A trio of funny gay weirdos headlines a month of queer comedy at iO.
In the spirit of improvisation, Qweirdo occurred spontaneously. “It happened in a flash,” Seth Dodson says of the new weekly showcase for improv, sketch and stand-up starring all LGBT players. The comic performer seized upon a suddenly open time slot at iO. When Dodson met with iO cofounder Charna Halpern, “I was really nervous,” the 27-year-old says. “I was like, ‘Hi, I’m here to pitch the gay show.’ Her dog bit me on the ankle and I was like, What am I doing here?” Halpern also bit by booking Qweirdo, headlined by Dodson’s troop 1, 2, 3, Fag! The variety show, which benefits Lambda Legal, kicks off Thursday 4.
Dodson, a Texas native, coformed 1, 2, 3, Fag! with fellow gay improvisers Kellen Alexander and John Hartman. Hailing from Cleveland, Alexander, 24, played with the U. of C. group Occam’s Razor and studied at iO (where he now performs with house team Dart). He later landed a spot with the troupe Victory at Sea at the Playground Theater, where he met Hartman, 25, a Virginia native who now stars in both Good Liars and his strangely endearing one-man show Your Friends and Enemies, both at the Annoyance. There, they connected with Dodson (who recently took home top honors in the comic-talent competition Impress These Apes).
As 1, 2, 3, Fag!, the threesome debuted a single show in April at the Playground. In a fast-paced, frenetic four-scene framework (hence the name), they switch characters unexpectedly, play multiple roles within a scene and build toward an unexpected finale. “We didn’t have any big plans,” Dodson says. “We had a really hot show and just wanted to play more.”
But playing for an entire hour is exhuasting, so they pitched Qweirdo as a variety format. “From the beginning, the idea was to have it as a showcase of gay comedy talent,” Alexander says. In two days, they pulled together an impressive roster of local LGBT comic performers, including perennial favorites GayCo, gay-straight sketch-comedy group the Alliance, stand-up comic Cameron Esposito and others who will share the roster with 1, 2, 3, Fag! during Qweirdo’s monthlong run.
Coolest among its guest stars are the LGBT members from iO’s various house teams who’ll gather on opening night for the first time to perform the Gerald, a queer take on the Harold, iO’s signature long-form improv. “That was really fun,” Dodson says of seeking out iO’s queer players. “We went through the team photos on iO’s website looking for gay face.”
This coming-together of queer talent both adds LGBT visibility to the predominantly straight improv world and allows its gay and lesbian players a chance to start scenes with queer themes. “If you’re initiating a scene, you decide your own character,” Alexander notes. “You can make the other guy onstage your husband, your brother or a gremlin.” Hartman adds, “There really are so few of us. It will be interesting to get almost everyone together for the first time.”
Hartman’s last statement could include queer audiences as well, some of whom might be tempted by Qweirdo to make their first trek to iO, a mere stone’s throw west of Halsted. “We’re really trying to reach out to Boystown to walk the extra two blocks,” Dodson says. “There’s not a lot of queer-centered events other than clubbing.” The three hope that iO’s prestige and location will pique the interest of the queer community while retaining its mostly hetero devotees.
At the least, the show’s title likely will entice more audience members than its first, admittedly funny, but far less tasteful name would have. “We were going to call it the Gay Bash originally,” Dodson says, “but that wasn’t kosher with Lambda Legal. People still get gay bashed in Wrigleyville.”
Qweirdo opens Thursday 4 at 9pm.