By: Alejandro Morales
Republished with permission from PhillyGayCalendar.com
It’s the day after the presidential election, and it’s snowing hard in New York City. I’m not dressed for it. After Hurricane Sandy, I honestly didn’t believe there was any weather left, but there it is. I bolt from bus to subway and navigate the red line from Penn Station to the yellow line at Times Square and make my trip downtown. Thankfully, all the trains I need to get to Union Square are up and running after the big storm, and when I climb back up to street level, Union Square seems to be in good working order too. I text Marga Gomez, who has just arrived in NYC from her home base in San Francisco, to let her know I’m close, and venture through the thick wet curtain of nor’easter in what I hope is the direction of the coffeehouse where I’m supposed to meet Marga and her fellow performer, Mike Albo.
I’m a fan of Mike Albo’s work going back several years. I’ve read the searingly funny novel he wrote with Virginia Heffernan, The Underminer: The Best Friend Who Destroys Your Life, dozens of times. He once wrote a blog post on his old website (a new one is under construction) about Jessica Simpson’s divorce and the over-fishing of ocean waters, wondering if anyone could find happiness or if we were all doomed to eat tilapia forever (I’m paraphrasing), and it affected me deeply. I observed the fallout after Albo’s freelance gig writing the Critical Shopper column for the New York Times ended too soon, and then read his fictionalized account of how it all went to pot, a Kindle novella called The Junket: A Journey of Seduction, Celebrity, Swag, and Stupidity. And on November 17th, Albo, along with fellow comic Marga Gomez, who produces a showcase called “Comedy Bodega” on the west coast, are coming to Philadelphia’s Painted Bride to present “Mike and Marga Make Queer Comedy,” the latest collaboration between the two performers and longtime friends.
I duck into our agreed-upon meeting place, The Bean, a cafe a few blocks from Union Square, order a medium coffee, and shake off the cold. As the barista pours, I turn around and scan the busy-ish room for my interviewees. One bearded Mike Albo looks up from his tea and I give him a toothy smile. He startles a little, maybe. I fix up my coffee and go over to greet him. In person he radiates a certain soft spoken but confident calm. We arrange some seats in the narrow space to make room, and within a minute or two, Marga Gomez bustles into the cafe, offers a bright hello, gets a buttered bagel, sits down, and immediately offers some. Mike takes a piece and I do too. They have an easy rapport between them, with Marga’s animated energy playing yin to Mike’s low-key yang.
Alejandro: So last night’s election. Are you excited that Obama won?
Mike: Oh! That happened. Actually, I’m flummoxed that my home state of Virginia went for Obama.
Marga: Did the Albos go Democratic?
Mike: I don’t think the Albos went Democratic.
Marga: I bet you scared them Republican. Maybe they think someone Republican can help Mike.
Mike: (Laughs) They’re very conservative, very “Socialism, Obama’s a socialist, universal health care is socialism.” Even though my dad is on Medicaid.
Marga: Do you have heated dinners?
Mike: I tried when I was younger, when I was in Act Up, but it would come out in weird ways, like I would break a chair, or say “cunt” at Thanksgiving. I did. I said, “As the famous Annie Sprinkle once said, my cunt is my temple,” or something.
Alejandro: Were you worried Obama might not win?
Marga: My feeling was — I’m such a pessimist to begin with, and we can’t have nice things, and Romney was lying and changing himself so much. There was a lot of trickery. But I woke up this morning and I was like, Obama won, we’re not going to get taken to the gas chambers. And I know that sounds extreme, but it was some version of that relief. And the thing about it is, as a couple people who have to do a bunch of shows coming up, I think it’s a relief for us. We could have gotten audiences that were really depressed, and now it can be part of a celebration, so we don’t have to change our act. I’m really glad it happened for the country, but more importantly I was like, how will this affect my shows?
Mike: (Laughs) We’d have to take everything we had worked on, and change it…
Marga: … We would have to spin it, and couch it, and figure out how to make people feel better than they did when they walked in, and now we can just bring them down.
Alejandro: So I guess you didn’t agonize too much over the name of the show? You didn’t try for something clever?
Marga: Well, although it really should be “Marga and Mike…” I always feel like the more unusual name should go last. The common name is like the anchor. You know, “Mike!”
Mike: “And an exotic woman.”
Marga: It’s like, Mike and Marga “make,” that’s the clever part — Mike and Marga make… love, but instead of love, they make comedy. You understood that? You don’t think it’s clever?
Alejandro: I didn’t mean to say it’s not clever, it’s just that it’s more straightforward. You know how some people try to like, give things a name that has nothing to do with what they’re doing, because it sounds a certain way..?
Mike: We want to be clear, so people know what they’re getting.
Marga: We’re more minimalist. It feels sort of 70s. It was deliberate! We are certainly able to come up with clever titles!
Alejandro: So, the intersection of being a comic and being queer — or, the Venn Diagram of comedy and queerness, how does that look for you?
Mike: I feel like we’re the ones who can make fun of gay people.
Marga: Well, I’ve been doing this so long that that there’s no conscious plan when I do comedy. I probably have less queer content than I have in the past, but I’m also operating on no filters. The stuff I’m gonna talk about, there’s no way I’m not going to be talking about political stuff, but it’s more about the stuff that gets you in your gut. Also, I’ve just gone through a breakup, and I’m obsessed with singlehood and divorce. I feel like it’s all human stuff.
Mike: I’m going into this Philly show, like everyone there is with me, as opposed to — I just emceed a billionaire’s birthday a couple weeks ago, and I was like, he’s a billionaire, and it was in Connecticut, there are probably a lot of Republicans. And I was onstage, and I was like, well I’m gay and you’re not, and now I’m gonna explain some things to you. It’s sort of audience by audience. With a straight audience, you can freak them out a little bit. But with the Philly show, it already feels more friendly to me.
Marga: I do a lot of shows in San Francisco, and there it’s like no big deal — gay, straight. The stuff that’s driving me is stuff about being a woman in this transvaginal era. It’s all mesh, the Venn, it’s completely integrated.
Alejandro: Let’s close with your thoughts on Philly — favorite places in the city?
Mike: The Bike Stop is a great, old-school, janky, leather gay bar. You don’t get that in New York as much.
Marga: Earl Dax took me to a strip club that was fantastic. This old lady runs it. I loved that. And the art.
Mike: And the history.
Marga: The Liberty Bell. I loved that crack.
“Mike and Marga Make Queer Comedy” will take place on Saturday, November 17th, at 8pm at The Painted Bride. For more info and to purchase tickets, go to PaintedBride.org.