A week or so before she was set to go before the Berkeley City Council to formally request a proclamation in honor of her upcoming Berkeley Gay Comedy Festival, Marga Gomez had some concerns. Specifically: Should the comedian and booker, a self-described “big lez,” go with her The L Word T-shirt, or should she rep the Indigo Girls? And what, exactly, should she do with the allotted two minutes? “I want to use the time well,” Gomez said beforehand. “Part of me wants to do … interpretive dance or a Jimmy Stewart impression.” Could she get away with a spoken-word poem? Beatboxing? “I’ve always wanted to be on public access,” she said, with the trademark mix of earnestness and absurdity that’s made her a presence in the local comedy scene for some two decades running.
It’s precisely because of that longevity, and the connections and perspective that have come with it, that Gomez is the perfect person to book the festival in question, a three-night series at the Marsh Berkeley (2120 Allston Way, Berkeley) starting on Saturday, June 11. She knows the local and national gay comedy universe well, and she understands the changes it’s gone through since she got her start in the mid-Eighties. To be clear, she said, queer comedy as a niche is nothing new: “There’s always been an audience hungry to see this.” But while gay comedy used to “come with a disclaimer,” she said, recent progress toward equality has given queer comedy room to grow in many ways.
“When I came up as a gay comic, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, we were kind of funny-but-angry,” she said. “We were doing comedy at riots, not resorts.” Now, as gay comedy has become less ghettoized, audiences tend to welcome — even expect — queer comics who are a little less self-serious, who can riff on all facets of gay life. “You can’t just make a sincere speech and get a standing ovation anymore,” Gomez said.
Take Ali Mafi, the headliner for the show on Saturday, June 11, who shapes sets around pop culture, personal observations — and, most often, sex — as often as he does serious political commentary. “I mean, he’s passionate about gay marriage, but he’s really passionate about cock,” Gomez said. “It’s pretty smutty.” In fact, she cautioned, the entire show is “not for the easily offended.” Comedy-burlesque artist La Chica Boom will perform a decidedly NSFW sex act on a piñata (Gomez’ disclaimer: “There’s not that much candy in there, and you really wouldn’t want to eat it”), while another performer, David Hawkins, is well known for his spot-on impression of Clay Aiken’s “Twizzler penis.” In Gomez’ estimation, Oakland’s Janine Brito may be the only clean comic. “It’s going to be a pride show with a lot of shameful behavior,” she said.
That said, it’s no accident that the show coincides with Pride Month. “Gay comics, we support our own,” Gomez said. “This is about supporting our own.” Which is why, for all her intentions of subverting the process, the proclamation business isn’t actually all that far off. At press time, Gomez hadn’t yet heard whether her wish would be granted by the city council, but she was feeling confident. There’s some kind of plaque involved, evidently presented by a city official at one of the shows. Hopefully, you know, before all the cock jokes. The Berkeley Gay Comedy Festival goes down (pun intended) on Saturday, June 11, at 8:30 p.m.; Monday, June 13, at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, June 18, at 8:30 p.m. $10-$35 per show; see web site for full lineup. 415-826-5750 or TheMarsh.org