SHOWBIZ CHICAGO INTERVIEW: SCOTT DUFF AND POPPY CHAMPLIN

scotAs ChiGaygo, Laugh Factory Chicago’s premiere queer comedy showcase, looks to celebrate its first anniversary, I talked with Producer/Host Scott Duff and Comedian extraordinaire, Poppy Champlin about the popularity of the event, the status of Queer comedy in today’s media as well as the importance of stand-up comedy from a socio-political standpoint.

SCOTT DUFF AND POPPY CHAMPLIN

Michael J. Roberts (M.J.R.): As Chigaygo is celebrating its first anniversary, how did each of you first become involved in the project?

Scott Duff (S.D.): I was approached by Laugh Factory to produce, curate, and host the showcase in January of 2013, and we had our first show at the end of May of that year. They have been amazingly supportive, not just of the show but in trying to become a greater presence in the LGBT community here in Chicago. For our first five shows, we donated 100% of the door to five different non-profit LGBT organizations. It’s been a total blast!

Poppy Champlin (PC): I became involved through Ellen Miller – and have been bugging the laugh factory poppy1to do one of my Queer Queens of Qomedy shows. so this is a fun way to play at that club.

M.J.R.: What are some of the highlights that this year’s patrons can expect?

S.D.: Right now the show is once a month, but we are hoping to move it up to bimonthly. Gotta serve the “B” in LGBT, you know. And we would love to continue to work with non-profits in the community. We will continue to feature the city’s top gay and gay friendly comics, and we are playing around with throwing some eye candy on stage, too. Personally I want to have Homos A-Go-Go Go Go Dancers escort us to the stage. But I have thing for hunky boys in spandex. It’s a weakness.

P.C.: My highlights would be maybe the SM song parody I am singing from the sound of music “My Favorite Things”.

M.J.R.: Why do you each think the particular realm of “gay” comedy has become so popular across the country in the past ten years?

S.D.: Personally I don’t think that it is popular enough! Out lesbian comics have been killing it, because they have been working their asses off. Out and proud women like Ellen DeGeneres, Wanda Sykes, Cameron Esposito, and, of course, Poppy Champlin (just to name a few) are representing our community extremely well. And I say more, more, more! Gay male, bi, and trans comics…let’s follow their lead! Frankly I find it curious that we AREN’T seeing a broader representation of our community. I know several queer comics who are brilliant at taking the universal and skewing it through a queer lens. We all have similar experiences; it’s just that ours are…gayer.

P.C. : Because people are accepting and curious and it is a great form of entertainment. Live in your face current and funny.

M.J.R.: What do gay comedians bring to the stage that straight comedians do not?

S.D.: Well, after that diatribe…I think it IS our experiences as queer folk that makes us unique. Drop me in a football stadium and I will give you a completely different color commentary of the game than most straight guys. Oh…and anger. Gay comics bring anger. Covered in glitter. Lots and lots of glitter.

P.C.: Gay comedians bring an honesty and vulnerability that straight does not bring. And a sense of it is okay to buck the system.

M.J.R.: I have said in my interviews with comics that I feel that stand up comedy is really the last bastion for Free Speech in the entertainment industry, were boundaries are aloud to be pushed without too much backlash from critics, the audience and more importantly owners of the facilities. Do you agree with my statement, and if so why and if not, why?

S.D.: Yes and no. I think it depends on the medium. Comics get blasted on Twitter all the time for making “insensitive” jokes about things. It’s hard to discern tone and intent in a Tweet. But when you are in a comedy club, you kind of enter into this silent agreement that what we are going to talk about here tonight is just for funny’s sake. A live audience lets you know when you have crossed over any lines, and you can address that issue in the moment. And let them know they are wrong to be offended. It’s a just joke, people!

P.C.: Yes I agree with your statement and thank God we have this outlet – and the audience needs to feel some relief because of it as well. We are not being monitored and anything can happen and we are living on the edge during a comedy show.

SCOTT DUFF INTERVIEWScott-Duff

Michael J. Roberts (MJR): Congratulations of your radio show. Since you began hosting, tell us some things that really surprised you with the medium of radio that you didn’t expect, especially since you come from the world of theatre as a founding member of About Face?

Scott Duff: (SD): Thanks! It’s been a crazy ride! I’m constantly blown away by the people who call in to the show with these moments of everyday, unintentional activism. We had a woman who came out as a lesbian at age 68 (which, by the way, was two months before the came on the show) who was raising money for the AIDS Ride. We’ve had proud parents of queer children calling to profess their love for their kids and to thank us for continuing the conversation. I have been completely surprised by the number of trans listeners we have. It’s kind of daunting to have this responsibility to a community, but it’s a complete joy as well. And, I’m not kidding myself in terms of the show’s “importance.” Let’s face it, we are a “Sunday brunch with your gay best friends” kind of show. We talk about LGBT issues, and we also entertain. I guess it is more of that everyday, unintentional activism; just our presence on the air is our way of fighting the good fight for our community.

MJR: What, in your opinion, makes a good radio host and why?

SD: Being a good listener. Once you hear the story that someone wants to tell, you just follow their lead and have a conversation. I embrace the idea of the improviser’s “Yes, And”. Listen, heighten, and expand. And not being a jerk also helps!

MJR: With the LGBTQ movement becoming more mainstream, what do you think queer theatre needs to do to keep itself relevant?

SD: I think queer theatre will always be relevant. We live in an extremely gay friendly city. But just 45 miles in any direction, there is someone who is having a hard time living their authentic life. I think it’s our responsibility as artists to continue to tell the stories of the LGBT community. Talk about our lives, our histories, and experiences. Once again, find the universal and display it through the queer lens.

poppychPOPPY CHAMPLIN INTERVIEW

MJR: With the extinction of variety shows and late night hosts like Carson, Leno and Letterman who moved the amateur comedian into the spotlight, what is your advice for someone starting out to get their name known?

PC: I guess starting out you just have to do the open mic’s and find a way to keep honing your craft and finding your voice and try to get in front of some established comics and ask them where they think you should go.

MJR: How have you seen social media changed they way a comedian works?

PC: Thank God for Facebook and email because I can promote my own shows and build a fan base and work the rest of my life without an agent.

MJR: How have you changed as a comedian since your early days?

PC: I have become my own agent – I sobered up – I am more consistent – I sing – It is still a grind to find work – but I am a bit more relaxed now that i have experience under my belt and a sureness about myself.

MJR: Has your national success on television changed how your approach your act?

PC: No nothing really has changed with the National television if I was on all the time I would have to be constantly writing but since it is not that saturated I can write when I feel it – and usually write on stage. I am living large these days. The effort and dues are paying off now and the Gay community is my home and they support me and I am SO thankful that we are a force in America now.

Chigaygo, Laugh Factory Chicago’s premiere queer comedy showcase, is celebrating Gay Pride with its “Big Gay Pride Anniversary-ish Show” on June 26, 2014. In its first year, Chigaygo has featured the most fabulously funny comics in Chicago and around the country including Jessica Halem, Liza Treyger, Bill Cruz, Joel Kim Booster, The Puterbaugh Sisters, Candy Lawrence, Megan Gailey, Drew Anderson, Kenny DeForest, Matt Griffo, The Fruit Flies, and many more!

And now, Laugh Factory Chicago is launching the show into its second year. This month, to celebrate Gay Pride and to commemorate the one –year anniversary-ish of Chigaygo, Poppy Champlin (Showtime, LOGO, Comedy Central) headlines a night of hilarious gay and gay friendly comedy. Hosted by actor/comedian and professional gay Scott Duff (OUT CHICAGO, Laugh Factory, About Face Theatre), the evening features Chicago comics Tamale, Rachel McCartney, and more to be announced.

Doors open at 7 p.m.; the show starts at 8 p.m. It’s first-come-first-serve seating, and you never know what surprises might show up. So bring your family, your big gay lover, or gay best friend and come out for a night of pride and laughter. Laugh Factory Chicago is located 3175 N. Broadway at Broadway and Belmont. All shows are 18 and over. For details and reservations please go to www.LaughFactory.com or call (773) 327-3175. What: Chigaygo When: June 26, 2014, 8pm Where: Laugh Factory Chicago, 3175 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL 60657 Phone: (773) 327-3175 Web: www.LaughFactory.com

Scott Duff (Host/Producer): Scott Duff is a Chicago based actor, comedian, and professional gay. He is a founding member of About Face Theatre, Chicago’s premiere LGBT theatre dedicated to creating and producing plays that advance the national dialogue on gender and sexuality. In addition to over 15 AFT productions, his Chicago credits include the Goodman, Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare, Lookingglass, iO, and ATC. Scott is also the host of OUT CHICAGO, a weekly live talk show for the LGBT community airing Sundays from 11am-1pm on WCPT, Chicago’s Progressive Talk AM & FM.

Poppy Champlin: Poppy Champlin is the creator/producer and host of the successful touring comedy show, “The Queer Queens of Qomedy,” now in its seventh year. Her comedy special for Showtime, “Pride: The Gay and Lesbian Comedy Slam, “ is now on Netflix, and she has had two specials on LOGO. Champlin, a graduate of Chicago’s Second City, has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey show, The Joan Rivers Show, Comedy Central, and Entertainment tonight as well as comedy clubs around the world.

Laugh Factory’s History in the Gay Community: The Laugh Factory has always fought against adversity. It was born during a time when comedians were striking against the very clubs that they perform in. Laugh Factory and its owner Jamie Masada started with one simple philosophy, “Let’s treat comics with respect.” As the Laugh Factory grew into the brand it is today, the philosophy grew with it.

Masada and the Laugh Factory had front row seats to the gay rights movement of the 1980s. As AIDS began to ravage the gay community, Masada began passing out condoms at all of his shows. Masada was also instrumental in the creation of West Hollywood, which is considered one of the most gay-friendly cities in the country. Soon, this little underdog of a club was receiving national news coverage for its efforts to fight the AIDS epidemic. Masada, a noted philanthropist, has always strived to make his clubs a forward thinking, progressive and safe place for all who enter. When Masada discovered that some of his comics were remaining in the closet for fear of crowd backlash, he decided to start “Coming Out of the Closet” one of the nation’s first all gay comedy shows.

The show became a huge success and to this day the Laugh Factory is seen as a shining beacon of the now safe and gay-friendly West Hollywood. In 2012, the Laugh Factory brought its brand, and philosophy of respect to Chicago. Laugh Factory Chicago set up camp in Boys Town, where it hopes to continue its tradition of supporting those in need. Masada is excited to work with the Chicago’s LGBTQ community to keep the city loving, tolerant and of course, laughing

About Laugh Factory Chicago: Located at 3175 N. Broadway, following a $5 million renovation of the former Lakeshore Theatre, Chicago’s new Laugh Factory features a flashy new video marquee, 311 seats in an intimate, dinner theater-like setting, high ceilings to accommodate balcony seating, plus a full bar with table service and a selection of appetizers.

The Chicago stage and backdrop is a replica of the familiar Laugh Factory stage now so famous in L.A. Founder Jamie Masada – the driving force behind Laugh Factory – is revered as a pioneer and innovator and is an iconic name on the comedy scene, instrumental in launching the careers of many of today’s biggest comics. The New York Daily News called him the “Real King of Comedy.”

His knowledge and expertise have made him a leading authority on all things comedy and his advice is highly regarded by the entertainment industry’s top power brokers. Among the comedians who have performed at Laugh Factory are Tim Allen, Louie Anderson, Roseanne Barr, Milton Berle, David Brenner, Nick Cannon, Drew Carey, George Carlin, Jim Carrey, Dave Chappelle, Dane Cook, Rodney Dangerfield, Ellen DeGeneres, Phyllis Diller, Tom Dreesen, Jeff Dunham, Jeff Foxworthy, Redd Foxx, Brad Garrett, Eddie Griffin, Kathy Griffin, Buddy Hackett, Bob Hope, Andy Kaufman, Sam Kinison, Martin Lawrence, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Richard Lewis, George Lopez, Bernie Mac, Bill Maher, Howie Mandel, Carlos Mencia, Larry Miller, Mo’Nique, Paul Mooney, Eddie Murphy, Kevin Pollack, Richard Pryor, Paul Reiser, Chris Rock, Paul Rodriguez, Ray Romano, Bob Saget, Mort Sahl, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfield, Garry Shandling, Sarah Silverman, Jon Stewart, Wanda Sykes, Chris Tucker, Damon Wayans, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Flip Wilson, Robin Williams, Jonathan Winters, Steven Wright, Henry Youngman and many, many more. For more information about the Laugh Factory and to learn about upcoming shows at the new Chicago location, visit www.LaughFactory.com.