By Laura Latzko, August 2015 Issue.
Tired of fighting for stage time in the local comedy scene, two of the Valley’s best-known gay comedians have joined forces to introduce an LGBT-themed comedy night.
For the past three years, Ernesto Ortiz and Gene Moore have organized the Phoenix Pride Festival’s comedy show. Now they’re inviting audiences and aspiring comedians alike to join them Monday nights at The Rock, from 8 to 10 p.m., for a new comedy night.
The new show kicked off July 13 and will continue to offer audiences a combination of new and veteran comedians, headliners and improv groups throughout the next six months.
Both Ortiz and Moore have earned respect in local comedy clubs by being themselves and performing their signature styles of comedy. Despite all they have in common, they bring very different styles, tones and ideas to their craft.
Since he started doing comedy a little over three years ago, Ortiz has taken pride in always being himself onstage – he’s never tried to hide or avoid saying he is gay in his act.
“When you’re someone who’s open, you talk about your life, you talk about your boyfriend or girlfriend or gay culture,” Ortiz said.
On the flip side, Ortiz recalls receiving feedback instructing him to “turn down the gay” onstage.
“I just talk about myself, and it just happens to be that I’m a gay guy,” Ortiz said. “I like gay culture. I like drag queens. I like a lot of that stuff, so I talk about it.”
As he has grown as a comedian, Ortiz has incorporated more personal jokes. He’s also found that all audiences respond well to his brand of observational humor, which stems from everyday experiences.
“The beauty of comedy is it’s pretty therapeutic,” Ortiz said. “If there’s something going on in your life at the time, that’s maybe bad or tragic, or you’re having a bad day, you can go onstage, and people will relate because they’re probably having the same bad day.”
The first time Ortiz did comedy, it was part of a fundraiser for the company he works for. About a year and a half later, despite his nerves, Ortiz went onstage again at Tempe Improv.
“It was terrifying,” he said. “Even single time, I’m nervous. It’s a common theme with a lot of comics, when you’re backstage, you’re like, ‘Why am I doing this. I shouldn’t even go onstage.’ Then you go onstage, and things change.”
Ortiz performs at comedy clubs throughout the Valley and takes the stage at local shows and open mics about three times a week. He’s also taken comedy, improv and acting classes, making him a triple threat.
Giving audiences a good show every time he goes onstage is important to Ortiz. And audiences at The Rock can expect nothing but the best he has to offer.
Moore has called Arizona home for 10 years, the past five of which he’s been performing as a comedian.
Making fun of his own shortcomings, Moore said, usually gets audiences on his side. From there, he said, his material usually covers bigger issues, such as workplace dynamics, religion and race.
“I think the best way to connect with an audience is to have no preconceived notions and to just be there with the spirit of fellowship and tell your truth,” he said.
Moore has always been interested in comedy because of how it touched his life at a young age. Up until he lost his mother to cancer, he recalled, she enjoyed watching Joan Rivers on TV.
“I didn’t know about comedy,” Moore said. “All I knew was that my mother, for a little bit of time, was watching TV and was not in pain and was laughing … For a little bit, I was OK, and Joan Rivers did that for me. She gave my mother peace.”
Moore, who’s hosted shows at the Comedy Spot in Scottsdale and done more than 350 shows in a year, credits working in that environment with helping him to hone his craft as well as handle hecklers – a feat that was difficult for him at first.
When he first started out, Moore also had a tough time with LGBT audiences.
“Gay audiences, for me, are a little bit harder, especially gay men because [they are already] funny,” he said. “I will make fun of myself, but I’m not going to make fun of other people. There’s enough hate in the world … I’m not flamboyant … I can’t pull it off. I’m just me.”
According to Moore, it can still be difficult for LGBT comedians to break into what is a straight, white, male industry – even with club owners and promoters become more tolerant.
Because of this, Moore tries to help others comics – especially those in the LGBT community – trying to get started in the industry.
“There needs to be more gay and lesbian comedians,” he said. “ … I try to help and mentor them because it’s difficult for them. [If] you tell me you’re gay, I’m going to pull you aside and I’m going to help you.”