Michigan LGBT ComedyFest Returns to Dearborn

BY JASON A. MICHAEL

The Michigan LGBT ComedyFest returns to the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn for its 21st installment March 4 at 8 p.m. Formerly a production of Equality Michigan, the ComedyFest is now under the Motor City Pride umbrella - MCP having recently spun off from EQMI to become its own entity.

This year's ComedyFest will be "one huge show" featuring four fresh faces, including Jeff Jones from Orlando, Gloria Bigelow from Los Angeles, Roxanna Ward from Laguna Beach, and Jennie McNulty from West Hollywood. McNulty grew up in the Detroit area and said she is "super excited to be coming back home." BTL gets to know each comedian a little bit in the following Q&A.

WHEN DID YOU FIRST REALIZE YOU WERE FUNNY?

Jennie McNulty: I don't know, as a kid I guess. I remember being really little and seeing the president on TV talking about something he was going to do. I don't remember now what, but I remember saying "Well, ya better hurry up. Ya only got two years left." And my parents both burst out laughing.

Jeff Jones: I always loved making people laugh. For my 30th birthday my coworkers paid for me to take a standup comedy class. After making a full audience laugh I was hooked. That was 11 years ago. If your readers are doing the math, I'm obviously 32 now.

Gloria Bigelow: I first realized I was funny when I was in elementary school. I had a pajama party and made a joke. I said, "If you see a little black thing running around at night, it could be a mouse or my brother." That's a ridiculous joke. But I remember being in my basement and saying that and all of my friends laughing. Beyond being funny, I was just that highly dramatic child that was probably both amusing and annoying to my teachers at a very young age.

Roxanna Ward: Probably 1st grade. The teacher left the classroom and I sat down and the piano and played "There's a place on Mars where the ladies smoke cigars." And then "There's a place in France where the ladies wear no pants." When Mrs. Salstrand returned to class 30 first graders were singing the bawdy lyrics at the top of their lungs and laughing.

WHAT'S THE HARDEST PART ABOUT CREATING AN IDENTITY IN COMEDY?

McNulty: Ha! Probably finding it in life. I'm not a character comic so who I am onstage is pretty much who I am. But, as you change as a person, then your stage identity changes, too. When I started doing standup, I still thought I was straight!

Jones: I think the hardest part is not getting stuck in a specific identity. I just want to be funny. I don't like being labeled as a gay comic. I'm a comic that happens to be gay. I would say 99 percent of my shows are for straight people in small southern towns. For me the trick is getting them to like me and laugh with me before hitting them with any gay material.

Bigelow: Sometimes it's hard to find things to laugh about, [especially] when there are a lot of un-funny things happening in the world. It can seem out of touch or self-indulgent to be joking around when you know stuff is going on.

Ward: I think the hardest part is showing the audience who you are in a very short time. It's like speed dating hundreds of people all at once.

WHAT, IF ANYTHING, WON'T YOU JOKE ABOUT?

McNulty: I think, it's not what you joke about it's how. I really don't like mean-spirited comedy. I'm not saying that something mean can't be hysterical. And, to be honest, most of the things I've said about the dude at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. could very well be construed as not nice. I may have even used the term jackass. Don't judge. But, what's the "funny part" of your joke - the thing that makes 'em laugh? When it's mean or negative it puts your brain in that mode and then, to a certain level, your emotions follow and I just don't want to be there. I've joked about not wanting to be a rapper for that same reason. (Well, that and that I can't sing). "#MCPassiveAgressive..." So, to me, as far as topics go, if you can make it funny go for it. But, to paraphrase the golden rule, "joke unto others...."

Jones: I really don't do political humor on stage, especially now. A political joke will almost always piss off half of the audience. Plus I think we are so saturated with politics lately that people want to go to a comedy show as an escape.

Bigelow: There are plenty of things that I don't joke about. But I'm also kind of sensitive so, you know, I would prefer not to be hurtful. I wouldn't make fun of physical disabilities, probably wouldn't make light of illness or something that's really unkind about another person's race.

Ward: I try not to joke at someone else's expense... Laughing with someone not at someone.

WHO ARE YOUR COMEDIC INFLUENCES?

McNulty: Cher. And, of course, Carol Burnett and Mary Tyler Moore - both so amazingly talented and funny. And, then SNL. As far as stand ups, when I was growing up I Loved Steve Martin. He was so smart and creative and silly. He still fricken' cracks me up. I almost hit him crossing Melrose a few years ago. I was trying to make a right turn and there was this dude, draggin' ass across the street, NOT in the crosswalk, and just as I started to cuss him out, I realized it was him and I almost yelled out but all I could think to say was, "I love you Steve!" And, I knew that would have sounded really weird, especially, if he'd seen the face I must have been making immediately before. All in all, probably best I didn't profess my love.

Jones: I love the old school comics. I'm a huge fan of Buddy Hacket. Joan Rivers was a trailblazer. I was fortunate enough to work with her a few times. Both of them were able to say horribly dirty things on stage but the audiences didn't care because they were so likable.

Bigelow: Some are well known folks like Wanda Sykes and Dave Chappell and others are comics that I work with and admire like Erin Foley, Jackie Monahan and Page Hurwitz. These are all folks who in one way or another I have been influenced by.

Ward: Victor Borga, Steve Allen, Bette Midler, and my entire dysfunctional loving Arkansas/Oklahoma family.

WHAT'S THE BEST DONALD TRUMP JOKE YOU'VE HEARD AND/OR WRITTEN?

McNulty: I can't remember the exact words, but it started out, "I do solemnly swear..." Trump did it on his Jan. 20 show...There are soooo many good ones. And, you'll have to wait 'til the show if you want to hear mine! But, my favorite sign from the march the day after the inauguration was "I've seen smarter cabinets at Ikea."

Jones: Trump jokes are so hard to keep fresh. If you write a joke about something he says or does it has a very short shelf life. In 24 hours he'll do or say something even more ridiculous that you basically lose that old joke. He's comedy gold for the late night comics though because he's a never ending supply of fresh material.

Bigelow: He is the joke. No writing needed.

Ward: Melania having tea with Michelle Obama.

Michelle: How do you take it?

Melania: I close my eyes and think about Slovenia.

Michelle: I meant the tea.

Tickets for ComedyFest are $30 in advance and $35 at the door. Dearborn's Ford Community & Performing Arts Center is located at 15801 Michigan Ave. at Greenfield just east of Southfield Fwy. Visit ComedyFest online for more information.
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