Finding space for LGBTQ comedy isn’t as easy as it should be, but for Atlanta comedian Matthew English, who’ll be at Richmond’s Sandman Comedy Club on Wednesday, December 8, the challenge is one he’s willing to take on.
Comedian Matthew English is probably one of the best comics you’re not watching. Based in Atlanta, English has been performing stand-up for about seven years now, and is ready to headline. He probably would have before now if COVID hadn’t butted in. Like musicians, chefs, and artists, comedians are yet another artistic community that the worldwide pandemic has negatively affected.
With restrictions for most performance venues finally lifted, though, English is heading out on tour with fellow Atlanta-based comic Amy Brown, and they are diving head first into Virginia’s comedy scenes. Between cold-emailing a new Richmond venue, Sandman Comedy Club, and renting out a space for their Norfolk shows when they had trouble booking, Brown and English are booking their tour with the confidence of a straight white man, despite neither of them being one.
“That’s kind of the beauty of comedy,” said English. “I’ve done a show at a tattoo parlor, I’m in talks with my gym to host a show there… I mean — where are there people who aren’t laughing? Let’s find them and make them laugh.”
English is no stranger to overachieving to get what he wants. One of his earlier shows involved a mini tour in Chicago that took him to Second City and Improv Olympic. He got there by reaching out and introducing himself as a comedian — having only done his first show. He immediately felt both that he was a small fish in a large pond, and that this was genuinely something that he could pursue.
After graduating from college, English decided to try his hand at standup. Not only had he gotten his degree in English with a concentration in rhetoric — making him the perfect person to call on next time you need to win a fight on facebook against that one aunt you only see on holidays — he had a pretty significant wellspring of humor to draw on within his everyday life.
“I realized that a lot of the essays I was writing for school were humor,” English explained. “I had just gotten out of a relationship with another Matthew, and there are just a lot of stories when you’re dating someone with your name.”
English tends to tell dark tales through a lighthearted lens, and likes to joke that he is looking for love and health insurance (one of which, he notes, he actually already has). He focuses on a storytelling style, which pulls from the essay writing that originally inspired him to take the plunge on standup. Working part time at Starbucks (that’s where he got the health insurance) has provided him with a wealth of stories that anyone who has worked customer service will certainly relate to, for better or for worse. One example he offers is this question:
“Do you have iced coffee, but hot?”
English likes to take an irreverent approach to the dark subject matter he sometimes deals with. One of his jokes that I immediately wished I had written myself: “I’ve tried suicide twice, but they say third time is the charm.” While he explains that he does have longtime favorite standup shows that he watches on repeat for comfort, he tries not to watch many comics anymore — mainly for a reason that we’ve heard from a lot of comics over the years: so that he doesn’t subconsciously adopt their mannerisms.
While he isn’t one to shy from a dirty joke, early in his career he did make sure to clean it up for someone of particular importance to him: his mom.
“I was so nervous, it was the first time that my mom had come to see me perform,” said English. “Another gay comic had taken me under his wing who runs a lot of shows, and he introduced me as ‘Gaymy Schumer’. He said ‘That’s your parallel, Amy Schumer’.”
English is clearly a talented comic who has a bright future ahead of him. However, the elephant in the room where all queer comics are concerned still must be considered. Why don’t we have more mainstream LGBTQ comics?
We sat for a moment trying to think of a list, and even with both of our efforts combined, the list we put together was fairly short, and very white. We know damn well that there are a plethora of queer comics, that they are out there somewhere. But where? And what do we do to help support our peers?
“The industry thinks audiences don’t want [LGBTQ comedy], but that isn’t true at all,” said English. “I’ve seen this here in Atlanta, a very gay, queer city. I’ve had shows tell me, ‘We can’t book you on this show, we already have a gay comic. We have our token gay. We’re set.’ I don’t think it’s the audience dictating the fact that there aren’t as many famous gay comedians right now. It’s the same way with Black Panther or Black Widow: ‘We can’t have a black superhero, or a woman superhero.’ They proved the industry wrong, and I think we’re better for it. And I hope the same can happen in the comedy sphere, at least for queer comedians.”
English himself has hosted shows down in the Atlanta area and recognized the issue even then. In particular, he notes that sometimes there is an issue of straight peers not recognizing their lane; he has even had straight comics asking for time on his queer focused show. For queer comics.
Respectfully, Chad, you have your own show.
English knows that shouldering the burden of creating space for LGBTQ comics isn’t necessarily the responsibility of LGBTQ comics themselves, he tries to be supportive of his peers, and to give them as much time as he can to show their stuff and reach a receptive audience.
“For a lot of queer comics, that was their first time getting eight minutes as a queer comic in Atlanta,” he said. But of course, when he could, he tried to offer more than the bare minimum. “Do you want twenty? Do you want twenty-five? How much material do you have? Let this be a safe space for you. We marketed the show as a queer show, and we have the most supportive audiences.”
Matthew English and Amy Brown will be performing in Richmond this Wednesday, December 8th at Sandman Comedy Club. The show is at 7:30p with doors opening at 6p. Tickets are $20 each, and can be purchased at Sandman Comedy Club’s website. This venue is 21 and older only. For more information please visit Matthew’s Facebook page.
Photos courtesy Matthew English