Queer as joke
ten years of alternative
In 1996, when GayCo was prepping its first revue—Whitney Houston, We Have a Problem—the pop diva was on top of the world. But the future of the unknown gay improv troupe was unclear.
Ten years later, Houston’s got a problem (we know, Whitney—crack is wack), and GayCo’s star shines bright in the world of improv comedy, a place typically ruled by straight white dudes.
What began as a Second City outreach program has since evolved into a full-fledged comedy company putting on two shows a year and traveling the festival circuit, including a trip to Amsterdam for the 1998 Gay Games and the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival (where it received the Outstanding Ensemble award). The group’s latest, The DaVinci GayCode: Ten Years of Heresy—The Best of GayCo (phew!), hits the Theatre Building Chicago July 13–23. It unearths historic scenes that used comedy to shed light on gay culture, and includes some special performances coinciding with the Gay Games.
“We started as kind of a minority improv workshop focusing on gay and lesbian issues,” says founding member Andy Eninger, “and the quality of the improv was good enough that they pushed it into a show, and then out of that we crafted a sketch show.”
When Houston debuted in 1997, it was an immediate hit, partly because it filled a vacuum. Even as recently as ten years ago, many of the gay issues explored in the show were rarely looked at from a comedy perspective. “When we started there was no Will & Grace or Queer Eye,” Eninger says. He also stresses that gay is never really the punch line in GayCo shows. “Our vision is to offer, or to be the only place where you can have, top-of-your-intelligence gay- and lesbian-themed sketch comedy where gay is the given,” he says. For example, if two lesbians appear in a typical couple-themed sketch, their orientation is often incidental to the message.
Clever show titles probably help ticket sales, too. Don’t Ask, Don’t Teletubby and Everyone’s Coming Out, Rosie are a couple of our favorites. Rosie debuted in 1998, years before Rosie O’Donnell came out of the closet—another example of GayCo’s uncanny ability to predict pop culture. “We were just laughing about so many things we’ve done that have foreshadowed future events,” Eninger says. “We had a gay cowboy scene years ago, long before Brokeback.”
Eninger, along with four other members in the cast of nine, has been with the comedy troupe since the beginning. And not everyone in the cast is gay—it’s a mix of gay, lesbian and straight. Eninger says people of all lifestyles routinely show up for auditions. “We’ve kind of become a nontraditional route of visibility to Second City,” he says.
Although founded as a Second City–produced show, its affiliation with the theater is rather loose. “Every once in a while we will step back into the Second City world,” Eninger says, noting that Second City produced GayCo’s 2004 show Weddings of Mass Destruction, “but we kind of take it on a production-by-production basis.” Things might change soon though - GayCo is slated to become a resident artistic company at the Hoover-Leppen Theater when the new arts center on Halsted opens next year.
Though their new show reflects on the past, GayCo is looking ahead, namely in the direction of TV and film. Its short film, “Baby Time Share,” was accepted at the 2005 Los Angeles Out Fest, and GayCo’s latest goal is to assemble enough sketches to shop to television channels such as LOGO or QTV. “The festival circuit is certainly a place for us,” Eninger says. “Hopefully these short films will open the door for larger projects.”
Ten Years of Heresy mouths off starting July 13.