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LGBTQ Advocate Kathy Griffin Delivers More Than Just Jokes

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Kathy Griffin LGBTQ Comedy Houston Donald Trump

After a year of being disavowed by Hollywood, attacked by the Oval Office, and shunned by many fans, Kathy Griffin returns to Houston on her new tour triumphant.

“In the words of my new friend, Robert Di Nero, ‘Fuck Trump!’”

Kathy Griffin Donald Trump Laugh Your Head Off LGBTQ Comedy

Photo by Eric Edward Schell of Houston’s Pride Portraits.

This opening line set the precedent (or, should we say ‘president’) for the rest of the evening of stories regaled to an audience by one of Donald Trump’s largest opposers and one of the LGBTQ community’s most long-standing and active advocates. Kathy Griffin, the self-proclaimed D-list celebrity who became one of the many faces of the resistance against President Donald Trump, detailed for over three hours last Monday night the events of the last year that launched into a world-wide spotlight after she released a photo of herself holding up what appeared to be Donald Trump’s bloody head (in reality: a Halloween mask covered in ketchup). Kathy, keeping true to her storytelling manor of comedy, kept the laughter coming but also allowed herself to become real and vulnerable as she laid out the details of the threats against her life and the lives of her family.

As a disclaimer, I’m a huge Kathy fan. I’ve been each of her last three shows in Houston prior to this, buying pre-sale tickets the minute they become available online for purchase and following her on social medial. I have even attended a show the day after having my tonsils removed (thank god for pain killers). To say the least, this was the show for which I was living. I couldn’t wait for her to dish the tea … and boy did she she serve that shit up.

Throughout the entire night, Jones Hall in Downtown Houston was riddled with laughter, gay gasps, ‘Yas queens’, and slow applauses. I’ve often heard that a comedian’s material comes from their pain; and this couldn’t be more true in the cases of such stand-ups as Hannah Gadsby in her recent Netflix special Nanette. Kathy has done the same by taking her hardship, her blacklisting in Hollywood, and the multitude of death threats by turning her agony into material to use in a place where she is able to enable other women and Donald Trump resisters to stand up for their first amendment rights and to speak out against the atrocities of this administration. Recently, Griffin has teamed up with Stormy Daniels — the adult film star who has been said to have had a problematic affair with the president only to be later asked to never speak of it  — after Daniels was arrested at a Columbus, Ohio strip club for touching an undercover officer who asked to have a photo with the performer after her second show.

What I admire about the LGBTQIA community is that it’s a community that knows how to mobilize. I always say as a feminist, “We’ve got to learn from the gays, as women we bitch and moan, but gays actually get legislation done, they write bills, put candidates up and get them elected.”

— Griffin in her Pride Portraits statement about the LGBTQ community while in Houston

From being on Interpol’s travel advisory list to traveling internationally and being detained in multiple countries on her world-wide tour, Griffin has not let anything stop her from telling her story and speaking out against the administration. She has built up an alliance of other celebrities around the world that stand with her. But in that pain comes a greater deal of suffering — losing out of strong allies like former CNN New Year’s Eve co-host and longtime friend, Anderson Cooper. In a letter she read to the crowd from a fan in Florida, Kathy revealed that a gay man should never turn on a “fag hag”. The room erupted into laughter because … well … the truth is the truth. Kathy Griffin has been one of the few celebrities of our time that has — since the beginning of career spanning nearly 40 years — been a tireless and outspoken advocate for LGBTQ people, LGBTQ rights, and LGBTQ equality. It is no surprise that the one demographic that did not disown the comedy legend after her infamous Trump photo was the LGBTQ community.

The night was full of raw, unfiltered laughter, but it came with a strong political and emotional narrative. Mixed in with the stories of Trump where the usual dick jokes, use of language as foul as the word ‘cunt’, and regaling stories of Kim Kardashian and Kathy’s mother, Maggie Griffin. But in the end, it was a story of a woman the government try to silence, one they told told to shut up. Nevertheless … she persisted.

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Can’t Take the Trailer Park Out of Vicki Barbolak

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Comedienne Vicki Barbolak — who appeared in the thirteenth season of America’s Got Talent and made it to the top 10 performers — is in Texas for the next 3 days, visiting Houston, Addison, and San Antonio with her Trailer Nasty comedy routine.

America’s Got Talent could really change my life. This could take me from a trailer park in Oceanside to … a trailer park in Malibu.”

These were some of the first words America heard from stand-up comic Vicki Barbolak just before she took to the America’s Got Talent stage in season thirteen, and they were likely some of the truest to Barbolak’s “Trailer Nasty” persona. After making it all the way to the finale episode of AGT (the show where she also met friend of About Magazine and Houston’s very own Christina Wells), Barbolak finished in the top ten, but unfortunately did not make it to the finale show. That small fact, however, has done nothing to deter her from a successful career in the short months since her appearance on the TV show. The trailer park queen is currently booked solid at comedy clubs and theaters across the nation from now until the end of May 2019 with few pauses in between shows. Tonight, at 7:30 PM at the Improv Houston, Barbolak will be hosting the first of her three Texas shows, followed by gigs in Addison outside Dallas (Wednesday, 19 December) and San Antonio (Thursday, 20 December). And just hours ahead of her show, About Magazine got the chance to talk to Vicki about her successes, her long road to get to them, and her thoughts on comedy and what the world needs now.

Barbolak on the phone is just as funny as she is on the stage; and just like with that of her stage persona, her jokes are as effortless as her next breath to follow. As we talked about our families — myself the eldest of ten children, she a mother of two daughters and herself the daughter of a former Pittsburgh Steelers player, Pete Barbolak — she remarked that children should, “[…] come out as medical students. Or like … plastic surgeons!” But the woman from the Oceanside trailer park wasn’t always out on the comedy stage cracking jokes. In fact, Barbolak’s career didn’t begin until later in life, after having married more than once and raising two daughters. She notes that it all came about when she found a flyer for stand-up classes at age 38 and decided to take a chance — albeit one that many would have dismissed as a pipe dream. However, for Barbolak, this wasn’t just a pipe dream; and she invested everything she had into making a career for herself and her family out of comedy. She said, “You know, I did move into a trailer about five years after I started doing stand-up. And just because of that — my character is just who I am. My real life sort of turned into that character. […] My character on stage is really close to my real life, and [vice versa].” Now she’s been doing it for roughly twenty years, stating to me on the phone, “I literally started in the gay bars in San Diego — that was my first paid job at Flicks […] and then Mitsy [the owner] saw me from the Comedy Store […] but I was almost 40 when I started; meaning the industry in LA would have nothing to do with me. So the show [AGT] brought America and the industry to me and now my life is like I always dreamed it would be, in a way.”

But that life hasn’t always been a dream for Vicki. While America’s Got Talent showed off her story as an overnight success, Barbolak agrees that the process by which any artist becomes a sensation is anything but — especially for women past a certain age in LA. “Even now, with getting a little bit of notoriety, I was booking a gig in Las Vegas and mentioned that I wanted a woman to feature with me. And the guy goes — in a text! — ‘I don’t book two women in the same show’. And I just thought, Really, dude? You’re gonna put that in writing?!” This standard isn’t uncommon in show business, and certainly not in comedy where the appeal of women is diminished due to the lack of glitz and glamor that often accompany movie and pop stars. “But I think that these are better times [for women],” she shared. “We still have [chuckles] so, so far to go, though.” But the ever-present ageism and misogyny of Hollywood didn’t stop Barbolak. She was bound and determined. She had moved into a trailer park in California with her two daughters and was taking gigs wherever she could to make a livable wage for her family. Barbolak even became an ordained minister and began taking what would soon become her Trailer Nasty version of Vicki to perform wedding ceremonies. Whether jokingly or not, the comedienne added a bed to the back of a van she’d bought for her newfound business venture and offered couples a short, honeymoon quickie in the back for an additional $30. Regardless of whether she was performing at the altar, at a bar, or on stage, Barbolak says, “I got here through twenty years of never giving up and just loving what I do.”

In a certain bit of irony, Barbolak takes her comedy quite seriously. As we talked about her new material vs. her short sets on AGT, Vicki cited the late comic Bill Hicks — who began his career working at Houston’s former Comedy Workshop — as saying, “[…] material is what you fall back on when you have nothing else to say.” Now that Barbolak is back to performing longer sets than her TV stints, she added, “So, after twenty years, I’ve gotten to this point where I can just riff. But to pull back from that and to write-write-write […] it was a big shift. But I think it was really good for me.” And this funny woman is no stranger to learning to do something new or to approach comedy differently. When asked who some of her inspirations were, Barbolak stated, “Sam Kinison. […] For me, he’s my favorite and the most close to my heart. And when I was really little, I used to watch Totie Fields — but I didn’t remember that until I grew up. I went to the Museum of Television and saw her, I thought, Oh. When I was a tiny little girl, I used to look up to that fat, ugly thing that everyone loved. I remember sitting on the floor when I was five-years-old […] watching her. […] And, of course, Joan Rivers.” Barbolak also went on to tell me about her admiration for other comedians she’s had the opportunity to work with, including a personal favorite of mine, Kathleen Madigan. While talking about Madigan, Barbolak recounted a conference of women comedians she attended where Madigan was asked to perform a set. She stated how much she regrets the event to this day, because when Madigan took the stage to perform her set, not a single woman in the audience laughed at her jokes. She shared how this moment made her all the more supportive of women comics and how she wishes she could change what happened in that room now, even apologize for it.

“When you’re onstage, you have to be kind of … all you. And I don’t want to be that off stage. I want to be a part of everybody else.”

Rivers, Kinison, Fields, and Madigan are all are very in-line with Barbolak’s comedy; and their inspiration can be found by the careful, comedically-trained ear in her sets. Kinison, a former Pentecostal preacher gone rogue, used to mimic the shouts and screams of evangelical pastors in his comedy routines, often about religion and politics, can be heard in Barbolak’s voice as she rails off idiosyncrasies in her act. The late Rivers’ shock humor can be heard largely at play (on AGT the comic lamented about how she’d driven all the way to a men’s prison for a conjugal visit while in LA, only to learn that for a conjugal visit at this specific prison, “[…] you have to know somebody. Can you believe that?”). And even the slight, observational humor of Madigan, whom Barbolak told me she adores, as well as the former’s near-perfect comedic timing and delivery, is similar to that of Vicki on the stage. But nevertheless and no matter how much of her inspirations you can see within her own act, what makes Barbolak successful is her uniqueness. It’s not the uniqueness of being “trailer nasty” — although that does really add a great deal to it. The uniqueness Barbolak has is that of something she asked me about comic-to-comic:

“As a comic, do you think — because I’ve become convinced of this — that empathy might be one of the most important traits to being a comedian?”

Vicki Barbolak Comedy Texas Trailer Nasty AGTThis quote spiraled us into a much deeper discussion about the state of the nation, the vast separation of the right from the left, and the subjectiveness of comedy. After sharing a story about my first stand-up performance and listening to a story of hers about a fan encounter she’d had a while back, what we seemed to land on was why audiences connect so with comedians in ways they may not with actors or musicians: comedians get up on stage and tell you everything about themselves without metaphor and often without playing a different role. They become your new best friends. “They think it’s just you and that one person,” she added, “They don’t understand.” It seemed, as we discussed it, as though people need that more now. We referred back to a quote from our mutual hero, Joan Rivers, that goes, “Comedy is about making people laugh at everything [in order] to deal with things.” And that’s what Barbolak said she’s here to do. As we went on, she said that a large part of what she loved about AGT was its 50/50 demographic to both the red and blue parts of America, and how it had brought both peoples to her audience. But Barbolak’s appeal is just that — nonspecific. Maybe it’s because she reminds everyone of someone, or maybe it’s because she’s just that fucking funny. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s both of those things, but also because she cares about bringing people together. Again on the topic of women (and now the LGBTQ+ community), she had this to say:

“Let’s face it, the gay community has always been way more supportive when it comes to women. In the same way that we got to go to the prom because we had gay friends to take us, a lot of us [comediennes] make it because we have gay friends that get people to come watch us [and] because there are gay rooms willing to have us.” The LGBTQ+ could arguably be one of Barbolak’s largest demographics. As mentioned earlier, it was in gay bars that Vicki got her start, and she hasn’t forsaken us on her road to success. She even notes that she had a homecoming following AGT with the LGBTQ+ community in San Diego that was attended by many, including “people who had been with me all twenty years just hoping that something good would happen. The gay community has been pro-women forever.”

As for what’s to come for Vicki, it seems as though she has no plans of slowing down now. If America’s Got Talent was the big, show-stopping, act one finale of the show that is her life, act two, in which she hits the road with her personal brand of funny, is sure to leave fans on their feet applauding. Vicki is one of the performers on America’s Got Talent: The Champions, which will premiere on January 7th on NBC.  The Champions features the most memorable acts and extraordinary performers from previous seasons returning to the stage to compete in hopes of taking home the first-ever winter title of AGT Champion. When asked what was to come, Vicki shared that she wants to stay in the TV realm, that she’s been working on sets for late night shows, and that eventually she’d like to be a part of a sitcom — whether that be someone else’s or her very own. And by the looks of things, Trailer Nasty Vicki Barbolak has a lot of character to share on the screen.


Get Tickets to Vicki’s Texas Show by Visiting Her Website

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Facebook | Instagram | YouTube | Twitter

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About Media Originals

‘Anthony Project’ Adds Regina Blake-Dubois, Cody Ray Strimple, Liza Lott

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Anthony Ramirez Regina Blake-Dubois Liza Lott Cody Ray Strimple Anthony Project

The Anthony Project — the new sitcom based on the life of About editor-in-chief Anthony Ramirez — has added drag queens Regina Blake-Dubois and Liza Lott, as well Cody Ray Strimple to the cast of its upfront table read.

HOUSTON — As its September 29th upfront date draws nearer — the upfront being the event in which the community and potential advertisers are invited out to see what the show is all about — About Magazine’s first scripted comedy, The Anthony Project, is stepping closer and closer to rounding out its full cast. Last week actors such as Teresa Zimmermann and Ty Frazier were announced to be joining the cast. This weekend has seen the additions of three new stars.

Trans advocate and drag queen Liza Lott will be joining the cast as the bartender Nikki, whose character will take on a story arc about transitioning in the second half of the first season of the show. Recently-crowned Miss Gay Texas America 2018, Regina Blake-Dubois, will be joining the cast as Jackie — the eccentric receptionist at the characters’ office — while actor and performer Cody Ray Strimple is up for the parts of either Kelsey of Matt — the former a bisexual newcomer who is struggling with his identity, the latter a potential partner of the protagonist, Anthony.

The Anthony Project Anthony Ramirez Sitcom Teresa Zimmermann Ty FrazierThe show revolves around a fictionalized version of Ramirez and deals with real issues he’s dealt with in the his real life. Set half in the fall/winter of 2018 and half in the spring of 2019, The Anthony Project finds its titular character the night after he has been raped, flashing back to the events several months before after his grandmother has died and leading up to the events transpiring around the rape. While the story is a dark comedy, Ramirez states that the major, darker themes of the series — such as rape, death, homophobic work environments, and substance abuse — are all based on events that took place in his life. When we find the comedy’s protagonist, he is working as a writer at a fictionalized version of About Magazine as he tries to juggle the cartoonish antics of his friends and coworkers Sofia, Alex, Kelsey, Matt, Wendy, Nikki, Kara, Erin, and Jackie, while also struggling to cope with the death of his late grandmother and his recent sexual assault.

Teresa Zimmermann will be playing the role of Erin Duval, the show’s primary antagonist and Anthony’s arch nemesis. Erin’s character is summarized as “a white, heterosexual, conservative, Christian employee of the magazine who interjects her unwanted opinions and beliefs upon her coworkers.” Ty Frazier will be reading for the part of Alex Fields, Anthony’s potential love interest in the series as well as his marketing director friend of the fictional version of the magazine with whom he often partakes in reckless recreational activities. Wendy Taylor will reading for a character based on herself, Anthony’s best friend, aptly named Wendy Taylor. Should Morena Roas appear, she will land in the role of Sofia Garcia, Anthony’s best friend from high school and coworker at the magazine. Ramirez, who will also serve as the show’s director, will be playing the titular lead who tries to coat his anxieties with drugs, alcohol, and sex.

The Anthony Project was created by About Magazine editor-in-chief, Anthony Ramirez, and is executive produced by Ramirez and local Houston singer/About creative director, Wendy Taylor. Former 93Q morning show producer and New Country KSCS afternoon radio host, Al Farb, also serves as the supervising producer on the show. The comedy’s team of writers includes other notable Houstonians such as Pride SuperStar contestant Shaun GrayRebekah KnightChristian PeckLea Alonso, and Kimberly Dyan. Serving as story editor on the show is About Magazine book reviewer, Megan Prevost. But now that the series’ first season is nearly halfway written, the crew has announced a September 29th upfront for the community and potential advertisers. An upfront in Hollywood is a presentation by the network for its television shows in which advertisers are invited to preview the show, talk to the cast and crew, and begin their bids for where and with which shows they would like the ads placed. Ramirez’s comedy is only slightly different in nature, with a table read of the first half of The Anthony Project‘s scripts being table read by a collective of actors and the show’s writers for advertisers and the community to come out and get a taste of what the show is all about. The read will close with live musical performances from the actors in a special musical episode featuring two original songs (“The Good Guys” and “So Happy I Could Die”) and Broadway favorites such as “The Mad Hatter” from Wonderland, “On My Own” from Les Miserables, “Defying Gravity” from Wicked, and a medley of songs from The Last Five Years. 

The table read takes place September 29th — a time and location will be announced soon.

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About Media Originals

Anthony Project to Star Anthony Ramirez, Ty Frazier, Teresa Zimmermann

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The Anthony Project Anthony Ramirez Sitcom Wendy Taylor Ty Frazier

Giving audiences and potential advertisers a sneak peek of its first scripted comedy, About Magazine has recruited local talent such as Ty Frazier, Teresa Zimmermann, and more to star in a reading of its sitcom The Anthony Project.

(HOUSTON) – About Magazine’s newest venture, a production studio named About Media (both of which operate under the About Media Group umbrella) has begun its forays into television programming. Earlier this month, About screened its first original talk show, Round-Up with Mel Rose, and now has three pilot scripts in development and is halfway done with the writing process of its first scripted sitcom, The Anthony Project.

The Anthony Project was created by About Magazine editor-in-chief, Anthony Ramirez, and is executive produced by Ramirez and local Houston singer/About creative director, Wendy Taylor. Former 93Q morning show producer and New Country KSCS afternoon radio host, Al Farb, also serves as the supervising producer on the show. The comedy’s team of writers includes other notable Houstonians such as Pride SuperStar contestant Shaun Gray, Rebekah Knight, Christian Peck, Lea Alonso, and Kimberly Dyan. Serving as story editor on the show is About Magazine book reviewer, Megan Prevost. But now that the series’ first season is nearly halfway written, the crew has announced a September 29th upfront for the community and potential advertisers. An upfront in Hollywood is a presentation by the network for its television shows in which advertisers are invited to preview the show, talk to the cast and crew, and begin their bids for where and with which shows they would like the ads placed. Ramirez’s comedy is only slightly different in nature, with a table read of the first half of The Anthony Project‘s scripts being table read by a collective of actors and the show’s writers for advertisers and the community to come out and get a taste of what the show is all about. The read will close with live musical performances from the actors in a special musical episode featuring two original songs (“The Good Guys” and “So Happy I Could Die”) and Broadway favorites such as “The Mad Hatter” from Wonderland, “On My Own” from Les Miserables, “Defying Gravity” from Wicked, and a medley of songs from The Last Five Years. 

The Anthony Project Anthony Ramirez Sitcom Wendy Taylor Ty Frazier

Series logo.

In preparation for this event, Anthony Project producers have announced that joining their cast will be actress and singer Teresa Zimmermann — who currently stars in the Queensbury Theatre’s production of the musical Violet — production designer and OutSmart Gayest and Greatest Award nominee for Favorite Male Entertainer Ty Frazier, and local Houston actress Julitta Pourciau, who has appeared in various TV shows such as Claws and The Leftovers. While they have not confirmed their appearances yet, Houston artist Morena Roas has been invited to appear, as has Miss Gay Texas America 2012, Kara Dion. The latter two personalities are currently in the process of checking their schedules.

The show revolves around a fictionalized version of Ramirez and deals with real issues he’s dealt with in the his real life. Set half in the fall/winter of 2018 and half in the spring of 2019, The Anthony Project finds its titular character the night after he has been raped, flashing back to the events several months before after his grandmother has died and leading up to the events transpiring around the rape. While the story is a dark comedy, Ramirez states that the major, darker themes of the series — such as rape, death, homophobic work environments, and substance abuse — are all based on events that took place in his life. When we find the comedy’s protagonist, he is working as a writer at a fictionalized version of About Magazine as he tries to juggle the cartoonish antics of his friends and coworkers Sofia, Alex, Kelsey, Matt, Wendy, Nikki, Kara, Erin, and Jackie, while also struggling to cope with the death of his late grandmother and his recent sexual assault.

The Anthony Project Anthony Ramirez Sitcom Wendy Taylor Ty Frazier

Teresa Zimmermann, who will be reading for the role of Erin Duval.

Teresa Zimmermann will be playing the role of Erin Duval, the show’s primary antagonist and Anthony’s arch nemesis. Erin’s character is summarized as “a white, heterosexual, conservative, Christian employee of the magazine who interjects her unwanted opinions and beliefs upon her coworkers.” Ty Frazier will be reading for the part of Alex Fields, Anthony’s potential love interest in the series as well as his marketing director friend of the fictional version of the magazine with whom he often partakes in reckless recreational activities. Wendy Taylor will reading for a character based on herself, Anthony’s best friend, aptly named Wendy Taylor. As for Kara Dion and Julitta Pourciau, either would be playing the roles of Kara Wells — Anthony’s flighty, incompetent editor-in-chief who is struggling to kick a drinking habit — and Jackie Ferguson, the magazine’s seemingly-delusional receptionist who lost a child in a car accident to a drunk driver. Should Morena Roas appear, she will land in the role of Sofia Garcia, Anthony’s best friend from high school and coworker at the magazine. Ramirez, who will also serve as the show’s director, will be playing the titular lead who tries to coat his anxieties with drugs, alcohol, and sex.

Other characters that remain uncast for the September 29th reading of The Anthony Project include Kelsey Carter, a new, bisexual accountant coming to terms with his identity and his possible feelings for the Anthony character, Matt Delaney, a bartender at the gang’s local hangout, the Esquire Room, who gave up his career as a middle school music teacher to pursue music full-time, Nikki Adams, the bar’s motherly owner, Jillian Mitchell, a therapist to Anthony and Kelsey, as well as other supporting characters.

Actors wishing to read for these roles are asked to send an email to query@about-online.com, or message About Magazine on Facebook. 

The Anthony Project Anthony Ramirez Sitcom Wendy Taylor Ty Frazier

Left to right top: Anthony Ramirez (Anthony), Ty Frazier (Alex); bottom: Wendy Taylor (Wendy), Morena Roas and Kara Dion.

The table read — which begins with the first episode, “I Am Not This Person“, and ends in a special musical episode entitled “Alex + Anthony” featuring two original songs by Ramirez — is open to the public, as well as businesses that would like to discuss advertising and sponsorship of the program. Community members that would like to reserve a seat can follow this link to the Event Brite page. Businesses and potential sponsor should send an email to query@about-online.com to reserve a table. Complimentary beverages and food will be provided.


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