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 personal prodigy, Payton Price!
Payton is an SMU graduate who began performing at a young age, and “once [he] started…never really wanted to stop.” He does tap, jazz, and ballroom dancing, and plays piano and various percussion instruments. (Wait, aren’t those really the same thing? A-ha! A music joke! Because technically, piano is a percussion instrument. Get it? Yeah? Good, okay, we can move on now.)
Payton was exposed to comedy at a young age, too, and fondly remembers watching shows like Arrested Development, Scrubs, Important Things with Demetri Martin, and more. Payton says that the more he watched, the more he “wanted to be able to write and examine things the way those writers and comedians did.” Additionally, it was a performance art, and seemed right up his street.
Ever the intellectual, Payton found a chance to take improv class with a friend while attending Southern Methodist University. (Oh yeah, by the by, he’s won multiple awards for academics, including one for Japanese language study. He’s a one-man show, this kid! Anyway.) “Neither of us had any prior experience with improv,” Payton confessed, “but we figured that there was no better way to get our feet wet in a comedy program.” And, he’s right! Comedy is fun for everyone, and a good way to get started is taking introductory courses. It also helps you get to know people in the comedy community. Both pieces are important, particularly for LGBT+ individuals. By starting their comedy journey with other beginners, queer performers can more easily enter communities and be seen as equals. It helps them avoid that “othered” feeling, which is never fun but is often unavoidable.
Even after they enter the comedy community and start performing, LGBT+ folks experience phenomena unique to them only. For instance, lots of good improv comes from personal experience, and being comfortable with vulnerability is a challenge for any new performer. Queer performers have an even harder time. Payton explains it well. “There's a kind of fear the looms in the back of my head that I'll be misunderstood by my Straight-Counterparts [sic], or that the Gay-experience will be deemed as taboo or inappropriate…This fear… is something that so many LGBT comedians and performers have to overcome.” It can be even more difficult when (as we so often see in beginner’s improv) that shared experience and vulnerability is made into a joke. Often, the funny part of two men in a relationship ends up being the fact that they’re two men in a relationship – which really, isn’t funny at all. It’s quite normal! It doesn’t make any sense to laugh at someone holding hands or kissing. We’re smarter than that.
Though many performers grow out of this silly habit, it’s good every performer to be mindful of what they say onstage, particularly allies. Payton advises that allies should “be aware of the weight behind what they say in a performance, especially in regards to LGBT experiences.” When performers label, establish, or justify anything in the scene, it doesn’t always have to be done through a heteronormative lens. Payton provided a great example: “If someone labels you as their wife in a scene, you don't need to go out of your way to MAKE SURE everyone knows that they must be your husband so that you're part of a hetero-normal relationship…I've seen some people do some serious retconning to ensure their relationships on stage are defined in a straight way.” The funny thing is, all that work to justify the genders and social dynamic of a scene actually makes it weaker, since you waste time on something that, in the long run, doesn’t matter, especially not in a world of make-believe.
Speaking of make-believe, Payton can be seen live as a member of Let’s Get Busy Tonight at Dallas Comedy House and the newly formed group Incoherent Scream. He also would like to encourage metroplex locals to support OutLast Youth, a local program that combats LGBT+ youth homelessness. You can find out more about them here: https://www.outlastyouth.org
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.