For the past two years, Lisa Geduldig’s Pride Comedy Nights have been held, to mixed reviews, in the scattered café-with-a-stage Ashkenaz Music & Dance Community Center. This year, the show returned with a vengeance and a venue change, showing at Freight & Salvage, where auditorium-style seats — along with easy access to beverages, alcoholic or otherwise, just stage left — unified the mostly full house in proximity and good cheer.
2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and gay-specific comedy is no longer a fringe novelty. The crowd arrived relaxed, receptive and ready to laugh. Blue and orange lighting matched swooping overhead chandeliers to set the scene with all the polish of a Netflix comedy special.
And just like its virtually distributed visual doppelgängers, the show had its hits and misses, with the biggest laughs of the night going to Karinda Dobbins and Sampson McCormick.
The program had been arranged — strategically, perhaps — to sandwich its best between performers. As a result, the opening lagged, the middle picked up its slack, and the ending slapped. The show began with a good-natured, albeit confused, buzz as comedy newcomer and self-proclaimed “raging bisexual” Kim Luke took the stage to mixed reception.
Leaning on age-old “bisexuals are slutty” tropes, Luke played it both safe and sloppy. She leaned into the outrageousness of the awkward line, “Slip your mom the tongue” (referring to her aging mother’s never-been-kissed dilemma) and engaged in alphabet soup wordplay (“Are you a V? Is that your GF, gluten-free?”). Her bit about adding new letters to the LGBTQIA acronym — namely “K,” accompanied by an “I’ll do anyone” flirty wink — lost its charm during the third reiteration.
The show gained a fresh jolt of energy with the entrance of Dobbins. The California-based comedian’s animated bits about tiny-home burglaries and getting stabbed in gentrified Oakland stood up particularly well to a largely middle-aged crowd that, in the words of attendee and Bay Area resident Melinda Weil, was “as white as Berkeley can be.”
“I feel like half of this audience might have a fully-clothed dog at home,” Dobbins said in wrapping up a set about pampered pets and their privileged owners — for which she received both groans and giggles. Dobbins’ comedy was well timed; it’s rare for an interactive show’s audience to play so well into the message itself. Touché, Karinda.
The last two performers of the night were self-described “gay historian” and activist Marga Gomez and McCormick, a Pride 2019 grand marshal. Both delivered hefty punches of context alongside the funnies as longtime figures in the community: Gomez recounted the prehistoric epochs of gay rights before the rainbow flag (“We couldn’t afford the fabric!”) and lesbians before they ate tofu (“We didn’t know you could eat it! We used it as building material!”). And warm, friendly McCormick had a cheerful hot take about destigmatizing interracial relationships, winding around to recount his dating adventures in Raleigh, North Carolina (“Once you go white, your credit is right!”).
Though Gomez’s set felt slightly slow at times, she was at her best when she equally mocked and celebrated the lesbian experience. The lack of representation faced by lesbians in mainstream media met its quick and sarcastic takedown with Gomez, who has appeared on the Netflix drama “Sense8.”
“Every time you saw lesbians on TV, they always died,” Gomez observed. “Not like today, when lesbians live long happy lives in prison.”
McCormick ended the night with a final riff about selling Zyrtec as crack and an appeal to put out love and positivity in the world — a completely on-brand move for a comedian who has performed in front of protesting Klan members and come out on the other side laughing.
It seems almost beside the point to critique a show that works hard to do good and do it well. Geduldig, reflecting on her 26 years of emceeing and organizing comedy for those who often have jokes made at their expense, commented on attitudes “chang(ing) for the good, except for the last two years.” Though Pride Comedy Night may not have the same edge an event like this might have inspired 10 or 20 years prior, surely that in itself is a cause for cheer and celebration. So raise the lights and let the lesbian jokes remain.
Contact Anna Ho at [email protected].