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Stage icon Patti LuPone relishes new role in Ryan Murphy’s ‘Hollywood’

It’s the Tinseltown that might have been in star-studded new Netflix series out May 1



Patti LuPone, gay news, Washington Blade
Patti LuPone (left) and the cast of ‘Hollywood,” out today on Netflix. (Photo courtesy Netflix)

For award-winning actress and fierce LGBTQ ally Patti LuPone it all starts with the costume.

“I love costumes,” she says. “I love to wear them and I love to use them. I’ve been very fortunate in my career that I’ve had incredible costumes on my body.”

In fact, the legendary chanteuse says that costume fittings are an essential part of her rehearsal process.

“A good costume designer can help you define character. It all starts with the shoes. They determine how the character walks.”

She says everything else flows from there.

Glamorous costumes certainly set the mood for LuPone’s current television project. She’s starring in “Hollywood,” the latest series from gay television mogul Ryan Murphy. She plays Avis Amberg, the unhappy wife of studio executive Ace Amberg. When Avis unexpectedly assumes control of Ace Studios, she turns Tinseltown on its head and greenlights the controversial movie “Meg.”

LuPone says the series asks the question “what if?” What if you could change history? What if things were done differently in Hollywood? What would it look like if women and people of color and members of the LGBTQ community could work openly and tell the stories they wanted to tell?

“It’s also a throwback to an extremely glamorous time in Hollywood with all of its gorgeousness and foibles,” LuPone says by phone. “I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say there is a happy ending.”

LuPone was of course thrilled at the chance to wear shimmering costumes from the Golden Age of Tinseltown.

“I get to look great,” she says. “When I went to the costume fittings I was in heaven. I was ravenous. When someone puts you in hats and gloves and furs and tailored clothes that are incredibly well-made you just behave differently. Sarah Evelyn did an extraordinary job with the costumes. There’s just stunning clothes for all of us.”

LuPone was especially excited that half of the costumes seen on screen were vintage.

“The workmanship was exquisite,” she says. “It’s amazing that these clothes are still wearable. Now there’s no quality control. You can buy a jacket for $10,000 and it falls apart on you.”

LuPone also says the excellent writing staff helped her slide into the character of Avis.

“I just fell into it,” she says. “I didn’t feel like I had to struggle with the part even though I’m not in any way like her. I’m not married to a studio head. I’m very happily married. I don’t have any of the concerns this woman had, but it felt very natural for me. When it’s good writing your job is done for you, and this is good writing.”

The iconoclastic LuPone, who just celebrated her 71st birthday, also appreciates that Avis is a rule-breaker who shatters traditional Hollywood stereotypes about older women.

“Avis has unbelievable freedom,” LuPone says.

Avis is proudly and forthrightly sexual and also supports other women instead of tearing them down.

For example, in her first moments onscreen, Avis hires the services of call boy/aspiring actor Jack Castello (David Corenswet) and the two enjoy a steamy tryst at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Later, Avis helps veteran studio executive Ellen Kincaid (Holland Taylor) break out of the romantic mire she’s stuck in and casts “over-the-hill” starlet Jeanne Crandall (Mira Sorvino) in a leading romantic role.

“Avis can break the norms because she’s in a powerful position,” LuPone says. “There’s nothing to hold her back. I had a ball playing her.”

All seven episodes of “Hollywood” drop on Netflix on Friday, May 1.

Meanwhile, Patti LuPone is waiting to get back on stage. She’s playing Joanne in the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” a transfer from London’s West End. Previews started on March 2, but the production was forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 crisis. Performances are planned to resume in June.

LuPone has played the role before (and the iconic number “The Ladies Who Lunch” has become one of her signature songs), but she notes that this time there’s a twist. The lead role, a sexually active 35-year-old bachelor, is now being played by a woman instead of a man. Bobby becomes Bobbie.

The change, she notes, makes the show much more poignant. It’s one thing, she says, for a single man to be “boinking” beautiful women, but there seems to be a problem when a middle-aged woman is sexually active and single. Bobbie’s not married and the clock is ticking and that’s a big problem for a woman.
LuPone also adds that the recasting of the lead role is not the only gender-bending change in this production.

“The characters Amy and Paul become Jamie and Paul, a homosexual couple. This fresh focus on gender expectations really sharpens the lines.”

In typical fashion, LuPone credits costume designer Bunny Christie with helping her define her character.

“I told director Marianne Elliott that there are four people in my big scene,” LuPone says. “Three actors and a coat. I had to wrangle the coat. It’s wonderful.”

LuPone began building her LGBTQ fan base with her Broadway debut in “Evita” (1979). On stage, she’s best known for her legendary musical theater performances (Fantine in “Les Misérables,” Mama Rose in “Gypsy,” Mrs. Lovett in “Sweeney Todd,” Reno Sweeney in “Anything Goes,” Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard,” Lucia in “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” and Helena Rubenstein in “War Paint”), but she’s also won acclaim for her starring role as Maria Callas in Terrence McNally’s “Master Class” and for her work with playwright David Mamet.

Notable film roles include “Witness” and “Driving Miss Daisy” and her early television work includes gritty roles as Libby Thatcher in “Life Goes On” and librarian Stella Coffa in the HBO prison drama “Oz.”

Given her love of exotic costumes and larger-than-life characters, LuPone has enjoyed taking on more flamboyant roles in recent years. In “Coven,” season three of Ryan Murphy’s “American Horror Story,” she played Joan Ramsey, a deeply religious housewife who made the mistake of moving next door to Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies. In Murphy’s “Pose,” she appeared as real estate tycoon Frederica Norman and got to sing the Stephen Sondheim anthem “I’m Still Here” at an AIDS cabaret.

She also appeared as both Dr. Florence Seward (season one) and hedge-witch Joan Clayton (season two) on “Penny Dreadful.”

The award-winning actress (two Tonys, two Grammys and two Olivier Awards to date) is also winning over a new generation of LGBTQ fans with her work on the queer-themed cartoon “Steven Universe.”

LuPone says she had never done voice-over work before, but jumped at the chance when series creator Rebecca Sugar asked her to join the cast. LuPone voiced the evil Yellow Diamond in the television series and the subsequent movie.

Like the rest of us, LuPone is trying to stay safe and sane during the COVID-19 crisis. She recently celebrated her birthday with a Zoom bingo game (and a lot of martinis) and has become an active presence on Twitter (@PattiLuPone), where she’s taken fans on a tour of her basement while dressed like silent screen star Norma Desmond.

With LuPone’s busy schedule, it’s “as if we never said goodbye.”

‘Hollywood’ sizzles

David Cornswet and Patti LuPone in ‘Hollywood.’ (Photo by Saeed Adyani; courtesy Netflix)

Expectations matter. If you binge-watch Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix limited series “Hollywood” this weekend (and you should) and expect to see the “revisionist history” they advertise, you’ll be disappointed.

But, if you tune in and expect to see a delicious escapist fantasy, then you’ll be in heaven. “Hollywood” is a frothy wish-fulfillment dream, a delectable parfait with terrific acting, gorgeous costumes, engaging heroes, despicable villains and a happy ending worthy of a classic Tinseltown blockbuster.

“Hollywood” centers on the glamorous Avis Amberg (Patti LuPone), a former silent movie star who married a studio executive when her career tanked (she sounded “too Jewish” for talkies). When she unexpectedly takes the reins at Ace Studios, she turns Hollywood into a real dream factory where women, people of color and queer people get to make movies, tell their stories, win Academy Awards and live happily ever after.

LuPone is simply magnificent. She’s smart, stylish and sexy. She looks amazing (the terrific costumes are by Sarah Evelyn) and delivers the crackling dialogue with fantastic flair and flawless timing (Janet Mock served as one of the producers, writers and directors for the show). LuPone also brings an appealing warmth and vulnerability to the role. She becomes the brains, heart and soul of this new celluloid kingdom and her performance is perfection.

LuPone is surrounded by a top-notch cast that brings together veteran actors and fresh-faced newcomers. Jim Parsons, known for his work on the sitcom “The Big Bang,” is electric as the snarling Henry Willson, the closeted agent and sexual predator who knows where the bodies are buried. Holland Taylor (“Bosom Buddies” and “Two and a Half Men”) is wonderful as casting agent Ellen Kincaid and Joe Mantello (Broadway’s “Angels in America”) offers a richly layered performance as a closeted studio executive.

Murphy regular Dylan McDermott is charming as Ernie, the suave Hollywood pimp based on the historic Scotty Bowers. His stable of affable sex workers includes Archie Pope, who blazes with sincerity and passion as a black gay screenwriter and David Corenswet, who’s period-perfect as the ambitious actor with the chiseled cheekbones.

Samara Weaving conquers some inconsistent writing to turn in a fine performance as Claire Wood, an aspiring starlet, but two of her castmates struggle with their roles. Darren Criss is rather monotonous as the cheery wanna-be director and Jake Picking is wooden as a fantasy version of actor Rock Hudson.

The cast has great fun demolishing Hollywood stereotypes, especially those around older women. LuPone and Taylor (both over 70) get sizzling sex scenes with their younger male co-stars. And while the female characters engage in delightful repartee with each other, they always have each other’s back. Despite some personal friction, Avis hires an “over-the-hill” actress (a superb Mira Sorvino) for a romantic lead and Claire cheers on the actress who gets the role she wanted.

In “Hollywood,” Ryan Murphy and company create an exquisite escapist fantasy where Tinseltown really is Dreamland and dreamers do find their rainbow connection. Since it simply ignores the historical reality of the period (messy things like laws against miscegenation and sodomy), it’s not really revisionist history, but does that really matter? Right now, a stylish and sentimental fantasy sounds perfect.


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Meet the ‘CEO of Everything Gay’ who just bought the Abbey

Tristan Schukraft, who owns Mistr, takes over iconic LA nightclub



Tristan Schukraft with equine friend at the Varian Stable in Newmarket, United Kingdom in 2019. (Photo courtesy Schukraft)

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Tristan Schukraft laughs when I suggest he’s building a gay empire, but he doesn’t deny it. 

When it was announced last month that the owner of the iconic Abbey and Chapel nightclubs in Los Angeles had entered into an agreement to sell the business to Schukraft, it seemed like a strange move for the jet-setting tech CEO. 

But the portfolio he’s building – founder and owner of the telemedicine app for gay men Mistr, owner of the queer nightclub Circo and Tryst Hotel in Puerto Rico – appears to be bent toward Hoovering up more pink dollars by getting involved in an ever wider section of queer life.

The Los Angeles Blade spoke to Schukraft at The Abbey during its annual tree-lighting fundraiser for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation about what he plans to do with the storied nightclub, and how he became one of America’s most visible gay moguls.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

BLADE: Why the Abbey? 

SCHUKRAFT: Well, I wanted to make sure it stayed in the hands of the gay community. You know, it’s an institution. It’s a cornerstone of West Hollywood gay life, but more importantly, it’s I think it’s a cornerstone of the gay community far beyond West Hollywood, right? 

BLADE: Looking at your background in tech companies, your recent shift into the nightclub and hospitality industry seems like a bit of a left turn.

SCHUKRAFT: You know, I’ve been drinking here for a long time. So now, after all that investment, I’m actually gonna start getting money back. I basically bought it so I can get free drinks. 

You know, at the end of the day, I’m an operations guy. I’m a technology guy. I own hotels. With hotels, you have bars and restaurants, so it’s not too far off the track. It’s a little off track. Why not? Right? 

You know, after watching “The Birdcage,” I always wanted my own hotel [like Robin Williams’s character in the 1996 film] and somebody shattered my dreams the other day by telling me it was a nightclub. I’m like, what? It was a nightclub? And then I watched it, and it’s true, it was a nightclub. So, now I have a nightclub. Yeah, so it all started with “The Birdcage.” 

BLADE: You’re known for being a disrupter of the things that you invest in. Is there a disruption plan for the Abbey, or for Weho? Are you planning to change things here? 

SCHUKRAFT: Not a major disruption here at The Abbey. I’m gonna put my touches on it. But yeah, it’s a pretty well-oiled machine. We’re definitely going to focus on our values of being LGBTQ. I got some ideas for new nights and I definitely want to make it an epicenter of the gay community. And I think there’s opportunities to take it beyond West Hollywood.

BLADE: Can you give any kind of sneak peek at what you’re thinking? 

SCHUKRAFT: East Coast. That’s your sneak peek right now. East Coast. 

I think you’ll see in a couple months what I’m gonna do with the Abbey. But you know as far as taking it outside of West Hollywood, I see there’s opportunities on the East Coast right now. 

I think that’s where David [Cooley, the founder and current owner of The Abbey] and I really we both appreciate the value of The Abbey brand. I think it’s world famous, right? It’s the biggest gay bar. It’s one of the longest lasting. Obviously you have the Stonewalls of the world. But this is like a bar where people go on a regular night versus a tourist attraction. Maybe for some it’s a tourist attraction, but I mean, it really is an institution. It’s a community gathering point. It’s a name that people recognize that we can bring into other communities. 

BLADE: Do you have any plans to put a hotel somewhere here? 

SCHUKRAFT: [Laughs] People are like, “Are you gonna paint it blue for Mistr?” Or, “You’re gonna make it a hotel?” But no, we’re not building a hotel here. That would be terrible to build. I mean build a hotel and Abbey would be out. I don’t think the Abbey’s ever closed in 33 years, besides COVID. Minus that, it’s never closed for construction. You know, when David did his expansion, it was always open. 

I was looking at those old photos and I’m like, oh my God, I remember the wall of candles. I’ve been coming here a very long time. 

So you’re more or less like keeping the same sort of operation going here, keeping the team in place?

The team, I mean, I think that’s what kind of really makes The Abbey unique. It’s like a place where everybody knows your name. 

When I bought the hotel in Puerto Rico, obviously I don’t know anyone. Buying here. I’m like, oh, yeah. I know Todd. I know everybody, right? Not everybody, but a majority of people. And I think that’s why people come here. Because it’s their staple. They go every Sunday. They know they have their favorite bartender. So, you know, everybody will be kept in place, no changes to personnel. 

BLADE: You gave an interview to Authority Magazine where you said you promised your partner that you wouldn’t be starting up any new businesses. How did you get him on board with jumping into becoming a WeHo nightlife impresario?

SCHUKRAFT: I broke that promise two or three times since I said that. I mean, no, I just buy him gifts to make him happy.

I work long hours, right? And he’s like, I don’t know why. 

BLADE: You’ve created and run several tech companies. How did you get started in that business? Where did that money come from? 

SCHUKRAFT: I started my very first company at 21 with a $10,000 loan. I was living in Hong Kong at the time. I think my father really wanted me to come back [to California]. My dad’s a corporate guy, not a big risk taker, but he’s like, ‘I’ll give you $10,000 to start your company.’ It wasn’t enough to start the company, so I imported 437 Razor scooters and I thought I was gonna sell out in two weeks. It was very popular at the time – this is like 23 years ago. It took me six and a half weeks. I was selling them out of my truck. I went to every swap meet in Southern California. Sold the last six on Christmas Eve and learned a couple lessons in business from that. But with the money I made from selling those scooters combined with the loan, I started my first company, which was like an Expedia for airline personnel.

And then I got into e-ticketing, and at that time, I didn’t know how to turn on the computer. So, I really surround myself with people that know what they’re doing, that are experts. So, do I know how to run a bar? No, but I’m an operations guy and I hire the talent to make it happen. That’s how I got started and I built that company and others along the way. 

BLADE: Other than that first $10,000 loan from your parents, you’re basically self-made then? 

SCHUKRAFT: Yeah. You know, I looked for investment. I did end up raising $18 million for my second company, but I put in a lot of money. I mean at 25, my first company was going really well, and there was this e-ticketing mandate and I said, oh there’s a real opportunity here. And I had a home and was doing good for a 25-year-old, and I kind of leveraged it all. And I thought, “Oh my God, what did I do? I just fucked up my whole life. Why did I do this?” Anyways, I got that first investor, got that first client, and it just kind of took off from there. 

BLADE: And now with Mistr, The Abbey, your Puerto Rico clubs, are you starting a gay empire? 

SCHUKRAFT: The CEO of Everything Gay, yes. I have a few more things. You know, all the businesses are very complementary, right? So, you come to The Abbey, then you go to the Tryst Hotel or Circo in Puerto Rico, and obviously all of the people that come here or the Tryst, they’re all perfect candidates for Mistr. So yeah, so it looks a little weird. But it is very complementary to our various business units

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The ultimate guide to queer gift giving

Perfect presents for everyone from roommates to soulmates



Searching for special deliveries for that special someone? Consider these elf-approved, consciously curated presents perfect for everyone from roommates to soulmates. 

Star Wars Home Collection

Movie nights in bed get a comfort upgrade from the Force – for those who uphold Jedi code in the streets but embrace the Dark Side in the sheets – with Sobel Westex’s Star Wars Home Collection, five- to seven-piece twin, queen and king sets suitable for either alliance. Cop a bootleg of the infamous “Star Wars Holiday Special” (legal copies don’t exist, nor has it been rebroadcast since its one-and-only airing in 1978) and settle in for a snacky screening with premade Johnson’s Popcorn (a Jersey Shore staple) or Pop ’N Dulge’s DIY gourmet kits., $350-$390;, $27+;, $23

Bird Buddy Smart Feeder

Avian enthusiasts get up close and semi-personal with feathered friends thanks to the Bird Buddy smart feeder that allows safe viewing via a solar-powered, app-enabled camera, along with adorable add-ons like a suet ball holder and three-in-one nutrition set to keep the neighborhood’s population happy and healthy., $299-$415

Jewelry – but make it an experience. That’s the premise behind Link x Lou, a quick-fitting accessory service providing recipients with in-person appointments for custom-linked, clasp-less 14-karat white- and yellow-gold necklaces, bracelets, anklets, and rings that wear until they’re worn out. Money’s on ’em lasting longer than the situationship you’ve got goin’, but may the odds be ever in your favor., $55-$500

Orttu Shelton Puffer

Guess who’s coming to dinner? It’s you as an alt-timeline Tom of Finland in Orttu’s fully quilted, oversized Shelton Puffer comprised of double-layered high-sheen fabric and press-stud fastening that results in a slick style statement vers-er than you are., $203

Winter Discovery Mini Scented Candle Set

Apotheke takes the guesswork out of choosing just the right ambiance-inducing aroma with its Winter Discovery Mini Scented Candle Set, featuring six fragrant two-ounce tins in seasonal smells that include birchwood apple, black cypress, blackberry honey, cardamon chestnut, charred fig, and firewood (with a combined 90-hour burn time), and packaged in a nostalgically illustrated gift box accentuated by festive gold detailing., $64

Polaris General 1000 Sport

Resort communities across the country have adopted golf carts as a preferred mode of transportation, and you can establish yourself as a local baddie in Polaris’ General 1000 Sport – in ethereal colorways like ghost gray – equipped with a four-stroke DOHC twin-cylinder engine, 100 horsepower, 1,500-pound hitch-towing capacity, and enough street cred for Boomers to shake their fists at., $17,500+

‘Arquivistas’ Crystal Book

Brazilian crystal devotee Tatiana Dorow has curated an impressive collection of more than 1,000 rare and exquisite minerals – ranging from one ounce to over 5,000 pounds – the comprehensive record of which is now compiled in the sizable coffee-table tome “Arquivistas” (Portuguese for archivist) that’s sure to satisfy, delight, and provide endless holiday-party talking points to the New Agers in your life. (You know they will.), $350

Bovem Globe Trimmer 2.0

There are plenty of manscaping tools on the market, but perhaps none are designed with your delicate bits in mind like the handsome second-gen Bovem Globe body and groin trimmer with its ergonomic textured grip, powerful 6500 RPM with low vibration, varying guards, and replaceable TrimSafe blades that tidy you up without cutting skin or pulling rough hair. Deck the halls! – no more bloody Christmas balls., $60-$87

Lexington Glassworks Decanter Set

Pour one out from Lexington Glassworks’ hand-blown whiskey decanter, each one individually crafted in the company’s Asheville, N.C., studio and detailed with an elegant crackle finish that lends an air of sophistication to any home bar cart. Pair with a set of LG’s complementary rocks glasses, in the same distinguished style, for a cherished gift., $280

Joule Turbo Sous Vide

Your fave chefs’ autopilot cooking technique hits home countertops in Breville’s sleek Joule Turbo Sous Vide stick, which cooks seasoned-and-bagged meats and veggies to a faster-than-ever optimal internal temperature (unattended, no less) before a lickety-split sear and serve results in restaurant-quality dishes deserving of at least a couple Michelin stars for your minimal-mess kitchen., $250

Outlines Shower Liner System

Holiday hosts can practice responsible replenishment amid our planetary plastic-waste crisis when you gift Outlines’ thoughtfully designed Shower Liner System that provides users with a machine-washable cotton top piece and fully recyclable bottom to replace when it’s time to ditch the grime. Set it and forget it with three-, six- or nine-month auto-deliveries., $50

Barbie Perfume

Fight the patriarchy doused in Barbie’s sweet-and-fresh fragrance that, from top to bottom, features notes of strawberry nectar and red cherry, peony and pink magnolia, and sandalwood and soft musk for an extraordinary scent that’s more than Kenough., $65

AiRROBO Pet Grooming Vacuum

Posh pets enjoy salon-style luxury in the comfort of their homes when treated to a grooming session by the AiRROBO vacuum (think Flowbee for cats and dogs), a five-tool, one-stop solution for keeping furbabies’ hair, dander, allergens and mites to a minimum. The portable pamperer includes an electric clipper, crevice and de-shedding tools, and grooming and cleaning brushes housed in a space-saving, HEPA-filtered capsule., $110

Aura Smart Sleep Mask

What does the future of total relaxation and deep sleep look like? Blackout darkness and complete serenity in a dream-state sanctuary when you spend your nights in the Aura Smart Sleep Mask with built-in speakers for guided meditation and snooze-inducing ASMR, zero-pressure eye cushioning, and light and sunrise therapy to help you wake rested and refreshed at home and (especially) away., $190

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBTQ lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels.

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Anatomy of a post-cancellation comedy tour: Ashley Gavin in D.C.

After doxxing and death threats, a focus on jokes that transcend identity



Ashley Gavin is back on the comedy circuit after a summer controversy.

I was dressing up to go to Ashley Gavin’s stand-up comedy show at the Lincoln Theatre when I got a text from Sydnie, Ashley’s assistant. I didn’t remember giving Sydnie my number — although I must have, surely? We had been in contact the past few days about setting up an interview with Ashley about her show here in D.C., and just today we had managed to schedule a time for tomorrow afternoon.

But suddenly the interview wasn’t looking so sure. Sydnie was texting to ask for a list of my questions for the interview, and if I didn’t provide them, I wouldn’t be getting tickets to tonight’s show. I had two hours to get back to her. “So sorry about that!” Sydnie texted.

The ultimatum caught me off guard — but perhaps it shouldn’t have. Ashley Gavin was the subject of controversy this summer for some of her crowd work during a show in Indianapolis. After a fan cheered a little too loudly at a joke, Ashley informed her she was the “the most annoying fan who has ever been to one of her shows,” and that she should “kill herself.” When the fan responded, “I’ve already tried,” Ashley responded that she didn’t try hard enough, and implored her again and again to kill herself. The fan broke down in tears, and left the show.

The familiar cycle of celebrity cancellation played out. Calls were made on Reddit to boycott Ashley’s shows. Ashley released an apology video. YouTubers scrutinized the apology clip-by-clip on their channels. Ashley reported getting doxxed in death threats. (The irony!) The fan Ashley accosted, Olivia Neely, raised money for suicide awareness online. And now Ashley Gavin is back on tour, for the first time since the incident. No wonder Ashley had her assistant screening my questions.

When Ashley took the stage at the Lincoln Theatre, it quickly became clear that her audience is kindling for controversy fire. All the way up front, in the first few rows, are Ashley’s die-hard fans. Some of these fans have paid hundreds of dollars for meet-and-greet tickets after the show. They’re on the younger side, and are largely lesbian or queer. They turned 21 during the pandemic, and they haven’t necessarily been to a comedy show before. They’re fans from online — of Ashley’s TikTok, or her podcast. But all the way in the back are more casual viewers, people who aren’t fans of Ashley specifically, but of comedy more generally. They might have bought their tickets last minute. They’re a little older than the die-hard fans, a little less queer, and they’re more familiar with the offline comedy club scene. 

It’s great that these two different groups can come together to enjoy a comedy show. But there’s one big problem. The online die-hards and the offline comedy regulars have very different expectations for the show. And Ashley isn’t looking to satisfy all of them.

On the one hand, the comedy regulars aren’t necessarily used to the content of her show, which especially on this tour, is largely comprised of material about being lesbian. Ashley wants the straight people in the room to know these jokes are for them too. One of the few bits Ashley carried over from her first special to this new tour involves picking out a random straight man in the audience. She’ll learn his name, and then check in on him after this or that joke later in the set as the ‘representative straight man’ in the crowd. “I’m speaking to the people who might not feel comfortable in the room,” Ashley explained to me during our interview. “I’m saying like, hey, I know you’re there, and this is for you. And I’m really glad that you’re here, you know.”

But if Ashley wants the comedy regulars to adjust to the content of her show, she also wants her online, die-hard fans to adjust to the form of her show, which is offline, at a comedy club or theater. Her die-hard fans are new to the comedy scene, and she wants to make a proper introduction. This isn’t simply out of magnanimity. Ashley intends to put on the kind of show the comedy regulars are there to see. And if her fans from TikTok or her podcast are going to enjoy it, that means adjusting their expectations.

“I’ve read it in my comments [online] before,” Ashley lamented. “I’ve read like, ‘This was not a safe space.’ Maybe because of gross things, or some of the darkness of the jokes. I’m frequently like, what made you think it was going to be a safe space? Art is not a safe space.” 

Ashley Gavin

As Ashley sees things, part of going to a comedy show is letting go and not worrying about whether the jokes are offensive. It’s giving the comedian the benefit of the doubt, especially if you know them from online. And she thinks letting go of your worries isn’t giving up on your political convictions — it’s empowering. “[My fans] are very into social justice, and very into doing the right thing, [and] I want to give them the opportunity to let go a little bit, and release some of their tension, and their pain, and their struggle.”

So one of the more unique things Ashley will do as a comedian is address her online, die-hard fans directly at the beginning of her show. She’ll tell them that she’s on the right side of things, that she won’t pull the rug out from under them, politically speaking. She’ll tell them that they should feel free to laugh, to let it out, not cover their mouths. “I know who my audience is, and they want some safety. And they want some trust. And the fastest way that I can earn that trust is to be up front, and just say I’m not going to trick you tonight. The person you came to see, the person you think I am, I am that person.” But it’s a difficult balancing act. How do you promise your audience safety, while maintaining that a comedy show is not a “safe space”? It’s no wonder the kindling might catch fire, despite Ashley’s best efforts. You’d be forgiven for wondering whether there wasn’t an easier way. Why ask fans who want safety to ride out a non-safe space?

I think it helps to understand what Ashley wants out of being a comedian. A major theme of Ashley’s first comedy special was her frustration with being called a “lesbian comedian.” She talks about wanting to be called a great comedian, not a lesbian one — someone who is in the running with other great comedians, whose jokes transcend any particular identity. And if you want to be a great comedian, and not “the lesbian comedian,” it makes sense that you might want your mostly queer online audience to acclimate to the comedy club scene. She doesn’t want to put on a lesbian show. She wants to put on a great comedy show.

Ashley Gavin

So what of Ashley’s hopes for being a great comedian, post-cancellation? On her Chosen Family podcast, taped just one day before her show in D.C., Ashley gave a picture of where she thought things stood. “My audience has changed. I’m experiencing this new audience now that might be a better fit. Because it’s the folks that saw what happened and kind of understand, OK, these were meant to be jokes,” Ashley told her co-hosts. “The folks who don’t see it that way aren’t really at the show anymore, and the show is far more enjoyable for everybody there.”

When I surveyed the audience after Ashley’s show, her prediction seemed to bear out. Everyone I talked to either didn’t know about the summer’s controversy, or didn’t care. “I know nothing of drama. That takes a lot of energy to follow,” said Sunshine, a fan of Ashley’s from over the pandemic. People wanted to chat about Ashley’s crowd work, particularly the drunk girl from Missouri who just wouldn’t give up. They had nothing to say about Indianapolis. Perhaps for Ashley Gavin, the post-cancellation cycle doesn’t end with her remaining fans forgiving and forgetting. Just the forgetting, and moving on.

CJ Higgins is a postdoctoral fellow with the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

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