Poppy Champlin Talks Comedy, Coming Out, the Casting Couch, and Basketball

Poppy Champlin’s stand up pedigree is flawless, from her Showtime special Pride: The Gay & Lesbian Comedy Slam and Logo special One Night Stand Up, to The Oprah Winfrey Show, and a featured story on Entertainment Tonight. She was a winner on The Joan Rivers Show and a panel guest on Comics Unleashed with Byron Allen. She is also a favorite on Atlantis and Olivia Cruises.

Champlin has opened for such comics as Ray Romano, Denis Leary, Bill Maher, Bill Hicks, and Rosie O’Donnell. Her club appearances are many. The Chicago Sun-Times calls Champlin, “Blisteringly funny.”

This Sunday, she brings her wildly successful Queer Queens of Qomedy tour to the Virginia Beach Funny Bone. She combines forces with two equally renowned lesbian comics, Vickie Shaw and Jess Miller—plus two special guests from the local LGBTQ community.

OutWire757 spoke with her recently about the tour and her long history as an out–and sometimes not out–comedienne.

Congratulations! This is the 12thyear of the Queer Queens of Qomedy Tour.
Thanks. We started in 2006. I wanted to be recognized in the lesbian and gay  community, and for each tour I’ve pulled in two other lesbian comics to go with me. I’ve had some really good bills. At our first show, we had 450 people show up.

This weekend’s bill is great. What can we expect?
With Vickie, you’re going to get that Southern style and that charm. It’s so infectious, her delivery. She was on one of the original Comedy Central shows, Premium Blend. She’s a regular and a favorite on Olivia Cruises. And she always dresses up real nice. Jessi is like a ringleader, she just really engages the crowd and talks with them. I like her style and mannerisms. She’s been working really hard in New York at Caroline’s. We also have a special appearance by an up and coming local comedian, Carmen Crow. And of course, Julie Clark is going to open the show. I performed with her in Provincetown years ago, and she’s one of my absolute favorites.

Tell me a little bit about how you’ve seen comedy embrace the LGBTQ comics over the years.
That whole thing has changed so much since I started in the 80s. I was right out of college, and I was definitely afraid to come out. It just seemed that all the comedy clubs were so straight-male oriented. Not that the regular comedy clubs have changed that much, but as far as having gay comics on the bill, the audiences don’t flinch as much as they used to. They’re much more accepting of gay color. So that’s really good.

What kind of clubs did you work back in those days? Did you have a gay following?
I didn’t come out until 2000. Because a lot of people around me kept telling me that it would ruin my chances of making it. I wanted to be star, to get a TV show, and get all that going on. Because Hollywood is so casting couch, as is being revealed, and those opportunities were there, I pretended I was straight so I could get these guys to give me a frickin’ leg up. But if I didn’t go all the way and walk the walk as straight, I wasn’t going to get it. And I just couldn’t get a break and make it happen. So I just came out, damn the torpedoes, and since then I’ve been embraced by the gay community. Now I support myself by doing comedy just for the LGBTQ community.

You’ve had your own comedy specials, been on Oprah and Joan Rivers, the list is endless. And you have some great comedy connections.
I really do. I came up through the ranks and paid my dues and have some really nice credits under my belt. I was America’s Funniest Real Woman on the Joan Rivers Show!

It seems that much of your comedy is informed, as much is, from observations in daily life. How do you decide what’s good enough to go into your act?
I skew things towards the audience. Like last night, I was in Denver for a show at a Matthew Sheppard Benefit, and I figured the audience would be more gay men. And when I do the Atlantis Cruises, it’s all gay men, so my routine trends more blue, which gets the biggest laughs from them. Whereas the lesbians, they don’t want it to graphically sexual. And if it’s a straight crowd, I don’t try to jam too much gay and lesbian sex down their throats. I try to keep people just on the edge of their comfort zone.

I love your segment comparing lesbians to postage stamps: once you lick them, they stick.
I have that as a bumper sticker!

When you were in college in Rhode Island, was performing on your radar screen?
I went to college to play basketball.  I was really good in high school and broke the standing record with 33 points in one game. So, yeah, that was my thing in college. The coach was a big dyke, and I loved her. I always wanted to play under her. So I played for two years, then dropped out entirely to take a break. And when I went back, acting wason my radar screen, so I got a BFA in Acting. I didn’t know my thing was comedy until I landed the role of a fish in a cabaret, and I had a monologue “My Fish Stick.” I killed every night. “Kelp! Kelp! Is there a sturgeon in the house?” I was like, wow, this is so easy, and I can do this as a job.  Then I went through classes at Second City in Chicago. Never made it to the main stage, but was there with folks like Mike Meyers, Bonnie Hunt, Chris Farley.

Where does the tour go from here?
I just put them together throughout the year, depending on which clubs will book us. So from here, I have a one-night with Suzanne Westenhoefer in Syracuse, then down to Texas with Vickie for a couple of nights, then Palm Springs and California in September and November. We just go where they’ll have us.

Are your shows all benefits for LGBTQ organizations, such as this one is for the Life Center?
Yes, everywhere I go, I give back to the centers.

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