Lesbian comedian Poppy Champlin comes to Houston’s Pearl Bar.
By Lucy Doyle
It isn’t enough that out comedian Poppy Champlin knows how to work a crowd with her uproarious sets—she has an entire gut-busting girl gang of lesbian comedians in her arsenal. Enter the Queer Queens of Qomedy, a living testament to the power of three. When this veteran of the stage noticed clubs were largely uninterested in promoting a lone lesbian, she turned to the strength in numbers, and thus the Queer Queens of Qomedy were born. Each night on stage, Champlin brings out another two queer performers, and the dynamic shifts each time. OutSmart caught up with Champlin right before one of her shows to talk gayborhoods, outrageous crowds, and, of course, Texas.
Lucy Doyle: You’re from Rhode Island, and you’ve been performing in Provincetown this past week. Do you prefer performing in “gayborhoods” across the country?
Poppy Champlin: Yes. It’s more conductive—because word-of-mouth is really the way things are spread. I can get the crowds to come. In rural areas, it’s harder to let people know I’m going.
With your experience performing in Texas in the past, what would you say is our “gay vibe”?
My experience has been—well, it’s been very varied. My first-ever show in Texas was in Fort Worth, and that was a bit scary. I had one reporter say he’d be covering my show from a Christian point of view. He did encourage people to come and see me, which was great. But then at the end, he said, “It’s too bad these three ladies will be going to hell.”
Then in Austin, it was more hippie gay. It didn’t seem outright gay, it was more of a gay and straight blend. In San Antonio, it was definitely gay. Very gay. There was a very strong, “Yes, we need this. We want this. We appreciate you coming to the city to bring us all together to have a gay event like this, where we can laugh together.” I’m not going to say desperate, but San Antonio was hungry for it. And then Houston was so supportive. Because some of the proceeds were going to a nonprofit, we had a lot of support. This year, we have AssistHers. I’m hoping to get those gals on board as well. The shows have just been stupendous. The comedians I have with me are solid performers and they’re constantly working. I know they’ll bring a whole fresh show to the Pearl Bar.
Now is your chance to call out the worst of the worst and vent your frustrations. Who, or what, makes the worst kind of audience member? Do you have one in mind?
Oh, I had one last night. Do you wanna hear about that? It’s very fresh in my mind.
What makes a bad audience member is too much alcohol. I have a bit where I talk about how I’m gaining weight, I have another gut. This woman wanted to play along, but then she started to take over. When these audience members get drunk, they get disgusting, and people look at them like, “Gross.” Well, she started taking her shirt off and her gut came out. It was like, “Oh no.” And then she had to get up to go to the bathroom, and I was like, “Oh good, let’s talk about her.” When she got back, she was upset. She knew I was talking about her. In stand-up, we’re flying by the seats on everything. The audience was very much on my side, and there were two guys up front who really had my back. She was faking angry, and I wasn’t worried about her. But alcohol definitely makes for a bad audience member.
Besides the obviously phonetically pleasing alliteration, why go with “Queer” in QQQ? Have you seen any backlash from that self-identification, particularly among older generations of LGBTQs?
Well, I think it’s a good question, and probably one I didn’t think through all that much. I have had confrontation from an entertainment group that owns the name “Queen of Comedy.” They told me I had to stop using that name. It turned into a court case. But that’s not answering your question.
I do want people to know that it’s queer comedy. It’s always three of us—that’s why there’s three Q’s. It’s always three queer queens. It’s a tongue twister, which is perfect for lesbians.
You always look like you’re having a ball on stage. You manage to make comedy look fun, even when your subject matter dips into more depressing topics. Do you find comedy cathartic?
Yes, definitely. I’ll take this $800 deficit, from a club recently misrepresenting the number of attendees and cutting my pay, and turn it into a joke. Where the pain gets regurgitated, it comes out as a joke, and you can make someone else feel better.
Like my cruise to the Bahamas—we hit a reef and we started to sink. It was a horrific evening. We didn’t get off the ship until 2:30 in the morning, but now I have some really good jokes about that. But at first, I’ll feel angry and upset. I lost money on that one, too!
What do you do when you aren’t laughing?
I try and stay positive. I try and build my spirituality. Last night, I met a solo comedian—she was a healer, just sort of a spiritual healer. And that’s what I’m doing, too. I have to keep myself in good, spiritually thick conditions so when bad things happen, I can’t let anything destroy me. I have to stay on this higher plane so when I bring the comedy to the room, it isn’t heavy with crap. I have to keep the crap out of my mind. I like to golf, I like to garden. I have a garden—well, had a garden—a deer came and ate it all. And I have a girlfriend in Rhode Island. She has kids, just had a divorce with a guy. So there’s a lot I have to balance when I’m home.
It’s a common sexist rallying cry that women aren’t funny. So women who love women must be an extra massive downer, right?
Is that what we’re going with? [Laughs] It was really hard for me all along from the beginning. It has always been hard to be a female comedian. Even my own home club, you can only go up once a week. This guy wouldn’t put me on, wouldn’t give me as much time as the guys. He had his favorites, and they weren’t women. Every once in awhile, he’d put them up, but the audience was all straight males. I’d only get up once a month in Boston with that audience, too. I don’t know how I kept going. But when I got to Chicago, and it was a bigger city with more comedy clubs, I started getting a lot more work. And I was good! So my comedy was taking the sexism out, because I was better than the guys. It’s been hard.
This is a topic that’s bothered me—maybe you can help a sister out. Where do you think all the lesbian bars are going?
It’s always been that way. The lesbians can’t seem to keep a bar going! But the Pearl Bar I guess is going to be one of the few. It sounds like Pearl definitely has it going on. When I was in Chicago, there was one club called Paris—it was a lesbian-dedicated bar. In Rhode Island, I don’t even know if there is one that’s dedicated to lesbians.
What I think is, we don’t drink as much as gay men do. We don’t have much sex. I think that’s kind of it.
Do you see yourself returning to scripted television comedy?
I always had that as one of my goals, and I saw myself as being an actress on a sitcom. But now I’m so self-driven and so self-motivated that to do the beck-and-call of what someone tells me to do—I don’t think I’d enjoy that. But if I was writing it, like if I was the boss telling everyone what to do—I think I’d like that.
Does it feel different performing comedy with a strictly female line-up, rather than a co-ed, or male-dominated one?
Oh yeah. Even in the crowd, when it’s just lesbians performing, I feel like it’s family. Queer Queens of Qomedy is family. You know what you’re going to get. We all have the same kind of agenda, if you want to use that word. I do want to encourage my gay brothers to come to the shows, because we have plenty of comedy for them as well! So far, they haven’t really grabbed on to the fact that lesbians are some of the funniest comedians working. For some reason, they just aren’t bringing it, and I don’t know why. That’s a good question I’d like to find out!
I do think lesbians have been working at this for so long. It does change the dynamic. Women aren’t as much relating to gay male comics and what they’re saying—except for Jim David and a few others. Jim’s very good at it. Mostly, there’s just a relatability issue. And I mean, if you put a straight guy in there, it just doesn’t fit. It doesn’t fit!
You can catch the Queer Queens of Qomedy on July 10 at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. at Pearl Bar (4216 Washington Ave.), where Poppy Champlin will be joined by fellow Queens Sandra Valls and Vickie Shaw.