Standing Up for Laughs
Fort Worth actor Kyle Trentham has a resume that includes theater, film, and TV, most notably shows like Barney, Wishbone, and Walker Texas Ranger. Onstage he recently appeared in the drama The Fifth Sun at Rose Marine Theatre. But he’s always had a passion for stand-up comedy. One of his proudest moments as a comic was winning first place for most offensive comedy act at an open-mic show at The Chat Room Pub on the Near Southside. The top prize was a four-foot-long inflatable penis.
“Stand-up comedy is terrifying,” he said. “It can be a cliquey thing and very cutthroat. Comics get their feelings hurt easily, and they can be mean-spirited. But they’re quick to forgive.”
His desire to open up the intimidating world of local stand-up –– and hopefully make it a little more supportive –– led him to co-create It Only Makes Me Laugh, a comedy open-mic competition that happens every Tuesday night at Best Friends on East Lancaster Avenue. The evening is produced by QLive!, the performance arm of Q Cinema, the Fort Worth lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender film festival. Trentham is artistic director of QLive!; Todd Camp, who co-founded Q Cinema, is the other force behind It Only Makes Me Laugh. Camp and Trentham co-host each Tuesday night competition.
You’d think with two gay hosts, a gay organization producing, and a gay bar as venue, It Only Makes Me Laugh would have a mission to showcase primarily LGBT comics for primarily LGBT audiences. In fact, there is no litmus test regarding who performs or what kind of material they offer. Most of the comics who participate are straight, and at least half the audience on any given night is heterosexual. It’s an unorthodox setup that has worked well for a year and a half now –– on a good night, Best Friends will pack as many as 50 audience members into its small space to hear North Texas comics do their thing. Performers who honed their material there and then moved out to Los Angeles or Portland –– people like Mark Agee, Shane Torres, and Ross Day –– will return to a Best Friends open-mic and perform when they’re in town.
“We don’t advertise this as a gay event –– or a straight event,” Trentham said. “Right now we only have one gay comic and one transgender comic [who perform regularly]. There was initially a little trepidation from some of the straight comics. Some clubs treat their comics like shit, but Todd and I treat them like our own little family. It opened up their world. Now you’ll see some of the straight guys tipping the [male] dancers over at the [popular gay club] Rainbow Lounge.”
It Only Makes Me Laugh has a traditional open-mic format. Eight to 10 comics sign up to deliver five minutes of material each. The winner of the previous week’s competition opens the show and gets more time if he or she wants it. To keep each comic within the allotted time, Trentham or Camp will shine a flashlight signal from the back of the club at the set’s four-minute mark and then again when time is up. After the show, an informal poll of audience members is taken, and the funniest comic gets $100 –– $50 for that night and $50 when they show up to open the next Tuesday show.
Trentham says there are no particular trends in what the comics talk about –– there’s topical humor, political humor, shock humor, and stream-of-consciousness, confessional-type material. The latter gets a little tricky for the audience, especially if the comic is inexperienced and doesn’t know how to deliver intimate revelations with skill.
“We’ve had people stand up there and talk about how they were molested as children,” Trentham said. “For most comics, stand-up is cathartic, but with some of them, you feel like you should be charging for a therapy session. The bottom line is always: Is the joke funny? We tell the audience to laugh if something is funny and don’t laugh if it’s not. You don’t want to reward bad behavior.”
Trentham is thrilled that It Only Makes Me Laugh has become a place where straight and gay people can mingle and laugh together. But the question remains: Why so few LGBT comics, both at the Best Friends show and in the stand-up world in general? Gay people have the reputation, fairly or unfairly, as natural-born performers who flourish in the spotlight. Stand-up comedy would seem to be a perfect medium for them. Trentham admits he can’t really explain the dearth of queer comedians.
“There’s a difference between being funny at a party and being funny at a stand-up show,” he said. “Doing stand-up is like no fear I’ve ever experienced before. Maybe gay people are already worried about being accepted, and when you’re up there [onstage] and you bomb, it’s all your fault. There’s nobody else to blame.”
It Only Makes Me Laugh
Every Tues at 11pm at Best Friends, 2620 E Lancaster Av, FW.