By Josh Watkins
There is a story of intimacy and realness to be told by out comedian Poppy Champlin. With a mission to find joy and to give back through her routine, Champlin is promoting the differences and uniqueness of a queer perspective on stage.
Being classically trained in comedy, Champlin has honed in on her craft to become a master comedian who is comfortably ruthless on stage. She is happy to bring her Queer Queens of Qomedy tour through Texas once again, with a stop at Houston’s own Neon Boots Saloon and Dance Hall on July 17.
Josh Watkins: You are originally from Rhode Island—quite a contrast to the Lone Star State. What is it about Texas that keeps you coming back?
Poppy Champlin: Well, I try to get into places that don’t usually get too much queer content. But we did so well when we went to Neon Boots. It was a great turnout. We had a lot of fun. So if we could start building a base there, of course we’re going to come back.
Your tour is carried exclusively by lesbian comics. How much does being a lesbian influence your comedy?
A lot—though I can see [the humor in other] things, too. Like, I have a garden and deer are jumping over the four- or five-foot netting. So I’ve come up with a new idea. I’ve actually surrounded my garden with bubble wrap, so if they step on that, it’s gonna go “POP, POP, POP,” and they’re gonna run off! So that doesn’t have anything to do with being gay, and I think that’s funny. I always usually end on a more relationship focus, so you know what’s going on with me and my girlfriend. It becomes very intimate and relatable.
What sort of struggles have you faced being a queer woman in comedy?
I came up in the ’80s. When I moved to Chicago, I started at Second City. In improv, you didn’t really come out. You left it out of the act. I never came out until 2000. Just being a woman—never mind being a gay woman—it was difficult to get headlining and feature spots. It was taboo. I didn’t want to make the audience uncomfortable with my gayness, you know. So then the comedy starts to be filtered through that. I still have my own homophobia that can come up, and I hate that.
Have you noticed a shift in acceptance over the years?
Oh yeah. There’s a big shift and a big acceptance. Straight people are getting tired of themselves, really. There’s no more comedy left for them to enjoy, because it’s all been done. The whole gay thing is a vein of comedy that they can mine and enjoy and listen to with an open mind and an open heart.
In stand-up, nearly the entire show depends on the audience. What would you say is your best memory with an audience?
In this business, they say you’re only as good as your last show. I just had a run in P-town.
It was so much fun, because it seemed like they just enjoyed me riffing with the crowd—doing little segments on New Hampshire, Live Free or Die, and Orange Is the New Black. One thing gets rolled into another. They really like that a lot.
Your comedy is so spontaneous, yet real. You don’t hold back on stage. Where do you find your confidence?
The confidence really only came after years and years of doing it. I almost feel like this past weekend, I finally let myself admit that “I got this.” God, from 1982 to 2016—it took a long time.
What do you do when you are not on stage?
It’s a big deal to bring my girlfriend with me to shows, ’cause I need to [hand out] flyers, I need to study, I need to eat right, and I need to work out. She’s like, “Can we just go sit on the beach and have some lunch?” And I’m like, “Okay.” And we did some shopping, and flyered as we shopped. You know, we can take care of ourselves and do our work and have fun. And wow, I learned how to balance it and make it work.
If you could sum up your comedy career so far in just five words, what would you say?
I would say consistent, persistent, optimistic, finding the joy, and giving back.
You can catch the Queer Queens of Qomedy on July 17 at 5 p.m. at Neon Boots Saloon and Dance Hall (11410 Hempstead Highway), where Poppy Champlin will be joined by fellow Queens Mimi Gonzalez and Sandra Valls.