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Funny Girls: Marga Gomez and Poppy Champlin lead the charge to Santa Cruz, a Queer Queens favorite.

Ladies' Night

The Queer Queens of Qomedy make a beeline for one of their favorite destinations: Santa Cruz.

By Garrett Wheeler

Like any professional working in the entertainment industry, Poppy Champlin knows the importance of appealing to a niche. In her case, that niche is queer-comedy, that is. Though the genre isn't new, it has recently surged toward the mainstream, led by Champlin and a dozen of her colleagues who make up the Queer Queens of Qomedy. The troupe travels under the heading of "gay comedy," but there's no separating the Queer Queens from what they do best: make people laugh, regardless of sexual orientation.

"We don't really focus on the queer part," says Champlin. "We're just funny people who happen to be gay." To be sure, there'll be at least one lesbian joke at Friday night's show at the Rio. "I let 'em know right off the bat," Champlin laughs.

The history of the troupe can be traced back to Champlin's early days as a working comic, where establishing a name played a vital role in booking shows and finding gigs. Tired of agent-related woes and fallouts with management, Champlin decided to take the reins and find work on her own.

"I was trying to play the Birchmere Music Hall in Virginia, but they told me I wasn't a big enough name on my own," Champlin recalls. "I thought, 'Why not add a couple more and call ourselves the Queer Queens of Qomedy?'"

Champlin's entrepreneurial efforts paid off not only from an employment standpoint but on a personal level as well. "I didn't come out until around 2000, and when I did, it made my job a lot easier," says Champlin. "Working a straight crowd could be awkward, for them and me. But now the audience comes knowing we're gay and ready to laugh-everybody knows what's going on."

Since their inception in 2006, the Queer Queens of Qomedy has grown to include 12 members, all of whom are established comedians in their own right. In fact, the talent of each individual is what makes the Queer Queens exceptional. "Usually you'll go to a comedy club and there will be an A comic headliner, and maybe one or two openers who are B or C comics. With us, every performer is an A comic," Champlin says. With members claiming individual accomplishments that range from appearances on Comedy Central to opening for Rosie O'Donnell, Champlin isn't exaggerating.

As the Queer Queens gear up for their Santa Cruz gig at the Rio Theatre, there's sure to be a number of local fans eagerly awaiting their arrival. If last year's sell-out crowd is any indication, the event's popularity is unquestionable.

"Santa Cruz has always come through for us," Champlin says. "It's our first event of the year, so it helps set us in motion." Champlin says promoter Taylor Santo has been invaluable in drawing crowds to the Rio. Last year, the event brought an audience of around 600 people.

Fans of Queer Qomedy can also look forward to a DVD collection hitting the shelves in the future. Champlin is preparing to begin filming live shows in hopes of releasing a series on television and in stores. But for now, she has her sights set on the Santa Cruz audience, gay and straight.

"Jokes are jokes," says Champlin, "although some people might get them a little better than others."

QUEER QUEENS OF QOMEDY, featuring performances by Poppy Champlin, Michele Balan, Marga Gomez and Karen Ripley, rolls into Santa Cruz on Friday, March 21, at 8pm for a show at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave.Santa Cruz. Tickets are $25 adv/$30 door; 831.423.8209.

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