It’s safe to say that Bay Area comedy would not be the same without Monica Palacios and Marga Gomez.
The comic luminaries, the only two women who were part of the founding of comedy troupe “Culture Clash,” are the closest of friends and longtime collaborators, now preparing for two special shows coming through Brava Theater Center. “Who’s Your Mami Comedy,” curated by Gomez, is seeing its latest monthly installment ready to set the stage blazing on April 20, aka “420.”
A week later, Palacios will be performing her funny one-woman show, “San Francisco, Mi Amor!,” where she shares about her entry into the world of comedy from the years 1979 – 1985, a time and place where the East San Jose native built a thriving career that expanded into education and activism. She also deep dives into her own coming out story, which had a precedent.
“My oldest sister came out first, and then I came out, so we had a double dyke familia.”
Palacios’ show runs April 28 and 29.
A LIFE OF HUMOR INFORMS THE LATEST OFFERING FROM PIONEER PALACIOS
Monica Palacios got a modest taste of success at her very first comedy show, playing at a club amongst a bunch of straight, white comics trying to get their own fledgling careers going.
She wasn’t doing anything too edgy, too risqué. She wanted to be funny and silly, and achieved that mission. It wasn’t a standing ovation, but it was a response – good enough to snag some needed confidence for a kid in her very early 20s. Most importantly, she got a modicum of respect from some of the others on the bill. One comic even told her she was pretty good, which was worth its weight in gold.
Little did she know that the other times to follow would be nothing like her debut performance. Dealing with tough audiences was one thing, but those folks ready to harangue someone for their sexual orientation was another layer of peril.
“I went to other straight white clubs and it was not fun,” Palacios said. “The comics were very homophobic and the audiences are just loving it. Those guys are saying things like, ‘Hey, don’t look at me if you’re gay, I don’t want to get AIDS.’ That was the tone, the hardcore gay-bashing of the 1980s.”
Based on the abject cruelty and punching down, Palacios knew what she wasn’t going to do – show up and revel in her sexuality. That wasn’t safe in a comedy club – hell, it wasn’t safe anywhere.
“I was never assaulted, but I knew people who were just minding their own business as queer people walking around San Francisco and they got jumped,” Palacios said. “I did have moments of like, fuck, what am I doing? Let me go back in the closet. But I just had a spirit in me, I knew I was funny, and I just told myself I was going to continue doing this.”
Continuing to do comedy came with some personal denigration that left her unsatisfied and physically ill. She was advised not to mention her sexuality when she first started working at the famed Los Angeles venue The Comedy Store.
Trying to fit into a bunch of stereotypes was the aim for Palacios, which meant denying a big part of who she was. Performing in the safe solace of San Francisco’s legendary queer comedy club Valencia Rose Cabaret, which helped her career take off, was one thing. But the toxic masculinity that existed in such a territorial room as a comedy club full of men proved to be too much.
“People would tell me they liked my comedy and how proud they were of me, and they appreciated that I was a representative of queer Chicanas. My supporters are also what keep me going.”Monica Palacios
Palacios had reached her breaking point. Little did she know that a thriving career with all the agency she could ever wish for was just around the corner, a career that continues to reach new heights.
“I’m standing there on stage and nobody’s paying attention to me. It’s as if I’m talking some other language from, you know, Mars,” Palacios said. “I walked off stage, went to the phone booth to call my friend, and I’m just bawling my head off. It was a horrible time, but that moment taught me that I don’t want to be a comic and don’t want to jump through the hoops – I want to create shows.”
And create shows she did. As comedy clubs became further and further in her rearview mirror, her solo shows began to find a home in colleges and cultural centers. Scholars took a particular interest in her work. Soon she found herself among those scholars as she began to teach at colleges, and her words were now being published.
“Those horrible moments really switched me onto a better path.”
Palacios is, at her core, a solo performer. She writes her work, then performs that work which focuses on Latinx LGBTQ+ life experience. She is passionate about creating narratives that can be accessed by fellow brown folks, and loves teaching her method to others who may be interested in a creative path.
“I especially love working with queer Latinx students, who often don’t think they have these creative skills, but by the end of the semester, they’ve written a beautiful performance piece or a short story,” Palacios said. “Basically, the students are talking about their truth, so we do hear some really intense stories, but we also have really funny stories. The whole concept of comic relief is really important to share in the classroom.”
Palacios has spent the better part of 40 years crafting the career she’s wanted. Her influence has been far-reaching, and she is thrilled to return to the city that helped build her stellar career.
“People would tell me they liked my comedy and how proud they were of me, and they appreciated that I was a representative of queer Chicanas. My supporters are also what keep me going.”
GOMEZ AND FRIENDS KEEP THE PARTY GOING ON 420 WITH ‘WHO’S YOUR MAMI COMEDY’
Back in 2019, when Marga Gomez began curating a new, live comedy series “Who’s Your Mami Comedy,” she spoke to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Tony Bravo and shared her hopes that the new show would be able to extend deep into 2020.
“(Gomez) predicts that in 2020, comedy will be as important as ever,” wrote Bravo in September of 2019.
In the most unconventional way, the entire prediction came true.
Finding things to laugh about amidst a global pandemic was essential, and that’s when Gomez’ entrepreneurial spirit kicked in.
Live comedy shows moved to Zoom in August of 2020, a year after the initial presentation, which kept the franchise alive. Meeting in person was no longer possible, which meant there were no limits to which comedians could participate. All one needed was some good WiFi and a space for a webcam, pants optional.
Once live events and pants returned, the franchise was given an opportunity to keep on thriving. That means the opportunity for women comics to get up on a stage and grab hold of some agency can continue to thrive as well.
Back in 2018, when Gomez first pitched the series to Brava, comedy was a tough place for a woman to thrive. The first sexual abuse allegation against movie producer Harvey Weinstein surfaced in October of 2017, and the Me Too movement shook up all aspects of the entertainment industry. This series attacks toxicity head on.
“A lot of discussions and conversations in the comedy community, mostly led by women, were about the fallout from Louis C.K. and Bill Cosby,” Gomez said. “The discussions were about the hazards of being a woman in comedy. That gave me the impulse to see if I could create a space where I could have a central clearinghouse for women established in comedy to come through and feel safe.”
The series has been through quite a bit, but there is a groove now that is thrilling. Women comics of all identities are welcomed to perform – BIPOC, LGBTQ+, gender non-conforming among others are all groups whose unique perspectives are sought. It is a truly diverse set of voices who are given a fantastic facility to perform in and a raucous audience to ply their craft in front of.
“We don’t have a lot of rules, and the show is so organic, which is the joy I have about it,” Gomez said. “It’s a beautiful stage with amazing sound and lighting. That makes for a terrific frame for great comedians and the universal things that women talk about.”
A woman getting a slot on a comedy show at a mainstream club doesn’t always mean that club is doing what they can to diversify.
“It’s really about seeing stand up comedy, the art of it. It’s escapism if you want it to be, but if you really want to see a performer up there and experience their mindset and their uniqueness, that is what it’s all about.”Marga Gomez
“Sometimes when I go to a club, you see one woman on the bill and she has to sort of talk about how to try to find a man, you know, these kinds of tropes. That doesn’t happen at ‘Who’s Your Mami Comedy.’ That’s why we call our comics ‘beasts.’”
Gomez has spent her life getting people to laugh and making them happy. It’s her pure approach to the art of comedy that permeates the stage at Brava. You won’t find the headlining comic making the common plea for folks to tip their wait staff at the end of a set. “Who’s Your Mami Comedy” is about comedy.
“We have a bar and all that, but it’s about sitting there and watching a show. It’s really about seeing stand up comedy, the art of it. It’s escapism if you want it to be, but if you really want to see a performer up there and experience their mindset and uniqueness, that is what it’s all about.
The most important question – will Gomez partake in the “MOTAvational” festivities of the unofficial holiday?
“I was trying to think, am I going to get high? The last time I got high for a show, the show never ended.”
Based on how much fun the shows have been, that might not be a bad thing.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
“San Francisco, Mi Amor!”
Written and performed by Monica Palacios
Friday, April 28 and Saturday, April 29 at 7:30
All tickets – $20 + fees
“Who’s Your Mami Comedy”
Thursday, April 20 at 7:30
Featuring Sampson McCormick, Shanti Charan and Natasha Muse, hosted by Marga Gomez
All tickets – $15 + fees
For tickets and information on both shows, visit Brava Theater Center at https://www.brava.org/