"I idolized my father," says Marga Gomez, recalling her youth in New York City with her Puerto Rican-born mother, a dancer, and Cuban-born father, a comedian.
"Being a dancer and having guys hit on you -- I really didn't think that was cool. But my dad made everybody laugh. We'd go out to the beach and people would send him a beer, which is like getting an Academy Award in the Bronx. I love adoration. I love people liking me. I think people go into comedy for those reasons -- they want to be liked and appreciated."
But Gomez, the popular comedian-actress who headlines Washington's Laugh Out Loud gay and lesbian comedy festival this weekend, also knows that comedy is serious business.
"It's been said that comics are pretty serious people, almost morose, " she says from her home in San Francisco. "I'm kind of an intense person. I get goofy and all that, but then, I do have a serious side. Things can bother you, and sometimes you can really make things right by filtering them through humor and parody."
She pauses, as if for dramatic effect, before her true confession slips out, accompanied by an irrepressible snicker. "The thing that really got me into it, though, was...well -- you know -- to pick up girls."
MW: When did you come out?
MARGA GOMEZ: During college. Isn't that a requirement? My "friend" would come home with me to visit, and we slept in a single bed. We would just carry on, and we got too loud. My parents freaked out. They threatened my life. They threatened me with plantain bananas. But they "knew" it wasn't my fault. They knew it was just The Girl, and all my strange friends from the drama club -- all those weird kids who were coming over. Then, they got real revenge. A year later, they "forgot," so I had to come out to them again and again. They just pretended there was no outburst, no crisis.
MW: When did you decide to perform professionally?
GOMEZ: When I moved to San Francisco. I dropped out of college and came here with a girl in the '80s. I just wanted to see what California was like, and picked San Francisco randomly. I didn't even know it was the gay mecca. I just thought it was hippies. There was this really great underground, counterculture performance scene happening here. It happened in New York, too, but I had to leave New York to discover it.
I was really passionate about comedy, and they had these open mikes at various clubs. It was really uncomfortable for me, and the audience, when I'd go up there. There was still not a lot of acceptance of out performers. But there was a club called the Valencia Rose, and they had a gay comedy night where they wanted you to talk about being queer. I got up there, and the audience was really supportive and hungry for it. I'm sure that I sucked in the beginning. But it was a very forgiving crowd. We were all in uncharted territory. I figured out what I was doing. I found my voice.
MW: Has your style changed much over the years?
GOMEZ: I sometimes think of myself as the Dyke of Darkness. In gay comedy, when it first started out, you had to be very happy all the time. It was like, "Being gay is great! My girlfriend this, and my girlfriend that..." But I was dating women, and it was always going wrong. So I was petty, and small, and liked to complain. Any comic will complain about whomever they're dating, right? Men will complain about women, women will complain about men. But just because I'm a lesbian, do I have to always turn the other cheek? That's kind of my inclination -- just to be a big complainer. I don't want to be a cheerleader out there all the time. My stuff is really just coming from my own experience. I've always had a social consciousness. I've always been desperate to find love. I've always been lusty. I've always been small. I've always been flawed. These things don't really change. It's just the context you're in.
MW: What are the current big complaints that drive your material?
GOMEZ: Well, I don't know if I'll talk about this in D.C., but I recently did a show in New York after I'd gone to a sex club for the first time with a girl I'm seeing. It wasn't really a complaint or anything, it was just a new experience. I was most excited by the cheese and crackers they had out. But then I was worried to eat them because I was afraid it was part of some Hickory Farms Girl/suburban housewife scene. It's weird, because no one takes their socks off, and that, to me, just isn't hot. There are all these little baby butches chained up to Pathmark shopping carts, and you're supposed to look at them, but you're not supposed to have any expression at all. But I'm very co-dependent. I'm trying to keep a poker face, but at the same, I'm like, "Are you okay? Did that hurt?" And there was sticky stuff everywhere. We didn't have any gloves, so I didn't really do too much. Then you run into people you know while you're getting fucked. It's like, "Oh...hi...are...you...still...taking ...PILATES?" Everybody else had a good time. That's the whole thing. Everybody else has a good time -- but me. Everybody else has a better minute plan on their phone -- than me. I just feel cursed, but at least I can have these pity parties for myself, which are called performances. I talk about sex quite a bit. It's great, because New Yorkers are so hardcore. But I'm going to try and read the paper a little bit before I go to D.C.
MW: Are you still seeing the same girl?
GOMEZ: Yes, and that's another thing that's sort of a phenomenon in my life -- younger women. I'm, let's say, over thirty-five. I don't have any children, but I guess I must have some sort of maternal feeling. She's, like, twenty-six, and looks up to me as a gay historian. I tell her things that I don't even know about back in the day, because I was stoned then. I make shit up, like "Back in the day, we were poor and couldn't even afford a rainbow flag. We had plaid. Nobody would march in our parades, except for Scottish people, and they weren't even gay. We didn't have a community. We had to go door to door to find people, like, ‘Oh, are you the lady of the house? Do you have any sensitive men inside who can dance? Oh, no men at all? May I see your fingernails? Are they short enough? Yes, come with us.'" And I tell her we didn't have Ellen, or Will and Grace. We had Miss Jane Hathaway.
MW: So, you like 'em young. What's the lesbian equivalent of "chicken hawk?"
GOMEZ: "Marga Gomez." [Laughs.] It isn't even that, though. Lesbians are just always in couples, and I'm one of the few single lesbians who are, let's say, over thirty-five. It's like I should have a scarlet letter on me, but it should be an "S." It's not natural. But this girl is really amazing. We just me a couple of weeks ago, and we're really getting along great. She's a femme. Which makes me not a femme. She has incredible underwear. It's not even called underwear, it's lingerie. What I have is underwear. I buy it at Walgreen's in a tube. It's old underwear, too.
MW: I understand you were in the movie Sphere.
GOMEZ: With Sharon Stone and Queen Latifah -- the lesbian wish list. It's one of the most bizarre movies ever made. Lots of jellyfish and anemones. Queen Latifah and I were killed first. I was a computer expert, and she kept this biodome in operation. We were military personnel. But the first time you see us, we're baking and serving muffins to the scientists. Shortly after that, we're killed. I do tell people I played a lesbian, although the role had no lesbian lines, or any kind of lesbian action. It was all in my eyes. Like, I'd be at the computer, and you could see that I really wanted to be shooting pool.
MW: You're a method actress, then.
GOMEZ: Exactly. Then being with Sharon Stone, who has been my imaginary girlfriend since Basic Instinct, was a real treat.
MW: Do you play primarily a gay comedy circuit?
GOMEZ: I really do. I love to have a mixed audience, but I definitely want to have a progressive audience. And I love to have men and women in the audience. There's a women's circuit as well, with women's music festivals.
MW: Do you do a lot of women-only events?
GOMEZ: No. In fact, I don't like to play women-only, because it usually involves camping, and I'm really not an outdoors person. I can't do too many of those, because I can't spend too much time outside. I freak out. I'm just worried that there's dog poop everywhere. And you have to be very lucky with your campsite. The last time I was at a women's festival, my tent was next to a singer-songwriter whose favorite number was "I Am a Lesbian." She kept singing, "I am a lesbian/lesbian, lesbian, lesbian/lesbian, lesbian, lesbian...." It went on like that for quite a while. I had to fuck a sailor after that.
MW: You're not a fan of the lesbian folk music genre?
GOMEZ: Actually, they have a lot of rock now at the festivals. There are a lot of rocking young girls -- you know, "grrrlz." The folk music isn't predominant anymore. And the girls are really wild now. A lot of piercings. They're definitely tougher.
MW: As a comedian, are you labeled as a Latino as well as a lesbian?
GOMEZ: There are so many things about me. I don't really like to proceed as the Latina Lesbian Comic. But it's shorthand for people, so I don't mind. Sometimes I'm hired because I'm Latina. I happen to be one of the first out comics. It's important to have diversity in our movement. Ideally, I would like to be hired because I'm good at what I do. More than anything, I'm kind of neurotic, and quirky, and edgy. I really believe that, basically, I'm a comedian. Either you think I'm funny, or you don't. And the stuff I talk about, that's just my material. Everything about me is in there.
Laugh Out Loud gets underway at 8 p.m. this Saturday, November 23rd, at the Carnegie Institution, 16th and P Streets NW. Also featuring Paul Williams and Julie Goldman. General admission tickets are $25. VIP tickets, with preferred seating and post-performance cocktail reception, are $60. Call 800-494-TIXS. Visit www.laughoutloud.org.