This is what I like to call my conversational bio. Here you will find my personal narrative about why I do what I do, how I got started and what I hope is taken away from it. You could call it my manifesto, modus operandi and a host of other terms but I’d rather call it In My Own Words…
I believe a good storyteller retells a journey and a great storyteller takes you on a journey with them. My first stories I told had little to do with my life—they were escapist and fantastical, sending me far away from the town of 4,000 people in Iowa where I grew up. Beginning in my parents’ basement, I created epic sagas with a huge cast of action figures accompanied with character development, back stories and subplots. By middle school I was committing stories to paper with convoluted, over-wrought science fiction novellas.
In high school, I wrote about my life but I didn’t know it yet. I wrote stories of a boy my own age, in a town very similar to my own, falling in love with another boy. Much of this confidence to share my stories came from my English teacher and mentor who placed me in advanced writing classes. I rose to her challenge and I excelled—with writing and otherwise. Then I started writing stories to share with others, including two school plays, a collection of essays and poetry. I eventually ran out of classes to take and graduated high school a year early. I wonder if my mentor taught tap-dancing, what a very different life I might have today.
I moved to Chicago for college freshly at 17 years old, but the only writing I accomplished was in my free time. I was working full time to pay rent at 19 and sleeping on a pile of blankets on the wooden floor of my apartment I shared with four others when I decided school was a very expensive and time-consuming hobby. A hobby that was interfering with my ability to afford food, but mostly, it interfered with my writing.
I dropped out of college and moved to Hawaii with no job or promise of a place to stay. Friends and family were confused as to how this was progress toward being a writer but I explained I’d rather do things worth writing about than being told how to write. I was out for adventure and is Chicago to Hawaii any stranger a move than small-town Iowa to Chicago?
I lived in Hawaii for less than six months and in that time went from sleeping on the beach to working at one of the most critically acclaimed restaurants in the world. This sounds bohemian in hindsight but really, it was the most terrifying time of my life not being sure where I was going to sleep or what I was going to eat. But it was inspiring, I did interesting things and wrote the entire time. Though my writing wasn’t always about my surroundings, I was constantly inspired by doing new and different things. I’m still compiling stories from this time in a book of essays entitled, “Tide Pools Of Maui.”
When I had the maturity to realize I could do new and interesting things in Chicago, I moved back. I found it hard to relate to my college friends who were still in their senior year, neither of us were sure which one of us was doing this whole learning and growing thing incorrectly. One of my new fellow artist friends was playing music at a dive bar one night when someone told me, “You’re funny, you should do stand-up.” I thanked her. “No, really, I run the comedy night here,” she said and insisted I perform.
Within a week, I delivered thirty minutes of stand-up material. For those who aren’t familiar with stand-up (which I certainly wasn’t at the time,) a comedian usually goes a year before collecting fifteen good minutes of material. My process of rapid writing and conversational delivery became a staple of my style—sometimes writing material the day of a show to make sure my material was quirky, confident and raw. That confidence came from jumping head first into comedy.
Until that point, my creative process was still a private one. I might spend years on a story then decide not to share it. Suddenly I was writing with a destination. I would take an audience on a journey with me and they would respond instantaneously with laughter, applause, silence, or (even sometimes) heckling. That level of interaction between a group and myself was incredibly rewarding. Performing more and more gave me the confidence to pursue publication and production of my other writing from plays to movies. I felt like Rip Van Winkle stretching. So much of my life, what I did on a daily basis, was completely separated from the world. It was a ferocious, unrelenting passion, but a quiet one.
Within a year, I had written and co-produced a full-length play, a series of short movies as well as created a multimedia weekly variety show that enjoyed three great seasons with some of today’s best artists. With the play and group, I was writing and producing short movies as well as booking and financing our cast. And when I wasn’t working forty hours a week or performing, I was still writing novels and screenplays. It sounds stressful in hindsight but being appreciated for doing what I was already happily doing was constantly motivating, rewarding and rejuvenating. I found new energy with each outlet and audience.
My performance abilities extended to hosting non-comedic events and correspondent work for websites. My hosting and production experience began as a function—a means to an end. I created shows I wanted to see and I facilitated them by funding, booking and hosting. Accidentally, I became better known as a host and performer than a producer and a writer.
As a producer, I stopped thinking solely of what shows I wanted to see and instead thought of what shows needed to be seen. In 2011, I started a new production effort called Outloud Chicago which sought to install queer programming in mainstream venues because it deserved to be there. Our first shows were at Zanies Comedy Club and The Hideout. Though we’ve done spoken word, music and variety shows, the focus has mostly been comedy. Within a few years, I created a national comedy search with The Advocate Magazine and within two years I created a nationally touring show that included the full spectrum of the queer community from gay to lesbian, bi and trans comedians.
The strangest turn since I started comedy has certainly been my All Geeks show. I’ve always been a geek, my first stories were made with GI Joes in my hands and inspired by the 90’s X-Men cartoon and stacks of comic books. With rising appreciation for the geekier side of storytelling in cinema and more, I saw an opportunity to use my production abilities to create a geek-inspired show. What surprised me after the first show was the level of demand for more. I was happy enough doing a show with comic book and video game characters performed through burlesque and drag but the response was so incredible that it became an ongoing sensation. Within a year, our show’s cast was invited to New York to participate in our media partner’s Geeks Out gay comicon called Flamecon and have toured the country. Just like when I started doing comedy, I imagine what teenage future-novelist/screenwriter-me would have thought about my dressing up as everything from Han Solo to Green Lantern and hosting costume variety shows.
For the latest on Queer Comedy at Zanies or All Geeks, read my blog “The Latest” for current press releases.
It took some time to find peace in the fact that I’ve stopped being primarily a writer—the lines between writing, producing and performing were constantly blurred. The peace came from the realization that my writing still colors everything I do because it has complemented everything I do. A closer fit would be to call myself a storyteller.
Every story I tell, in any shape, lives within the distance between myself and you—finding commonalities and understanding between us and changing with each pass and exchange. With everything that I do, I strive to take audiences with me. I’m inviting you on this journey.