Contributed by Quenby Harley
I’m a queer comedian and performance artist. My gender identity and sexuality are a big part of my identity, so a lot of material reflects on these experiences.
I perform at events on the comedy, spoken word, and drag circuits. Standup was my first passion as a performer and I still love to do it. But the comedy circuit is still overwhelmingly dominated by straight, white, middle-class, cis men. At many standup nights, I will be the only openly queer performer, and sometimes the only one who doesn’t tick every single privileged box on that list.
It’s hard to understand how this otherness (a sense that this is not a space where you belong) feels when you haven’t experienced it yourself. I generally still enjoy mainstream nights, and I think performing to unsympathetic crowds have helped refine my skills. But what I love, the gigs which make me feel really lucky, is performing at queer events.
As a performer it feels safer. I don’t have to worry about being heckled by people who don’t respect my right to existence. I don’t feel the need to look over my shoulder when I walk away from a gig to check I’m not being followed. It also gives me more freedom to make niche jokes which speak specifically to queer audiences.
But the best part of performing at queer gigs is the response I get from the audience. If you’re a regular on the comedy circuit you’ll know gigs and acts on the circuit where you can find inclusive material about queer experiences. But if you don’t spend half your life on the circuit it can be hard to find them. So a lot of queer people only see mainstream comedy, where we only exist as a punchline. An exotic, silly thing to laugh at or criticise.
I believe that great comedy can heal, educate, and humanise people. And if you doubt this I suggest talking to someone who just watched comedy which speaks to them for the first time. It can be funny, joyful, and beautifuly cathartic; and seeing someone realise for the first time that comedy can speak to them and for them is an incredible feeling.