American Comic Would Steal Babies - June 11, 2012
also picked up by the Huffington Post (UK)
Article re. Outlaugh 2011 - June 3, 2011: Weho Daily
Blurb about Fighting Frankie video (episode 13 written and directed by Mike) Dec. 2009:
From LA Weekly October 4, 2009 (below):
Blurbs from March/April 09 Book Tour:
February 21, 2008
The Gay Mafia draws a lot of its material from the news of the day as well as universal relationship themes and audience interaction.
(Photo by Michael Lamont - courtesy of the Gay Mafia))
A merry mob of jokers
Gay Mafia to bring ‘Saturday Night Live’ type show to the Broward Center
By JW ARNOLD
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Mike Player could have been on strike for the past four months along with the other Hollywood writers, but instead, he’s been working — hard.
Player, founder of the comedy troupe the Gay Mafia, and his six colleagues will bring their highly successful sketch comedy and improv show to Fort Lauderdale’s Broward Center for the Performing Arts this Saturday, Feb. 23, as the finale to the Art Explosion 2008 program.
Player got his start in stand-up comedy in New York City, but found he was more excited by improvisational sketch comedy and subsequently founded a successful group called “Shock of the Funny” that regularly was featured at Lincoln Center. But he eventually decided to pack his car and drive himself and his partner to the West Coast.
“I actually came out to Los Angeles to do some writing,” he says.
In fact, he was selected from nearly a thousand hopeful writers for the very competitive Warner Brothers Comedy Writers Workshop.
Player and his professional colleague Oscar Nunez (“The Office”) completed the workshop along with about 30 others, but they found the studio had a tough time placing them with any television series currently in production.
“I was gay and Oscar was [Latino] and, at the time, the studio had a really hard time slotting us in the same way they could find shows for the others,” Player recalls. “Things have changed. A friend of mine — a big agent — has said gay people have achieved a certain level of equality and are exploitable like everyone else. Gay is in right now.”
Instead, Player found himself coaching an improvisational acting workshop at the Gay & Lesbian Community Center in West Hollywood. This opportunity would become the start of the Gay Mafia as the creative energies of the workshop members grew into the company.
“I never dreamed that in my 40s I would be running a comedy group,” he says.
So how did the group come up with its name, Gay Mafia?
“I was really lucky because, at the time, I was trying to come up with a name and the ‘gay mafia’ quote by Michael Ovitz came up about the supposed ‘cabal’ of gay agents in Hollywood,” Player explains. “It was a gay comedy group, but I didn’t want the words ‘rainbow’ or ‘homo’ in it. That was an example of the news throwing something at us.”
Only one of the original cast members from the workshop remains with the company, but as the group has gained a regional reputation, it hasn’t been difficult to find new members through traditional auditions. And, despite the name of the company, not everyone in the group is gay.
“It’s a weird thing,” Player says. “When I hold auditions, I can’t say you must be gay, but I suppose as long as the majority of us are gay, it’s OK.
“They’re very talented and we love them, but I’ll leave it to you to guess which ones are the straight ones,” he says with a chuckle. “We might have some more closet straights that I don’t know about, but who knows.”
Since founding the Gay Mafia in 2002, the group’s format has remained roughly the same: a mix of sketch comedy and improvisational exercises.
“It’s a lot of fun — sort of a combination of ‘Whose Line Is it Anyway’ and ‘Saturday Night Live,’ only gay,” he says.
Some topics are ongoing, like the gay marriage issue, but other sketches happen as the news dictates.
“There’s the universal stuff like relationships and we do one thing where we interview an audience member about their day and then reenact it for them,” Player says. “We run the gamut.”
Despite the winning formula for the group’s performances, Player is always experimenting with the presentation.
“I’m constantly having to pay attention to what we do. We experiment a lot because the sketch comedy format is limited in some respects,” Player says.
Player may not be writing for television, but he is also managing to find some time to do some real writing in between Gay Mafia performances across the country. He is currently writing a book to be published by Allison Books, “Out on the Edge: America’s Rebel Comics,” that profiles both gay and straight comics who do gay comedy.
He is certainly looking forward to the group’s first performance in Fort Lauderdale.
“We’ve worked with Cashetta before,” he says. “She’s my favorite drag queen. I’m also looking forward to the audiences. Audiences are drawn to us. There’s a community aspect to [our performances], in addition to the actual comedy.”
|Philadelphia Gay News|
Stand-up comedy, even at its most mainstream moments, is a difficult art to master. For most people, standing up in front of an audience is high on the list of greatest fears.
Gay and lesbian comics face an added uncertainty of whether the audience is going to accept them.
Enter the Outlaugh Festival, America’s first and only queer comedy festival.
Outlaugh is the brainchild of Mike Player, member of the improv/sketch comedy troupe the Gay Mafia, who started the festival in 2005 as a showcase for up-and-coming gay and lesbian comics.
The festival made its national debut in October in Hollywood with the participation of established comics Margaret Cho, Suzanne Westenhoefer and Bruce Vilanch. MTV’s Logo Network soon showed interest and is now airing highlights from the festival as part of its Wisecrack programming.
“It’s huge,” Westenhoefer told PGN of the show’s impact for unknown gay and lesbian comics. “All of these people who have never been on television are going to get national exposure.” Westenhoefer, who was the first lesbian comic to get her own HBO special, explained: “It took so long and so much for me to get national television exposure ever after the HBO special because it was the ’90s.”
Player agrees, saying “I think it’s incomparably valuable. I don’t think that there are a lot of opportunities [for emerging gay comics] other than getting a comedy club on an off night.”
Before starting the Gay Mafia, Player struggled as a stand-up comic in the early ’90s and for seven years, he was in the closet. “It takes a lot of guts to go in front of a crowded bar and announce you’re gay,” he said.
While being gay may not be much of an issue for performing in cities like New York or Los Angeles, it might be a major obstacle for a working comic trying to win over an audience in Omaha. As such, some gay and lesbian comics opt to only perform for gay audiences. For others, playing to a straight audience opens up more opportunities.
Out comic Jim David has been in the business of comedy for 20 years and his intellectually twisted wit has made him a hit with both gay audiences and straight-oriented comedy vehicles like Comedy Central Presents and Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn.
“It’s very different in a good way,” David said about the perks of performing for a gay audience. “They’re going to get what I’m doing without any explanation. With a straight crowd, no matter how liberal, they’re still going to be shocked to some degree.”
Westenhoefer took a similar route in her path to comedy success. “When I started out, I was the first lesbian comic to play the straight clubs,” she said. “Then the gay community found out about me and I started doing huge pride events.”
Westenhoefer now has a big enough fan base that she doesn’t have any concern about her audience. “When I tour, I do theaters and it’s whoever comes,” she said. “If I get some attention from the straight press, I’ll have more straight people there, but if I don’t get any attention from the straight press, then it’s mostly lesbian and gay.”
Does the heightened visibility of gay comics mean there’s a Dave Chappelle or Jerry Seinfeld-level gay or lesbian comedy superstar on the horizon? “Not right now,” Westenhoefer speculated. “But it’s going to happen. The weird part is that there are more gay female stand-ups and they’re more successful, but I sense the public will be more accepting of a male comic that is gay. It will most likely be a male that becomes a superstar.
“When you think about gay female stand-ups who are famous, they got movie-star famous before they came out,” she said. “They didn’t make their name as gay comics.”
Logo airs Outlaugh through February.