As the power dynamics of the comedy world shift towards balance, inclusivity and creativity, NYC is once again pumping fresh blood into the scene. Whether it's Joel Kim Booster dominating stand-up stages, Sydnee Washington owning one of the best comedy podcasts in NYC, or Bob the Drag Queen reigning on RuPaul's Drag Race, LGBTQ comedians of color are redefining the industry, one dope set at a time. Get to know these acts before they become superstars.
LGBTQ POC Comedians you should know
Where you can see him: At stand-up venues all over town.
Favorite tweet: a number called me that i did not know so i texted them saying “i don’t answer the phone for strangers” and they texted back, “this is your dad” and i replied “yeah, like i said”
Casting Challenges: "Yes. I was really sad when I didn’t get the role as Issa on Insecure."
Where you can see her: Killing it on At Home with Amy Sedaris and on her new HBO series Los Espookys.
Favorite joke: "I bet the little girl from Monsters, Inc. is so hot now."
Comedians who inspire her: "Lots of local comics like Patti Harrison, Julio Torres, Cole Escola, Lorelei Ramirez, Amy Zimmer, Peter Smith, Max Wittert and John Early, just to name a few. They're just so funny, unique, and endlessly talented. They look at the world in such a different way. And then to top it all off, they all work so hard—always making new work, trying out new material. It's very inspiring."
Where you can see Calvin perform: Hosting Ed Sullivan on Acid every Monday at Freddy’s Bar.
Favorite joke: "I just took a walk of shame, although it's New York City so it was more of a walk of shame to a train of shame to a transfer of shame to another train of shame to a bus of shame to a final walk of shame. It was two hours of shame."
The LGBTQ POC comedians he looks up to: "I'm always drawn to performers who are unfiltered and honestly themselves onstage. I was and still am a huge fan of Margaret Cho and I love her energy onstage. Marga Gomez is another amazing comedian and it was such a treat to get to perform with her when I was in San Francisco during Sketchfest. Marga is a comedian who doesn't pull any punches and talks about her experiences with such intelligence and good humor."
How you know him: He stole the show from Nick Cannon on season nine of Wild ’n Out, in which he debuted as the show’s first openly gay man. Since then, he's written for The Break with Michelle Wolf and performs all over NYC.
Favorite Joke: "I really want to be a revolutionary but I don't think I'm necessarily equipped. I'm what you call oppressively jaded. Meaning I've been oppressed for so long I'm dead inside, it just doesn't affect me as much anymore. Like when I was younger if someone called me a 'faggot' I would fall apart, cry and breakdown. Now if someone calls me a 'faggot' I'm like, 'for sure, are there any opportunities or scholarships available, maybe a diversity initiative I can take advantage of?’ Because yes I'm gay, but I'm also poor. Help me, damnit!"
On casting challenges: "I think the juxtaposition of my sexuality and race creates an unique experience, because on one hand I feel like I don't necessarily fit the image of a 'Hollywood Black Man,' which is straight and masculine, nor do I fit the image of a 'Hollywood Gay Man,' which is white and flamboyant. I live in this gray in-between area where I never know how I will be received. I will say that most of my progression in the industry has come from me presenting myself or something that I've created, not necessarily from auditioning. On paper I'm seen as a risk; they are like, 'a double minority, no thank you!' And I feel like I have to constantly show or prove myself before anyone thinks I’m worthy of their time. I'm the character they never knew they wanted/needed. But once I have people on board the Dewayne train they are usually hooked on this charm, fat ass, and shining personality."
Where you can see Elsa: Producing the Cinder Block comedy festival.
Favorite joke: "Black people have a holiday similar to Hanukkah where we like to gather the family and light candles. You might have heard of it. It's called 'Unpaid Light Bill.'"
On breaking into the mainstream: "Being a QTPOC performer has taught me to go where I am celebrated. Breaking into mainstream comedy clubs can be a challenge if you aren't a basic white guy or a cartoon character depiction of gayness. But there's a push for more diversity in entertainment so rather than keep trying to sit at the mainstream table, I've learned to make my own tables."
Where you can see her: Headlining beloved spots like the Creek and the Cave and Union Hall.
Favorite joke: "My wife and I are thinking of having kids. If we do, we’d have to get a sperm donor, because we tried and tried and it didn’t work."
On hypermarginalization: "Being gay in NYC is wonderful. Being Arab and Muslim, on the other hand...not so much. Luckily for me, I don’t necessarily fit the profile of a typical Muslim woman. I’m not a hijabi or niqabi, I’m more of a cleavage-y Muslim.
My identity is politically charged. People meet me and feel like they immediately need to take a stance on what’s happening in the Middle East, which definitely translates into bookings or lack there of. 'Book the gay Palestinian' and 'don’t book the gay Palestinian.' I’m pretty sure I missed out on a big break in 2014 because of my background. But that’s the beauty in comedy: Once you get undeniably funny no one can touch you."
Where you can see him: Co-hosting The New Shit Show at Club Cumming and Scruff’s new quiz show called Hosting.
Favorite joke: "I’ve come to realize I’m the Lacroix of Latinos. There’s a little flavor there, but I have to tell you what it is before you’re like “Oh yeah, I taste that.”
Biggest challenges: "I think one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced with casting and pitching stuff is that people often ask me to ‘pick a lane.’ They’re like: ‘OK, is this about being gay or being Latino? Because it just seems like too much at once.’ Which is infuriating, because it’s usually a team full of white folks asking you to chop yourself up into ‘digestible” pieces for whatever target audience they’ve envisioned… which (surprise!) is usually overwhelmingly white, cis and straight. I think that’s why I’ve found myself working so much in digital spaces for Latinx audiences or shows run by Latinx comedians. They’re some of the few places I feel like I can tackle the complexities of queer Latinx identity without watering down my jokes or pandering to gringos for money.
On the other hand, I’m a very white Latino. I have to acknowledge the privileges that come with that—but then when folks see me, they’re like, ‘Oh you really don’t look Latino.’ And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to “amp up” an accent I don’t have or ‘act more like X nationality’ that I know nothing about in order to perform what people think Latinos are like. But I’m not about to get up on camera and do some Latinx minstrel show, or make a mockery of an accent or culture that isn’t a part of my lived experience. It’s funny because a lot of projects don’t want to cast black or brown Latinos, but then they want light-skinned Latinos to perform these stereotypes and caricatures that are based on a history of dehumanizing black and brown Latinos. My family’s from a colonized island in the Caribbean, I’m not about to be party to the continued colonization of our media spaces.
That's why I’m so thankful to black and brown Latinx comedians like Milly Tamarez, Lee Chin, X Mayo and Mike Diaz (aka Juan Bago) who’ve really carved out spaces for better and broader representation of Latinx culture in live comedy and media. And they've done it on their own terms! Not everyone on that list is queer, but the ones who aren’t have been stellar allies who’ve put in the work to call folks in."
Where you can see her: At her monthly show Glo in the City at Daily Press Brooklyn.
Favorite tweet: "You ever take a poop and it's so stank you can't even take it, but you still got more poop to poop out??#currentsituation"
Where you can see him: Performing at stand-up clubs around town and taking Twitter to task on issues of bisexuality, politics and Marvel movie adaptations.
Favorite joke: "I like to the think of the female body the same way I think of the south: I'm from there and I've visited. But I don't know if that's where I wanna raise my kids."
On booking gigs: "I'm saying this as a cisgender male, who has features that are conventionally attractive to most audiences, who doesn't present as femme, and can code switch easily, but I have not had any challenges with booking gigs, getting passed at comedy clubs, or going in for casting. Not yet at least. I am comfortable in my own skin at (insert age here) and I hope that comes across. There is also a big push currently by bookers and show producers throughout the city and the country for talent from marginalized voices. I have headlined shows that have nothing to do with queer comics of color, simply because the person in charge liked my stuff. I know this not the case for everyone. There is the occasional groan-inducing question after I do well on a show, including, but not limited to: "Why do gay people even have to come out? Straight people don't." “I wish I was gay, because then I'd crush, too." "Are you sure you're bi?" "I think that last comic was gay." All of which have been made by either straight comics on a show, or a straight host. Corny? A little. Worth my time? Not really."
Where you can see them perform: Performing nightly at stand-up venues in NYC.
Favorite joke: "There's a stereotype that all Asian people look alike. Actually, I'm the only Asian person. I just move very fast. And I'm always listening."
On the challenges of casting: "It’s really trendy to produce TV and film about trans people right now, but the cis folks who are producing don’t know that much about trans people. I’ve gotten a ton of offers to play characters that are trans women, because people don’t understand that I’m not one. I’ll audition for roles that are for trans men, which is much closer to my lived experience. But people don’t think I present masculine enough. Most people don’t have the vocabulary to perceive you the way you are. I don’t want to do this thing that people tend to want from me, which is to play a nonbinary character over and over again. That’s not as affirming to me as being able to step into all these genders and do them justice, which is what being nonbinary means to me."
Where you can see Jon perform: He serves drag and drama in his alter ego Kiko Soiree as a regular guest at Cabernet Cabaret, and at competitions all over town.
Favorite joke: "'What will I be when I grow up? Does God accept me? When I am at my breaking point, will anyone be there? This is too much thinking for one day, I’m going to take a nap.' —Excerpt from my journal when I was 14 years old."
On casting challenges: "Casting emails all ask for, like, a ‘caucasian Male, Late ’20s to ’30s, funny but natural, good-looking but not sexy.’ Unfortunately, that’s not me, because I look 17 and am very sexy (honestly why would you want to be...not?). It’s a small example of the largely homogenous (and stale) media representation we still live in and a reminder that I don’t want to spend my life waiting for ‘sickeningly thin androgynous ethnic teen to mid-’20s, can fake modern dance.’ I’ve learned to just put up my own ideas that celebrate the stupid and beautiful things I love. There’s nothing to lose and it’s very satisfying."
Where you can see him: Co-hosting Decolinize Your Mind at Union Hall and performing nightly in NYC.
Favorite joke: "Nothing shakes you like coffee. I got fucked by a trenta."
On industry changes: "The world is changing for the better. The hateful ideas we’re seeing flare up are old; but how we radically accept one another is completely new. It feels like the Wild West, with a lot of fresh terrain for us to make the rules. There’s a new sheriff in town and he wears heels and Fenty beauty makeup!"
Where you can see her: She created digital video content for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and produces for her YouTube channel Queso Digital, and performs on Mondays with Chico Splits at Magnet Theater.
Favorite joke: "Yes, I’m a queer Latina, but I'll be the first to say I definitely have resting colonial man face."
On her experience as a POC creator: "Not…great? I'll never be the beautiful straight woman model type, and I’ll never be treated like one, but that just motivates me to work that much harder and be that much funnier. I’m thankful I was born in a time to have shows like Master of None, She’s Gotta Have It and Glow that are looking for people that look and sound like me."
Where you’ve seen them perform: At Thank You For Coming Out, the Del Close marathon’s first trans/nonbinary showcase and at their show Beyond the Surface: A Trans Gender Bender Non Binary Mixer.
Favorite joke: "At what age does stranger danger no longer apply? Like, when I get harassed on the street...can I just yell 'stranger danger!' and run away, or is that too much?"
Their LGBTQ POC inspirations: "Wanda Sykes is one of the reasons I got into comedy. Watching her perform is like listening to your favorite relative during the holidays. Effortless storytelling. There was also a time when I was constantly told that I look like her, so I've been working on an impression to pay homage. More recently I've started following Tituss Burgess. He's just so talented! I could not round out this list without Bob the Drag Queen. I remember seeing Bob on Drag Race and finally feeling understood. It was like I saw my non-binary self personified. Bob is the reason I finally found the courage to come out as non-binary this summer. I got a chance to meet him at Drag Con and we were both wearing the same shade of blue lipstick."
Where you can see him: Co-hosting Comedy at Stonewall every month with Chrissie Mayr.
Favorite joke: "When women sleep around, they're called sluts. When gay men do it, we call that networking!"
His key to standing out: "Be memorable. There are thousands of comics out there, what differentiates you from them. Find that niche that works and go with it."
Where you can see him: Commanding his weekly show The Tea Party at Vodka Soda Bottoms Up every Thursday at 9pm.
Favorite recent joke: "Burgundy pants are pumpkin spice lattes for gay men. The first sign of Fall!"
Paving his own way in comedy: “I don’t know who my comedy icons really are, because my perspective doesn’t really get shown very often. I guess I’d say I’m more interested in being the icon I’d like to see in the world. I really do love John Mulaney, but that might just be because I have a fascination with twinks over [age] 30. He’s also brilliant at telling a story. Comedy is ever-changing and adapting. I like that. What drives my comedy most is the idea that all our experiences and lives are worthy of being heard. There’s also always this perception or desire from people that queer comics pander to heterosexuality in some way. I have absolutely no interest in doing that. I’m gonna talk about my life and my interests the way that I want to, and that is more than enough. In fact, it’s more than straight people deserve!”
Favorite tweet: "I'm fulfilling my destiny as an angry lesbian."
Finding her mission: "My driving force is lesbian visibility. I used to shy away from talking about my sexuality because I didn't want people to be like: 'There goes that lez, talking about how much of a lez she is… lez be honest, is that all she can talk about?' But I realized how important it actually is to talk about, because if I don't, or other comics who identify that way don't, who will? Out of all the TV shows and movies, how many main characters identify as a Hispanic lesbian? Or how many gay best friends are women? Or if there is a Hispanic, lesbian character, how long until they get hit by a bus in a town that doesn’t even have buses and then get eaten by a vampire? So I double-down and make it the focus of my comedy, so that we can go mainstream, baby! Hopefully one day, after the dust settles (and I become more of a stereotype than I ever intended to be) I can get back to the poop jokes. But it'll be gay poop."
Where you can catch her: With her best buddy Marie Faustin on their weekly podcast The Unofficial Expert and at their show Hot Box Comedy every month.
Favorite joke: "You can’t just date someone for their personality. Last time I dated someone with a great personality, I ended up having sex on an airless air mattress. Why am I having sex on a crumpled up piece of paper? I deserve more, like...air."
On dual identities: "On most forms I'm checking two boxes, and their stories aren't always the same, especially when I don't present as a 'lesbian' (whatever that means), but I'm always black. I've honestly had to field more jokes about my sexuality than my blackness in comedic circles. When I first started comedy, I was dating men (literally a phase, I mean it was a 10-plus year phase, but as I learn more about myself I understand it really was a phase). Now, I'm dating a woman and we've been together for over three years. There was kind of a fun hazing process—from gay and straight comedians alike—to make sure I was really here for the gays and not just for the jokes. Now, as I've found myself going on more auditions and expanding into the world of television, I'm super aware that I'm a black woman because for whatever show it is, they're only going with one black woman. We’re the seasoning. The diversity quota has been filled at that point. I know so many talented black, female comics and there should be space for all of us."
Looking for live comedy shows?
Sure, you could stay home and watch the best stand-up comedians’ specials, or you could head out to the best comedy clubs in NYC and see some world-class performances in person. Below you’ll find our picks of the absolute best shows happening this month, from improv to open mic nights and everything in-between.