Seasoned improv artist and stand-up comic Poppy Champlin has been bringing her “Queer Queens of Qomedy” on the road for almost a decade and a half. Participants have included Karen Williams, Carol Leifer, Jennie McNulty, Mimi Gonzalez, and Vickie Shaw. Second City veteran Poppy has been featured on Logo, Showtime, VH1 and Lifetime. She was a writer on Fox Family’s “Show Me the Funny” and named “America’s Funniest Woman” on “The Joan Rivers Show.” Next month, this eclectic week and a half-long event to Baltimore’s very own Magooby’s Joke House in Timonium. She currently teaches a master class in comedy at the Courthouse Center for the Arts in her home state of Rhode Island. Poppy was nice enough to take a moment out of her busy day to share a few laughs with Baltimore OUTLoud.
Deb: When did you first realize that you wanted to do stand-up for a living?
Poppy: I realized it onstage at the University of Rhode Island. I was doing a show there called “Oceantics” (we were all fish). I did a stand-up monologue, which I called “My Fishstick” and it stole the show every night. One night, the show was so good, that this guy started choking from laughing so hard, and he asked me to stop saying my jokes, because he couldn’t breathe.
Deb: A lot of comedians say that the grist for their material is some sort of trauma – that it’s where that fire comes from.
Poppy: Yeah, tragic comedy goes all the way back to the Greek playwrights. (The two emotions) are very much attached to each other. I think that when you find the darkness in order to get to the light, you’ve got to bring the humor in, you know?
Deb: Everybody can find some self-deprecating humor during a weird time, sure, but is it difficult to make that transition mentally?
Poppy: Oh, yeah, it takes time. I think tragedy plus time equals comedy.
Deb: How did the “Queer Queens of Qomedy” get started? What was the inspiration?
Poppy: I had reached a point in my career where I thought I was just as good as any of the other comedians working the circuitv and I wanted to be a headliner but I didn’t have an agent or manager pushing me. So, I went to the Berkshire Hotel in Alexandria, Virginia, and asked them if I could headline a show. They were like “I don’t know your name.” I said “Yeah, but the other lesbians do,” but they said “Nah, we don’t think so. You’re not a Kate Clinton or a Suzanne Westerhofer.” I went “(Damnit!) How about if I bring two other lesbian comedians who I think are just as good as well, and call ourselves the ‘Queer Queens of Qomedy,’ and see how that goes? Then people will know what they’re getting.” He said “Oh, alright, we’ll give it a shot.” He did, and I think we got over 450 ladies to show up.
Deb: And the rest is history. I feel like, in every aspect of the entertainment industry, there are always your token girls, whose names that you know, but basically, it’s a good ol’ boys’ club. It’s hard to bust that glass ceiling.
Poppy: Oh yeah, coming into the comedy club scene, there would be like 30 guys, and for a woman to get onto that bill, you had to scratch and claw your way.
Deb: Yeah and you’ve got to fight the other girls who are clawing their way there with you.
Poppy: Exactly. To get two onto the bill is almost unheard of. You’d never find a comedy club that would have three women up there.
Deb: No, definitely not. It would have to be “Girl’s Night.” What are you hoping to teach both fans and detractors alike with your comedy?
Poppy: Well, I don’t plan on teaching anything, but I do serve by example.
Deb: How so?
Poppy: I think the example that I set with the comedians that I bring, and the shows that I put on, is that almost nobody can walk away feeling pissed off or violent. These shows put people in such good moods – there’s just so much fun and joy and laughter that the aggression which this world propagates through television, there’s none of it there.
Deb: So your goal is diffusion, I like that. You’re often dubbed “high energy” – I do see why, by speaking to you. Where do you think that inner light comes from?
Poppy: I think it comes from the spirit of creativity. I don’t know what to call my “God,” but I think that we are all created, and therefore, we are all creative beings. If I can be a channel for creativity, then it comes from this spirit in the atmosphere.
Deb: What’s been your favorite experience there so far? The coolest thing that’s happened or the most emotional experience, maybe? You’ve been doing it for 13 years, so I’m wondering if a particular memory sticks out, or a person that you met.
Poppy: “Women’s Week” is a lot of work for the comedians. It usually starts on Columbus Day weekend – it’s basically nine or ten days of straight comedy shows.
Deb: Is it hard to come up with that much material?
Poppy: I use the same skeleton, but I like to improv around my material, so it’s never the same show twice. Right now, I hang all of my material on the songs that I’m going to put into the show, so it’s like spin art: no two alike, but hopefully it comes out beautifully.
Deb: You’re welcome. So, you’re going to be in Baltimore very shortly. What are you going to be doing there?
Poppy: I’ve got a bunch of new stuff. I will look up my old set, from last year, and make sure that I don’t do anything the same. New songs, new material. I’m going to ask Mimi, who was with us last year, to come along again, and Karen Williams will be with us. That’s a big name in lesbian comedy. The show’s going to be even better than last year.
Learn more at Poppychamplin.com, Facebook.com/Poppy-Champlin-8703202658. “The Queer Queens of Qomedy” is live at Magooby’s Joke House, Timonium, Maryland, March 6th, 5 p.m. Tickets: Magoobys.com/event.cfm?id=432900&cart
Gregg Shapiro is the author of Fifty Degrees (Seven Kitchens, 2016), selected by Ching-In Chen as co-winner of the Robin Becker Chapbook Prize. Other books by Shapiro include the short story collections How to Whistle (Lethe Press, 2016) and Lincoln Avenue (Squares and Rebels Press, 2014), the chapbook GREGG SHAPIRO: 77 (Souvenir Spoon Press, 2012), and the poetry collection Protection (Gival Press, 2008).
He has work forthcoming in the anthology Reading Queer: Poetry in a Time of Chaos (Anhinga Press, 2018). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBT and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.
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