Every comedian has to deal with being vulnerable in front of a crowd of strangers. But few of them have as tough a job as transgender comedian Jordan Wieleba. While her comedy colleagues and large swaths of the Denver scene are endlessly supportive of, and charmed by, Wieleba, the club circuit still has some growing up to do when it comes to LGBT performers. But Wieleba is a seasoned fighter, having years of stand-up under her belt before she came out as transgender.
Wieleba is relaunching the short-lived Altered Shtick comedy show at Voodoo Comedy Playhouse tomorrow night. In advance of that show, she talked with us about how the LGBT-centered comedy and variety show is more than just a safe-space for sexual minorities -- it's an event filled with jokes that will those immersed in this culture will get a special tickle out of.
Westword: Did you feel that there has been a lack of comedy for gay audiences before Altered Schtick?
Jordan Wieleba: Yes and no. There's a good number of LGBTQ comedians in Colorado and chances are usually pretty decent there are a few audience members that are LGBTQ as well. It's not that there's not a lack of comedy targeted for gay audiences, you just have to know where to look. We're out there -- no pun intended.
However, if there are other straight comedians on the bill, there's a possibility there might be some jokes at a homosexual or transgender's expense. And that can make someone feel alienated or uncomfortable at your typical comedy show, even if no harm is meant on the comic's part. I would certainly never censor another comedian's material just because it rubs me the wrong way, as I'm sure no one would censor mine. It's difficult to change your set on the off-chance someone may be offended.
So if it wasn't necessarily the pioneering force in LGBT comedy, what was the original concept for Altered Shtick?
It was originally conceived last year by Chuck Roy, Mona Lott, Penny from Heaven and myself as a monthly stand-up and variety show that featured both gay and straight comics. We had plans to take the show national, but the hosting venue closed its doors and everyone became busy with multiple projects, so it fell by the wayside.
And then you decided to keep it on at Voodoo?
Yes. When Voodoo Comedy Playhouse was accepting pitches for their fall season, I submitted Altered Shtick with the original theme but chose to make the lineups largely of LGBTQ performers as well as branching out to include drag, boy-burlesque, music, poetry and more. There are so many different types of live shows in Colorado with LGBTQ performers; I wanted to combine them all into one fabulous show. Though it's not geared strictly for gay audiences.
Similar to how there is clean comedy for suburban parents, or sports comedy for certain guys, do you think there is a certain style of comedy that appeals to the LGBT audience?
Absolutely. There are bits an LGBTQ comedian would do that would generally appeal to that audience. We could talk about certain parts of the lifestyle that a straight audience wouldn't understand but offers a window into the lifestyle that might otherwise be largely unrecognized. On a showcase that's made up of a variety of comedians, the audience is just as varied in taste and culture; however, if an LGBT comic is doing LGBT material, they would most definitely be more relatable to the guy who loves Hello, Dolly instead of the guy who loves football and carburetors...that's a thing straight people like, right?
Some of us. Not a fan myself . . . When you made your gender transition, did a lot of your previous comedy audience come along to these new comedy shows you began to do, where you'd talk about the process?
I'm not sure if anyone who had seen me before my transition were aware I was the same person. I had been doing stand-up for five years previous to coming out and I never considered myself a "strong" comedian, so if I did have people coming to a show to see me, I wasn't aware of it. It wasn't until recently that I started seeing some of the same faces in audiences I have seen before, and I think that's because I do talk about my personal transition on stage as well as having the confidence I didn't have before I came out.
Do you think your new audience would have been as into your previous material, since it didn't touch as much on gender identity?
I don't think so, because I still perform for the same kind of crowds. My old material was generic and didn't really have too much personality behind it. I didn't have a voice in my own jokes and I found myself borrowing styles from other comics and smashing them together into an identity-free performance. It took me a very long time to learn how to be myself, and when I did I was writing material for me as a release from the stress and frustration that comes from changing genders and that comfort of self translates on stage. I occasionally pepper old material into new sets, but only if I can rewrite it as the comic I am now and not the comic I was.
Do you ever perform shows now where you don't mention your gender transition at all?
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I do have material where don't mention or only allude to my transition. Granted, I will always be writing about being transsexual as it's very much a part of who I am, but it doesn't completely define me as a person. I know that audiences don't always want a full set of trans-related jokes, so I dip into other aspects of my personality and life to draw humor from. Jordan Wieleba joins Amber Hott, Brady Quarterman, Danny Eaux and Delores Dimpplebottom for Altered Shtick at 7 p.m. Saturday, October 12 at Voodoo Comedy Playhouse, 1260 22nd Avenue. Tickets are $5; for more information, visit www.voodoocomedy.com. For more comedy commentary, follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.