In the world of standup, genderqueer comedians like Diana Graham represent a small but growing demographic.
On that list are Jes Tom, Lorelei Ramirez, Peter Smith, James Tison and Spike Einbinder. Count Graham among them. The Livonia native has been riding a wave thanks in no small part to platforms like TikTok, where they have over 205,000 followers.
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When they aren’t working as an industrial engineer, Graham can often be found on stages throughout Southeast Michigan (they performed in April at the "Queens for a Cause" fundraiser in support of Affirmations), where they are fondly nicknamed “the little sister of Detroit comedy.”
Temporarily relocated some nearly 800 miles from home for work, Graham talked with Pride Source about the joys and challenges of both of their careers.
How in the world did you end up in Nebraska?
My job moved me to Nebraska for a second. So, I’m here till the end of June. And my birthday is June 8.
Any birthday plans?
I’ve been thinking that I really want to put on a “hecklers encouraged” comic show.
A what now? I’ve never heard of such a thing.
It’s kind of a Detroit thing. It’s what I miss most about home. So I’m going to see if I can convince them to let me do that. Detroit has a few of them. Usually, it’s an open mic … and everybody is encouraged to heckle the comedian as you go along. It’s like exposure therapy. It’s to help you work out new material but also get used to hecklers. You become immune to it and don’t let it bother you. I like it because it’s so interactive. It’s a lot of fun.
By day, you’re an industrial engineer. Are there any similarities between your two jobs, or any overlap?
I think being a comedian, it helps me be smart. Engineering is just problem-solving. And I think comedy is almost the same. Comedy, at least the way that I do it, I’m very mindful. Why did they laugh at that or why didn’t they laugh at that? Or what do I want to be saying? I’m always asking myself: I love this idea but what’s at the root of it? What’s funny about it and what do I think they’re going to like about it? You’re constantly dissecting things and figuring out what works. And that’s what I do as an engineer, too.
Take us back to your roots and tell us how your comedy career started.
I wanted to be a comedian ever since I found out what standup comedy was. I was about 12 and I was sharing my brother’s Pandora account. I was listening to the comedy station and I was like, "Whoa, what is this?" Mind you, I probably didn’t get most of the jokes. But the sheer concept, I had never been exposed to. So I got it in my brain that I was going to do it to some degree. But I never expected to do it at the capacity I do.
Do you remember your first time?
The first time I did standup was right before my 17th birthday. Before that I was always writing notes in my phone of little things that I thought were funny. And that’s still how I do it today.
How do you address being genderqueer with your audiences — or do you?
I don’t know that I necessarily explain it anymore. I used to have some jokes where I would say, “I’m genderfluid because being the hottest girl in the room wasn’t enough for me.” But now I’ve kind of shifted to talking about my life and my experiences more as a matter of fact. I leave it less up to whether or not you agree or whether or not you understand. It’s just this is the way that I am, this is the way that I live, and here’s the joke.
Have you faced any backlash or criticism for your honesty?
You go to some open mics … and there’s more people out there who just want to get up on a mic and talk. I was in Denver and this man spent his whole set talking about beating up a trans person. So, as a trans person, following him was not so fun.
Yikes. What about dating? You’re single. What do dates say when they find out you’re a comedian?
Well, it’s something that I keep off my dating profiles. It’s a little embarrassing. You say you work in comedy. What does that mean? My family members don’t feel I make any money out of it, which is true and not true.
Do any of your dates end up in your act?
Sure. [If something fun happens] I am going to write a bit about you, I can’t lie. It’s going to happen.
I understand that you really blew up on TikTok during the pandemic.
I posted three videos all at once just to see what would happen. I just posted them and from those three, one immediately went viral. So there’s not been a time on TikTok that I haven’t had a following. It’s kind of crazy. Especially for me being a young, queer comic. My first joke to ever go viral was about being genderfluid.
If you get big enough, will you leave your day job?
I like my day job. I like engineering. I say this in all my interviews, with the skills that I have and the passions I have, I think industrial engineering is how I can help the most people. And that’s what I want to do with my work and my comedy. I want to make the most people happy. Plus, I don’t know if I could ever give up the healthcare that I have.
Learn more about Diana Graham at linktr.ee/dianaggraham.