Welcome to the Inner Orbit Interview Series, where I bother LGBT+ and female-identifying performers at Dallas Comedy House about their lives and experiences as comedians. This week’s subject is DCH’s own hilarious health enthusiast, Brian Harrington.
Brian began classes in late 2014 after participating in an open-stage jam. Although he had never performed improv before, Brian felt captivated by the “positive, supportive energy” that abounded onstage. “PBRs were also two dollars, so that helped. But,” he reflects, “I also got a huge rush from performing. This is my calling!”
And so it was. Brian performs in numerous troupes, including Tabooze (a two man game of Taboo played alongside Scriven Bernard) and Pretty People With Problems (a long-form troupe themed after high school melodramas). Brian also writes sketch, and currently works as a contributing writer for the running sketch show “Fake it ‘Til You Break It.” According to Brian, all of this comedic experience boosted his confidence. He attributes this to the “Yes, and…” principle in improv and the accepting environment fostered offstage. For Brian, this acceptance was unconditional and electrifying. “I came out in 2008, before Obama was in office, before Prop 8 and before the ‘It Gets Better’ movement,” Brian recalls. Consequently, he had to use caution when spending time in new places. “But, not only was it fine [to be gay] at DCH…I was encouraged to be myself!” Additionally, Brian found allies aplenty in the community. “The minute that something hateful is said...you have people backing [the victim] up.”
In addition to the encouragement and confidence boost, Brian grew even more aware of his unique perspectives as a gay man. Opportunities to play queer or female-identifying characters abound in improv, but unfortunately, those characters can easily become the butt of the joke or caricatured so that they lose their power. Yet Brian found his life experiences helped him play those characters realistically. “I feel like I can play a gay man on stage...and the more feminine qualities I’m comfortable exuding mean I can play [more realistic] women characters.” It’s a similar type of experience that enables people of color to make jokes about their race and the various social issues related to it. But Brian also acknowledges that the portrayal of gay characters could potentially become problematic. “You wonder, “Does the audience know I’m gay? Is it okay that I’m doing this just because I’m gay?’...I’ve sometimes shied away from playing gay characters because I don’t want [the audience] thinking I’m a straight man caricaturing a gay one.” He and Scriven Bernard make it a talking point during their Tabooze shows. Because Scriven is also gay, Brian says they allow themselves a little more leisure in portraying gay characters. “Once the uproarious applause dies down,” Brian laughs, “we say ‘It’s okay, we’re gay. We can make these jokes.’”
The sensitivity with which Brian Harrington and other LGBT+ performers treat their performances creates a unique artistic focal point at DCH. Performers can use their shared experience to fuel their shows while also helping cis- and straight-identifying audience members become more familiar with their lifestyle. Moreover, the whole environment encourages safe self-expression and unconditional acceptance. Brian observes that the theater scene is one of the best places to find people willing to discuss and learn about progressive issues. “I think creative people, by virtue of being creative, have a more open mind and are willing to think,” Brian says. “DCH is woke. It’s full of woke people…the opposite of how school and work for me were in the past.”
Emily is a writer, comedic improviser, and a Pisces. She currently performs both short and long form improv with Let's Get Busy Tonight, an all LGBT+ improv troupe.