A SHORT STORY ... ENJOY
THE COMEDY CLOSET
In 1979 I came to Hollywood with dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian. I was a naive twenty-year-old girl from Canada. I was young pretty smart funny and … gay but coming out was not an option, since at this time most gay comedians were in the closet. However, there were lots of derogatory gay jokes. The comedy scene in the 80s was historic, it would later be referred to as the comedy boom! So many famous comedians were making their careers during this decade. David Letterman, Robin Williams. Sandra Bernhard, and many others
The Comedy Store was the place to be seen. But getting approved by the owner the legendary Mitzi shore was not easy. Hundreds of wannabes lined up on Amateur night everyone trying to be funnier than the next guy. Sunset Blvd was packed with cars, honking horns and drivers yelling “Keep your day job!” I had number 45 and only three minutes to impress Mitzi Shore,
The atmosphere inside the Comedy Store was loud, dark and crawling with comedians pacing in the halls like trapped animals. I stood in the back of the original room waiting to go on. The goal was to “kill”. The MC called my number. I held a crumbled piece of paper with my jokes written in ink which was soaked in sweat and running down the arm. Breathing like an angry bull waiting to charge.
Then my intro “Okay are you ready for a lady comedian?” In the 80’s and 90’s female comics were given this bizarre introduction. I went to the stage facing a drunk hostile crowd. With only three minutes the first joke had to get laughs, or the audience would eat me alive. The rules were tough, if you went over your time, they turned the mic off. If you ignored that, they turned the spotlight off. If you were not getting any laughs, they would encourage the audience to heckle you until you got off the stage, I adjusted the mic ,then took a deep breath. I felt like a lion tamer. My jokes were mostly self-deprecating. My boyfriend material got huge laughs. especially from my girlfriend who was sitting in the back of the room. It was hard to hold back from telling the audience I was gay! But this was the first day of a long career, so why screw it up this soon in the game. The stand-up comedy world was riddled with double standards. The first time I did vibrator joke the audience was stunned no laughs just an audible gasp as if I had slit my wrists and sprayed the front row. I was followed my Sam Kinson who said pussy about 100 times and got a standing ovation. I wanted to talk about my life as a gay woman, not shopping for shoes and my imaginary. boyfriend. Mitzi once told me I was the new Doris Day! Boy was she off! I might have looked innocent in my younger days, but I was no Doris Day. I was getting more woman that any of the male comics.
Playing it straight was a challenge Just having to keep track of who I was from one gig to another. My act was strong even though it was packed with lies. All the sex material got big laughs, even though I had no clue what the hell I was talking about. I had to borrow all the info about sex with men from my straight friends. I had never slept with a man, so I was clueless. Moat of the comedians I worked with knew I was gay, but some just ignored the facts. One night a comic who later became a well-known actor, cornered me in the hallway of the comedy store complimented me on my set then kissed me. I was stunned, he was embarrassed, and my girlfriend wanted to kick his ass Every time I saw him after this he apologized. I told Mitzi, but she laughed and said, “Oh he’s a nice guy, just lonely” Sexual harassment was not taken seriously by anyone back then. And often you were blamed. By the times the AIDS virus was in the news, there were only a few out comics. Robin Tyler. Steve Moore and the late great. Bob Smith who came out on national television. The LBGTQ was barley in existence so there was little support in the community. So, you were on your own battling prejudice and homophobia in all areas of your life.
Having to hide my sexuality was holding me back from being a great comedian. My true voice and humor were being stifled. I had written so much material about my life as a gay woman, in a very hetero business The jokes were strong and funny. I was sick of lying. I had to find my audience. I developed a piece in my act called “Sorority Girls from Hell!! A campy parody of the movie Carrie. In 1985 it was produced as a video by the late Michael Nesmith. There wasn’t a gay man in West Hollywood who didn’t know the piece word for word. It quickly became one of the most requested videos in the gay bars. On Gay Pride there was a float dedicated to the video. It was incredible to see my video being honored. With drag artists. playing the three Sorority Girls and Irma our outcast who is bullied until she gets her revenge. I had found my audience. I was being booked in major gay clubs and bars all over the country. My road gigs were mixed between straight comedy clubs and gay bars. One week a straight comedy club talking about dating and sex with my fake boyfriend. The next week at a gay club performing my video live! And talking about my girlfriend.
In the early 90’s I turned my attention to writing. My first job was as a staff writer on the sitcom. Roseanne. It was a huge break and at this time one of the top shows. The staff was diverse. As a group of writers, we tried to find stories that addressed social issues and pushed boundaries. In 1994 the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”. episode aired. This was a story about Roseanne sharing a kiss with Muriel Hemmingway in a gay bar. It was an enormous controversary for ABC. Sponsors threated to pull adds, if ABC aired the episode. Roseanne fought for it. On March 1st, 1994. the show aired. It was a major success for prime-time television This opened the flood gates. Sandra Bernard was a recurring character who in came out to Roseanne in an episode. Groundbreaking episodes were not uncommon with Roseanne. In October 1993 the pot smoking episode aired “A Stash from the Past” Roseanne finds an old joint. Then she and Laurie Metcalf smoke it in the shower hiding from the family.
On the heels of this, I knew it was time to come out. in my stand up I was booked on Rosie O’Donnell’s VH1 stand up show. Rosie’s show was late-night show. I figured this was the perfect platform. Plus, Rosie was gay but also in the closet. When I told her I was going talk about being a lesbian in my act. She was stunned “Don’t do it Bromfield it will fuck up your career” She always called me Bromfield. I hit the stage ready to finally come out. But I was killing it on national television. I knew if I said I was gay the laughs would stop. And the thought of having to face my fellow comics after bombing on national television was unbearable. I did a killer set but bailed on coming out. Rosie told me it was a wise decision. But I was determined. Several months later I appeared on the Arsenio Hall Show. Arsenio and I came up at the Comedy Store together. When I told him I was going to come out in the act, he had the opposite reaction of Rosie. He encouraged me. I was so nervous; my hands were dripping with sweat. I started my set with a few generic jokes, then spilled it. The audience was quiet. I did the rest of my set to mostly silence. Arsenio was the only audible laugh. At the end of my set, there was a smattering of applause from the studio audience. Thanks to the applause light. Arsenio waved me over the couch for an interview. He scolded the audience for being so narrowed minded and uptight, we talked about homophobia, my friendship with Sandra Bernhard and working on Roseanne. Arsenio was very supportive. I loved him for this. On the way to my car, a woman from the audience rushed up to me. I thought she was going to ask for an autograph.” She stared at me for a beat then. “You’re a sinner and going to hell” then walked away. I didn’t care I felt honest and true to myself.
As more comedians came out the audiences evolved the comedy club line ups became more diverse. However, acceptance was still a struggle. But over the years the battle for human rights and the support of the LBGTQ paid off. This was reflected in television, film and the passing of same sex marriage Just to be able to refer to my partner as my wife felt like a huge step towards equality and respect.
For past 12 years I’ve been living in Germany with my wife. The first time I performed in Berlin as an out comedian the response was incredible. My comedy had reached a new level, honest real and super funny. In the London comedy clubs it’s even more diverse. gay, transgender. Anyone with talent is welcomed on the stage. At 68 I’m still killing it! To all the young comedians enjoy the freedom of the path I helped clear. And always remember to be smart funny and most of all be yourself.
Lois Bromfield is a Canadian American comedian/television writer/ producer originally. from Toronto. Her credits include Roseanne, Grace Under Fire, Life’s Work, (Amy Sherman Executive Producer) Bromfield officially came out on The Arsenio Hall Show.
She wrote for HBO and LOGO. In 2001 Lois produced a national television talk show in Toronto. She’s currently living in Germany with her wife, performing in Berlin at “Quatsch Comedy Club.” In London” The Top-Secret Comedy.” She’s authored two. memoirs “My Dirty Life in Comedy” and “An American Comedian Lost in Bavaria.”
My personal experience as a gay woman at the start of my career as a stand-up
comedian and television writer It was the 80’s. and most performers were in the
closet. Coming out at this time would destroy your career. My story chronicles the homophobia and prejudice I endured and eventually. transcended.
I WAS LEGAL GUARDIAN TO PAULY AND HIS BROTHER PETER FOR 2 YEARS