“I love gay men,” says Chicago comic James Fritz. “Who else will give me cocaine and tell me that I’m pretty? A woman hasn’t done that in over ten years.” That zinger is a Fritz classic and one of many reasons the comedian finds himself beloved by LGBT crowds and booked at queer stand-up nights, like “OutLoud Chicago Presents Queer Comedy at Zanies” on Tuesday 27 (although a big-time celebrity guest may trump Fritz in the headlining spot).
On the surface, Fritz seems like an unlikely community ally. He’s a self-described boozehound who is currently unemployed (although he performs stand-up five times a week) and is often found staggering and smoking outside a local taproom. When I try to track him down for this story, for example, the booker for his upcoming OutLoud gig tells me “he drinks and does comedy every night,” but that he’ll try to find Fritz for a post-show interview. Appropriately, we meet after a comedy night at Cobra Lounge on the Near West Side—where Fritz delivers a hilarious bit about a police incident in Boystown that turns into a dance party—and talk comedy over ice-cream sundaes (how gay is that?).
Common threads between Fritz and the LGBT community run deep. Fritz was raised Southern Baptist in a tiny town called Princeton, located in “the head of the penis” of western Kentucky, as he likes to say. Princeton is a dry county. “The church runs that town,” he says. “There were no bars, nothing open past nine.” Like many LGBT folk raised in rural areas, Fritz overachieved in high school (even graduating as class valedictorian) so he could get a scholarship and get the hell out of Dodge. “I moved to a city to get away from a certain mind frame,” Fritz says. “I think a lot of the gay people here come from small-minded towns and identify with that.”
Four years and a bachelor’s degree in literature and creative writing from Western Kentucky University later, Fritz found himself waiting tables in Chicago. It was here that he worked with a couple of gay men, an older schoolteacher and a kid from San Francisco who came out in sixth grade. They’d hit the town and take in bars like the Manhole, Jackhammer and Little Jim’s. Fritz loved it. “We’d do blow and drink all night and fucking have fun,” he says. “Sometimes I’d get hit on. I loved the attention. As I’ve aged, that’s slowed down considerably.” Fritz is 33.
Fritz says his 10–15 minutes of gay material is not an effort to woo gay fans. “It wasn’t a conscious choice to be like, ‘I need gay material,’ ” he says. “If you consciously did it, it might ring false and pandering.”
Instead, he follows in a long line of unabashedly misanthropic and progressive comics like the late Bill Hicks and Doug Stanhope (performing October 5 and 6 at Mayne Stage) whose abrasive and fearless points of view are celebrated by Blue Staters regardless of sexual orientation. Plenty of Fritz’s non-gay material, like his adamantly pro-choice and public option stances and, in particular, his religious views, resonate with gay audiences. “Whenever I talk about being raised in a kind of oppressive religious vein, gay people identify with that hard-core,” Fritz says. “I grew up in a church where they would gay bash every fucking week.”
Fritz won’t be in Chicago forever. His stellar reputation in local comedy circles will see to that. You should go see him now (but don’t forget to offer him cocaine, and tell him he’s pretty).
James Fritz headlines OutLoud Chicago Presents Queer Comedy at Zanies Tuesday 27.