Last night was my first class in Stand-Up Comedy training. I expected more of a feeling of exhilaration. Instead, I felt as though it was exactly where I was supposed to be. Growing up as a kid in Oklahoma, I was trying so hard to develop into a healthy straight young man (which deep inside I knew was never going to happen) I wanted no additional attention focused on me. When I met and began a life with my husband Ed, I was so focused on protecting and nurturing the unremitting joy that still continues, I continued to avoid any unnecessary attention. As I became more accepting of who I was, a club opened in Dallas which was a new concept for me. It was a gay cabaret club. For the first time, I saw and experienced gay comedians. They were talented and funny and were able to turn our challenges into humor. This was new humor I had never experienced. Ed and I would go back time after time despite the fact that many times it was to enjoy the same skits. Another concept that was developing around that time was making cruise ships a holiday option for gay men and women. These cruises gave gay men and women a chance to immerse themselves in a world where being gay was the norm and not the exception. Initially, the major carriers were not interested in “gay” business because of possible public backlash. The ship we traveled on was a little tacky and belonged to a small cruise company desperate for business. However, the entertainment was designed specifically for a gay audience and was world class. The comedy was openly about gay men and women, for gay men and women and performed by gay men and women. It may seem silly today after attitudes have changed, but at that time it seemed magical. It didn’t take long for the word to get out about how profitable these cruises were and major carriers now aggressively compete for these lucrative contracts. However, despite the well-worn tacky ship and the lousy weather we experienced on that first cruise, it was the most fulfilling time we’d had. Those early days in the gay cruising industry have blossomed into the luxury business it is today. Then gay comedians began appearing on television and even in Dallas’ best venues. Several years ago, I found myself retired which, I must admit, makes me feel like a fish out of water. I made arrangements to appear at an open mic night. When I told Ed about my plans, he asked that I not do it. I acquiesced because, I told myself and others at the time, the cancellation was totally because of Ed’s request. That’s not completely true. I’m actually a hard headed mule of a guy and, when I really want to do something, I’ll move mountains to accomplish it. I was terrified to get on stage after I set the appearance up and Ed gave me a graceful way to withdraw. Back to last night. Members of the class are very different but they all want to make people smile. Despite clearly being the oldest member of the group, I felt completely safe and comfortable. I’m going to pursue this opportunity even though I haven’t decided on a road map yet. I do know that, because of my age, I’ll have to accelerate my pace. There is a very clear image in my head of meeting Stephen Colbert in the Green Room on the tonight show. The image wouldn’t appear if it wasn’t supposed to happen.
I would like to make a tribute to a Dallas native. Paul Williams was the first gay comedian I ever witnessed (initially with two fellow performers). Thanks, Paul for being a pioneer and bringing joy to my life and thousands of people like me. You are a hero!