actor, screenwriter and stand-up comedian. He recently produced Philadelphia’s first Queer Comedy Festival.

PGN: OK, Mr. Morales, I’m going to try out my high-school Spanish. ¿De dónde eres? AM: Not bad! My parents emigrated from Chile in the late ’70s, and I was born three years later in Ellenville, N.Y., which is a village in Ulster County, population 4,000.

PGN: That’s upstate New York, so you must be used to the cold. AM: Oh yeah, we weren’t too far north though, pretty much the mid-point between New York City and Albany, but it was definitely colder than Philly.

PGN: How did you end up here? AM: I came here in 2003 to go to the University of the Arts. I studied digital filmmaking and screen writing.

PGN: Are you an only child? AM: No, my dad’s a slut! I have a younger full sister, an older half-sister in Miami and a new half-brother in Chile who’s 8 months old.

PGN: [Laughs.] Other than dad’s tramping around, what did the folks do? AM: My dad worked his way up from maître d’ at a resort hotel for many years to working in administration. He’s back in South America now, doing admin work for some kind of farmland thing and my mother, who still lives in New York, teaches English as a second language.

PGN: Have you gone back to Chile? AM: Oh yeah, I’ve always gone back about every four years. Most of my family is there — cousins, uncles, etc. — and now since my dad is there, I’ve gone more frequently. I’ve been twice this year already and I’m going back this month for my little brother’s baptism.

PGN: A memorable moment there? AM: When I was about 5 or 6, I lived through an earthquake. I had no idea what was going on but I remember my mother picking me up and running outside. The ground was moving and it was shaking so bad a single tree looked like it was five trees. I was too young to know I was supposed to be scared, so it was pretty cool.

PGN: Were you a good or bad older brother? AM: Well, generally good, except that I almost severed my little sister’s finger once, on accident. I was about 10 and she was eight years younger than me and we were on vacation in Massachusetts. There was one of those pullout beds with the accordion springs and I was pushing it closed not noticing that one of her fingers was in it. My sister is super-quiet and she didn’t even react to it. My mother saw it and yelled out and stopped me from removing one of my sister’s digits. Fortunately, she’s OK now.

PGN: So on to less-damaging things I hope: When did you get started in the arts? AM: I did theater in high school, I was the co-president of the drama club, I was in band and in the chorus. It all kind of stuck with me.

PGN: Do you remember your first role? AM: I was a late bloomer compared to you: My first role was in the eighth grade. I was Uncle something or other in the show “Mame.” I had four bars of a solo to sing and I loved it.

PGN: What was your first impression of Philadelphia? AM: OK, so I moved here with a friend of mine. We got separate places, but we both moved from upstate New York together. The first time we went apartment hunting, we went to a Realtor who gave us a list of addresses that he said were all located in Center City. In reality, we were in deep South Philly — and not in the best parts. A very young child flashed us a gang symbol — it wasn’t cute.

PGN: So now that you’re here, what’s your day job? AM: I produce events and shows, including the monthly comedy show, Camp Tabu. I also blog for Steve McCann and Philly Gay Calendar. I do a lot of pop-culture stuff. I got to interview Mondo Guerro from “Project Runway” and I do movie reviews, current events, etc. This year, I also produced Philadelphia’s first queer comedy festival and I’m happy to say it was a great success.

PGN: How did you get started doing stand-up? AM: I went to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy right out of high school and that didn’t work out. I was too young, there was too much going on in New York City for an 18-year-old, so I moved back home and lived in my mom’s basement. Then I went to community college in upstate New York before going to the University of the Arts. I finished UA in 2007 and I originally planned to do movies. I realized quickly that to make a movie, you need a lot of money. I mean tons. Which I didn’t have. But stand-up comedy was free. I figured, well, I can do this and I don’t need to buy anything, I don’t need to hire a crew, I can just do it. I got my official start at Philadelphia’s Gayborhood Games in 2009. I was competing to be the funniest guy for six blocks but I lost. I lost again in 2010 and 2011 and became the undisputed Susan Lucci of the Gayborhood Games.

PGN: What was your worst moment on stage? AM: I went to New York City, I’d emailed this openly gay comedian, Brad Loekle, who does a weekly show, “Electroshock,” at a bar called Therapy. I went to the show and he was nice enough to give me some stage time. It wasn’t terrible — nobody booed or pulled me off stage with a hook — but no one did anything but talk amongst themselves. No reaction to me at all: In my head, I could hear crickets. They were having a good time, but it had nothing to do with what I was doing onstage.

PGN: Best moment? AM: During the Queer Comedy Festival I got to open for Alec Mapa. It was an amazing, incredible show, in addition to Alec and me, we had Jess Carpenter and Steve Miller-Miller, two past comedy winners of the Gayborhood Games that Bruce Yelk puts on each year. It was one of the biggest shows I’d ever done, the audience was game for it and really had a good laugh.

PGN: Where do you mine your material? AM: I do a lot of first-person stories, so a lot of it comes from things that happened to me. I got laid off in 2010, and that provided a lot of material, especially all the subsequent job interviews! Also, after I broke up with my boyfriend I started dating again. I tell people that God must know I’m a stand-up comedian by the people he keeps sending for me to go out with.

PGN: Yeah, I saw some of your videos: I think your dolphin sex toy would answer my “Worst gift?” question. AM: Ha! Yeah, a friend of mine gave me a bright blue dildo in the shape of a dolphin. I don’t know where she got the impression that I wanted to stick a dolphin in my butt. Maybe we were watching Nat Geo together.

PGN: Can you look at Sea World the same? AM: [Laughs.] No, and especially not after that guy wrote the book about his nine-month sexual love affair that he had with a dolphin! [“Wet Goddess” by Malcolm J. Brenner.]

PGN: Oh my, let’s change subjects. What were you like as a kid? AM: I played soccer. Being from Chile, my dad played, and I wanted to make him proud. I still play a little, but mostly I was a nerd — a total nerd, there’s no other way to put it.

PGN: When did you come out? AM: I was working at my Catholic church when I started to realize that I was gay. I lucked out that I was at a really liberal parish and, when I came out to the priests, they were both really supportive. One even gave me a book written by another liberal priest that included a segment about homosexuality saying that God didn’t want anyone to be alone. I had the opposite experience that a lot of people have with the church. It really gave me a platform to come out fully. It wouldn’t have been the healthy experience it was without them. PGN: Useless talent? AM: When I competed in the Gayborhood Games, I came out in tap shoes and danced and sang. I jokingly billed myself as a triple threat. Henry Brinton at Venture Inn still calls me “Triple Threat.” I also sometimes perform in drag as “Shenanigans Hannigan.”

PGN: Do you sing? AM: I love to sing. I feel bad for my neighbors. It’s not bad, just a little much for other people. I try to keep up with my singing from time to time. Earlier this year I was in “Hunger: The Musical.” It was about plants from outer space who turned people into zombies. Somehow it had angels and God and the devil involved, and I got to play Lucifer and sing and dance. And wear red horns ...

PGN: If there were a holiday in your honor what would it celebrate? AM: Holidays. I would have a holiday holiday where we would listen to songs like the Go-Go’s “Vacation” and Madonna’s song “Holiday.” It would be fun. I actually like this idea: I might even plan it for next year.

PGN: Favorite piece of clothing? AM: My lucky boxer shorts. I don’t know why they’re lucky, they just are.

PGN: You host Camp Tabu; did you ever go to camp as a kid? AM: There was an overnight camp near me but, since I lived close by, I didn’t spend the night. Those kids were hardened at 10 years old. I learned about Andrew Dice Clay, and our anthem was from the hardcore rap group Onyx who had the album, “Bacdafucup.” I got quite an education that summer.

PGN: We all have multiple personalities; describe some of yours. AM: I’m very gregarious; it’s probably the most distinctive side of me. I like to have a good time and make people laugh, but I’m also super-ambitious. I try to push myself all the time. One side of me is trying to have fun, and the other is trying to get me to buckle down! PGN: I hear that most comedians have a dark side. Do you break the mold? AM: No, I’m a miserable person! I think it’s endemic to stand-up comedians. I know a lot of improv people, and they seem a lot happier. I get frustrated easily. I think there’s an aspect of stand-up where you’re mining pathos. You’re finding dark things and trying to laugh about them to get them out in the open. It’s like, “I’ve been to a dark place and this is what I brought back.” Then you can shed light on it and give it a new twist.

PGN: On your bookstand? AM: My smart phone, which has several e-books on it that I’ve been reading. I resisted it for so long, but now I’m reading more than I ever, ever have before. Right now I’m reading “The Marriage Plot” by Jeffrey Eugenides, and I just started a book called “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace. The smart phone has created a reading renaissance for me.

PGN: Who’s the funniest person you know? AM: My friend John: He’s from Wisconsin or something and tall and blond and doesn’t know how funny he is.

PGN: Are you still single or do you have a partner now? AM: I’m single, but I live with my ex! Turns out we make better roommates than lovers. We went through a lot together over a handful of years and became great friends, and we know how to live together. It’s kind of a lesbian setup: We had pets together so we kept the household intact for the animals.

PGN: Who are ... AM: A pitbull named Happy and a cat named Katerina, both rescues.

PGN: Something special? AM: That I’m doing this interview! Whenever I read it before, I always wished that I could be featured, and now I am!

PGN: You must be wearing your lucky shorts!

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