An edited interview by SHILANDA WOOLRIDGE
Marga Gomez is back — on a mission in the Mission. Her new show “Long Island Iced Latina” opened January 8th at The Marsh theatre for a six-show run.
Gomez, who grew up in New York City has been in San Francisco for 20 years, began to sharpen her comedic skills in her early 20s at the now defunct Valencia Rose on Valencia and 18th streets. Last week she performed with queer Muslim comic, Ali Mafi, on her fifth New Year’s Eve show at the Rhino Theatre in the Mission.
She took time earlier this week to chat about the city, politics, her career and what exactly is in a Long Island Iced Latina.
SW: You won SF Bay Guardian’s Comedian of the Year for 2008. How did it feel to win?
It was nice for something I didn’t actually try to get. I’m always surprised that I have people who are such supporters who come to shows.
I’m co-dependent as a performer. So I always hope the audience gets their moneys worth. If they vote for me for something then I want to step up my game.
SW: 2008 had a lot of political issues that affected queer folks. What are you thoughts on Prop 8 and Rick Warren, the evangelical Christian pastor President-elect Obama chose to give the invocation at his inauguration?
MG: Rick Warren is a very heated topic and a confusing situation. I talked about him [in the New Year’s Eve show] and how gay people felt that Obama threw them under the bus. I said I don’t think that analogy works in San Francisco when you have to wait 40 minutes for the Muni. Someone throwing you under the bus is not a serious problem. If someone throws you under the bus you have about a half hour to save yourself.
SW: You’re one of America’s first openly lesbian comics and showbiz is in your blood. Your father was a comedian from Cuba and your mother was a dancer from Puerto Rico. How did you get your start?
MG: I was always drawn to comedy. I moved to San Francisco when I was 20. My parents found out I was gay and were very uncomfortable. I moved out. I had like $100.
I got a job at a place where everybody was an artist and a performer. I wound up doing stand up comedy at an open mic. I did very good and got hooked on it and kept doing it.
Then I went to the Valencia Rose, which was the first gay comedy club. The audience was so, so appreciative. They were going nuts. I felt encouraged and I started talking more personally and about gay issues. I started getting gigs around the country and gay comedy shows.
SW: Who is your audience?
MG: My audience is a mix of people, very San Francisco progressive, gay straight, Latino, people of color, white folks, and women. What I’ve learned is you can’t get everybody. I don’t want to compromise who I am. I love anyone who buys a ticket to my show.
SW: You call yourself butch and often wear makeup. Are you futch (femme + butch)?
MG: I do my own thing. I prefer not to obsess about the labels.
I think the reason I don’t wear a lot of girly girl clothes is because I have my father’s feet, terrible corns. I think if you’re gonna get glammed out like that you gotta wear the shoes and there’s no way. I have to wear simple, plain sensible shoes.
It’s really my feet. If I had my Mother’s feet, oh my gosh, I’d be in heels all the time.
SW: Let’s talk about your new show, Long Island Iced Latina.
MG: It’s about being a Latino/a. A Spanish surnamed person in America who can’t speak Spanish. It doesn’t seem to be an issue for any other ethnicity. No one expects an Italian-American to just break out into Italian and start playing bocce ball.
Latinos are kind of fetishized. Everyone looks at me as the person that’s gonna teach them salsa and the person they can practice their high school Spanish on. It’s a very deep source of shame that I can’t speak Spanish. It was almost harder than coming out as a gay person.
Latinos are so hungry to be represented on stage and in entertainment. I get these people who rush up to me and start speaking in Spanish, then I say a few clumsy words and you just see this sadness.
Spanish was the first language I spoke when I was a baby. I dealt with heavy heavy assimilation in Catholic school. Maybe half the kids were Latino and the other half were Irish, and the nuns were Irish. They really just blew our minds. I can jig better than I can salsa. I guess part of what makes me a performer is the need to be liked. I needed the nuns to like me.
I’m tackling all this stuff. It’s presented as somewhat of a comedy act with story telling in it. I tell the stories and they are all funny, and yet there is a little bit of anger in it, just a little it of edge.
This whole show is focused on my teenage years. I had to spend my high school years in a suburban neighborhood where I was the only brown person. So I tried to be as white as I could be, and it carried into being an English major in college and taking French instead of Spanish in high school.
My Mother was also part of this. She was a very fair skinned Puerto Rican. People didn’t believe she was Puerto Rican until she opened her mouth and she had this thick Puerto Rican accent. She always wanted to be French. So I took French to make her like me. Yet I was dark so she was always disappointed. When I had a little blond friend she would be delighted with my friend. She’d say, “Why can’t you have your hair like that?” Because she’s white!
The first really big presentation of the show in New York had a tremendous response.
There were so many people who came forward who said, “I don’t know Spanish either and I’m so ashamed.” It nice, because you know when Latinos are in the media it’s like we’re uber Latino. That’s the reality for many of us. I deal with the stereotypes.
The group of Latinos that can’t speak Spanish are oppressed by the majority of Latinos that can speak Spanish. I am calling out to my nation. I am your leader. We speak the same language. English.
Photos by David Wilson.