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Lesbian Comedy Spotlight: Tammy Jo Dearen

Lesbian Comedy Spotlight: Tammy Jo Dearen

SoCal native Tammy Jo Dearen is busy a lesbian. In addition to her regular stand-up shows at the Improvin Hollywood and across town, the comedian who always wanted to be a performer also produces a comedy double-header every month at El Cid in Silver Lake and has a new radio show in the works. Writer Lesley Goldberg continues her Comedy Spotlight for SheWired. She has previously profiled Bridget McManus and That's What She Said.

Southern California native Tammy Jo Dearen has a full calendar. In addition to taking part in regular stand-up shows at the Improv in Hollywood and across town, the comedian who always knew she wanted to be a performer also produces a comedy double-header every month at El Cid in Silver Lake and has a new radio show in the works. The comedian who regularly performs an "ode" to sign language instructors, dishes on her hair and often says things she wishes she hadn't, is SheWired's October funny lady of the month.

SheWired: How did you get your start in stand-up?

Tammy Jo Dearen: I started doing stand-up in the early '90s. I just knew it was what I needed to do with my life. I performed for a couple years, barely getting my feet wet and then I took a 14-year hiatus.

I worked at a restaurant called Bobby McGee's in Brea, Calif. Yes, I will come out: I am from the other side of the Orange County Curtain. Boo! I know, but don't judge. At Bobby McGee's, we dressed in costume and we were characters that would sing, dance and do a lot of improv and sketch with the guests. All of the humor was at the guest's expense and of course they loved it. Someone called the restaurant asking if any of the servers could do stand-up for their fundraiser. I was in a stand-up workshop so I thought it was a sign and I should go for it. Keep in mind this would be my first time doing stand-up in front of an audience. The fundraiser was in downtown Orange at this old historic auditorium. When I got there I felt ... doom. I scoped the layout of the auditorium and found the back door. Just in case. I soon found out that the fundraiser was for two children that were burn victims! Oh my gawd! The Shriners were sponsoring the event. I know they are amazing people of service, but I couldn't get over their funny red hats ... it was obviously a bad match!

I got the lineup ... I was scheduled to follow a video. OK ... right? No problem ... right? The video ended with child burn victims singing "Amazing Grace"! They were singing "Amazing Grace" in their little wheelchairs with their little mangled bodies and little bald heads where strands of hair fought to make their way out! We were all crying. I may have been crying because I knew I was next on-stage. They introduced me and three minutes later the emcee pulled the mike from my hand. She literally pulled it out of my hand. For some reason I actually fought her for a moment and then I released and walked proudly out the backstage door.

That is how I started doing comedy.

SheWired: Did you always want to be a comedian?

Dearen: I can't say I always knew I wanted to be a comedian, but I knew I wanted to be a performer. I was constantly creating audiences and finding ways to make them laugh. It wasn't until seventh or eighth grade when I had a revelation about how I could use all my talents on one platform. There was a talent show scheduled at my school. I was so excited and I was trying to figure out what I was going do. I lay in bed one night and thought up a whole stand-up routine. I was really impressed with myself. I was surprised that I was able to come up with so much to say and it was genuinely funny. I was either going to do stand-up or I was going do a dance with a broom and lip-sync to Frank Sinatra's version of "New York, New York." I couldn't decide and well, it didn't matter anyway because the talent show was canceled and I never got to perform.

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SheWired: What other projects are you involved with?

Dearen: I produce comedy shows here in Los Angeles. The second Wednesday of the month I produce a double-header at El Cid, OMG! at 7:30 p.m. and RIOT! at 9:30 p.m. These have been my biggest successes, however, I have a slew of other shows that I produce on my own and with my partners Erin Schauer and Kim Lupe. Recently I joined radio project that is part of a conference planned for 2010. I'm scheduled to be a weekly participant.

SheWired: What's your most memorable moment on-stage?

Dearen: Years ago I was asked to be a part of an all-female comedy show at the then-El Toro Air Force Base. We were scheduled to perform for the officers ... in the officers' hangar! It was a huge space and it was so early. It was like 6 p.m. The show was horrible! The other ladies were bombing one after another; it was a comedy massacre. They were dropping like flies. I was the wild card because the booker wasn't familiar with me or my set. Oh yeah, and I was by far the youngest performer at 23 ... I had no fear. The booker was so flustered by the massacre he kept knocking me further and further back in the lineup. Finally, I got up on-stage and unafraid I asked for the officers to participate and I got nothing. Unafraid even after each comic before me bombed without mercy! I asked again and got nothing. With a smile on my face as if to have a secret I asked again, but then I spoke in their language ... it was a bit colorful and so effective because they responded with explosive laughter. I turned them around and they were laughing and cheering and they gave me a standing ovation. After the show they took pictures with me and I went home with pieces of their uniforms! No, not bras and panties but hats and pins! The defining moment on-stage was the secret that I had. I knew with no fear in the midst of their silence and their cold-blooded ability to shoot down each comic before me that I was resilient to their wrath. In fact they couldn't resist me and I knew that! I can't explain it any better than that, but I will always remember that moment of personal glory. I'm smiling now just thinking about it!

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SheWired: What's the strangest thing that's ever happened to you on-stage?

Dearen: I was hoping to avoid this question! I, Tammy Jo Dearen, without an "off limits" list, have a piece in my act where I do an ode to the deaf lady that taught me sign language. Yes! I said sign language. I was 12! Usually it's very well received and I use it as my closer. Well, on this night I was performing at a bar where the manager and bartenders knew it was comedy night, but the patrons thought it was sit at the bar and talk night. There were seven people in the bar. Seven people in this West Hollywood bar ... and no, it wasn't Trunks! I got a few giggles here and there (mostly from myself). I was at the end of my set, so I broke into my "ode" to the deaf lady ... when did I do my deaf piece? When? Just as a group of six deaf people walked into the bar! I was doing a joke about the deaf when deaf walked in the door! Oh my gawd! Yes! I thought, "They can't hear me!" But they could see my signs! It was very strange and it got worse when another comic belted out, "Oh my gawd they're deaf!" It's really not horrible, my "ode," it was just horribly uncomfortable! Boo!

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SheWired: How do you come up with the material included in your act?

Dearen: Life! Life! Life! My material comes from the fact that God has a fantastically demented sense of humor. Seriously, I am always in a bind, but these little binds bring me material! I used to love people. I used to have all this patience and enjoyment of all these crazy characters ... now I don't have patience and I don't always appreciate them in the moment, but I am able to draw from my Murphy's Law experiences, family, friends, KCAL-9, hair and well ... my crazy and beautiful girlfriend ... aka life. That's where I get my inspiration!

 

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SheWired: Are there any topics that are on your "off limits" list when it comes to your act?

Dearen: Anyone that knows me will venture to say that I don't have an "off limits" list. Gawd knows I should! I can't always stop myself from saying things that I shouldn't. Really! I say things that I wish I didn't! Even as they come out of my mouth I can see them like forming in a bubble and I can't stop! With me that's just what happens! I would love to have topics that are "off limits," but for now I am going to rely on video editing for that. It's not that I think I am controversial or offensive. I would just like my mom to be proud! Ha! That's embarrassing, but true! Ha!

SheWired: Do you think it's harder for lesbians to succeed in the stand-up comedy world? Why/why not?

Dearen: I think it is a proven fact that lesbian comics are more successful than heterosexual stand-ups. First off, we are better than most people. We are just a higher level of human. We are more enlightened and just sexier. I will say that gay women do not have the male-pleasing edit button. We don't edit our true selves as to please a man, then mate, and have their offspring. I can get all deep and analyze the facts that straight women have all these issues that the homo lady usually doesn't have, but I think we are all confronted with our own obstacles no matter sexual orientation. And no matter what, gay women are just funnier and better! Go team!

For more information on Tammy Jo Dearen's shows and links to her radio program, go to her website.

Photo Credit: Liza Leigh Pirona

Find other fantastic interviews and entertainment posts from Lesley here!

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Lesley Goldberg