By David-Elijah Nahmod, August 2018 Web Exclusive.
Fathom Events brings OUT On Stage to cinemas July 24 for a one-night-only queer stand-up comedy experience. The film comes to Fathom Events courtesy of Dekkoo, an online streaming service which offers a variety of content geared toward gay male audiences.
The one-of-a-kind, originally produced comedy is hosted by Zach Noe Towers, who was named “One of the 10 comedians to watch in 2018,” by OUT Magazine and is the current host of "The Elite Daily Show" on Verizon’s Go90 Network.
The film, which features segments of 18 gay and lesbian comedians, will screen in Phoenix at Harkins Tempe Marketplace 16, AMC Desert Ridge 18 and AMC Ahwatukee 24, and in Tucson at Century Park Place 20 (click here for tickets). All screenings will take place at 8 p.m.
“OUT On Stage has been a real passion project for me,” Towers told Echo. “What an incredible experience it’s been to bring together such a gorgeously funny group of queer comedians. Each and every person featured in the content has such a unique perspective and I’m thrilled that we’re being given a platform for those hilarious voices to be heard.”
And though OUT On Stage is chock full of hilarious one liners, Towers feels that there's an important mission in between all the laughs.
"It's a truly frightening time in our country's history," Towers said. "While it feels like the current administration is trying to silence minority voices, we are so blessed to have Fathom Events doing the opposite by showcasing people in our community."
Towers, 32, hails from St Louis. "I went to Indiana State and studied musical theater," he said. "But instead of heading to New York I went to Los Angeles, where I became disheartened by the struggles of a TV actor."
But then his life took a decidedly different turn when a friend signed him up for a stand-up comedy show.
"I was bitten by that bug," he recalled. "It's an immediate gratification to make people laugh. That was seven years ago. They say you should give stand-up 10 years before you see any real results, though there are exceptions to the rule."
But Towers advises fledgling comedians not to take to the stage too quickly.
"There is such a thing in stand-up as being seen too soon," he said. "If you're seen before your voice is fully developed you may flounder when bigger opportunities are presented to you. There is so much failure in this pursuit but in my experience if you can stick it out the rewards are beyond amazing."
Towers spoke a bit about what his own stand-up act entails.
"My stand-up isn't very different from anyone else my age," he said. "I talk about sex, friendship, dating and family. While I think I have a bit of a dark side to my comedy, I like to keep things light and slightly absurd. I have a joke right now about getting a tattoo at the edge of my butthole. Of course it's not true, but everyone can find the joke in my butthole."
Amazingly, his parents have heard him tell such jokes.
"I've performed my entire uncensored set in front of both my parents," he said. "While they may groan and shake their heads, they are nothing but supportive."
Towers revealed that, in addition, to his hosting duties, he's one of the producers of OUT On Stage.
"Initially Dekkoo approached me about doing a stand-alone stand-up special," he explained. "I thought that might be too much to do so when they came to me with the concept of a variety special I jumped at the concept. It gives Dekkoo a chance to expand their own audience, and it gives me so much joy that 17 [additional] comics will be seen instead of just one."
Some of the comics do push the boundaries of good taste, but Towers is OK with that.
"I don't think any topic is off limits as long as the joke is more funny than disrespectful," he said.
The special, Towers said, was originally meant to be a six-episode TV series.
"My stand-up is no longer in it," he explains. "But I'm very grateful that I get to serve as host of this special. Dekkoo had requested a list of all the gay male comics I knew. I made a list of 40 and they chose from that. Then Dekkoo asked me for a list of women."
The result is a mix of gay and lesbian comics from a variety of demographics.
"My hope is that if there's a follow-up to this, that the voices will be even more diverse," Towers said. "We need specials like this now more than ever. Don’t let this special pass you by. It’s a moment in queer history and supporting it can do amazing things for our community.”
Towers hopes that being seen in OUT On Stage will lead to roles on television and in film.
"Keep your eyes peeled," he said.
OUT On Stage:
Seriously Funny, Sometimes
At the conclusion of the new queer comedy special OUT On Stage, host Zach Noe Towers tells viewers that he hopes they laughed, pointing out that there's not much to laugh about given the country's current political situation. Indeed, the gay and lesbian comics seen in Out On Stage do touch upon a variety of serious subjects, from dating and HIV to fat shaming and politics ("my Canadian boyfriend is now my escape route," says comedian Chris Bryant.)
The special, which will be presented by Fathom Events in select cinemas on July 24 (click here for Arizona specifics), was shot in an unnamed comedy club in Los Angeles, and also on the streets of West Hollywood.
The structure for OUT On Stage is simple. Towers, who's never seen inside the club, hosts the stand-up segments from the street, doing brief interviews with neighborhood residents on the somewhat taboo topics tackled by the comics. The segments are titled coming out, homophobia, the L word, straight people, HIV, stereotypes, body image, dating and politics. In each segment a small portion of each comics' set is seen. There are a total of 18 comics in the film, with two or three of them showing up in each segment, and most of the comics are seen in more than one segment.
Some of the jokes may make viewers uncomfortable. The segment on HIV, for example, includes comedian Jonathan Rowell recalling the 1993 film Philadelphia, in which Tom Hanks won an Oscar for playing a man with AIDS who takes his shirt off in a courtroom, revealing the lesions all over his body. The audience remains silent as Rowell goes on to say that he has a recurring nightmare in which he is in a courtroom, reenacting this scene. After he shows his own lesions in the dream, Rowell says, he's informed that this is a tax trial. This joke is notable for its lack of laughter from the audience.
Rowell might make some audience members cringe during the homophobia segment, where he talks about all the gay men who've been murdered in Chechnya.
"I feel the community is looking to me for answers," he says. After describing some of the horrors that the government of Chechnya is perpetrating on gay men, Rowell quips "you can send your kids to concentration camps or you can kill them yourself at home."
Forgive me for not finding the humor in that.
In the HIV segment comic Casey Ley, who is HIV positive, jokes about having poisoned sperm, and though the audience laughs, some viewers who survived the HIV crisis or who lost many friends and loved ones might take offense to such humor.
But there are also some great laughs to be had here. In the body image segment comic Eric Hahn, the oldest of the performers (he admits to being 50), yearns for his youth: "Where is that handsome, muscular man?" he says of his younger self. "I realize now that I ate him."
The coming out segment is particularly funny, with comic Chris Bryant joking about being a terrible son but an amazing daughter. Gloria Bigelow, a lesbian comic, recalls coming out to her mom, who just doesn't get it. "I'm dating Cynthia," Bigelow proclaims. "What a strange name for a man," mom replies. (For Echo's previous interview with Gloria Bigelow, click here.)
Most of the comics have a strong stage presence. Janine Brito, a lesbian who dresses in a suit and tie, is particularly funny as she delivers her sets with a big goofy smile, often looking as though she's on the verge of laughter herself. And Kyle Shire, a burly guy who refers to himself as a "gay terminator," is laugh-out-loud funny as he speaks of his ongoing problem: nobody believes that he's gay due to his appearance.
The strongest portions of OUT On Stage are the host segments. Towers is zany, queen-y, unapologetically gay and quite hilarious. His manic energy as he makes mad dashes up and down the streets of West Hollywood is infectious. He's a delight as he interviews the local residents and expertly gets his subjects to play along with his clever one liners. Towers is a brilliant comedian, worthy of a stand-alone special of his own.
Overall, OUT On Stage is a mixed bag, a mash-up of great comedy and offensive humor which could never be construed as funny. While it's good to see that there are so many out comedians taking to the stage on a platform to have their voices widely heard, we could have done without the Chechnya and HIV jokes. Some things are fodder for humor, and some things aren't.