Poppy Champlin started doing standup right out of college, but for years was not out on stage. She would reference a "boyfriend" in place of her girlfriend or pretend to be straight altogether. It wasn't until 2000 when she was standing in the spotlight at Hollywood Improv, that the two biggest things in her life were merged.
"I don't know why Scott put me on the show, he must think I am gay," says Champlin, remembering what she said on stage that night. "I am not going to say whether I am or not, but I mean I know what pussy tastes like."
The owner of the improv came up to her after and booked her for Vegas immediately after. Since then her career has been built on the raw honesty of her set.
Champlin has left her mark behind microphones across the country by bringing together a touring group called The Queer Queens of Comedy, now in its 10th year of running. The queens constantly rotate through LGBTQ comics for the touring standup show. Champlin hosts, sings and ushers the 30-minute sets. During the Indianapolis stop Karen Williams and Mimi Gonzalez will share the bill.
The concept for the Queens was born in 2005 Provincetown, when Champlin felt that her standup warranted a headline at bigger clubs and music halls.
"So I called up the head of this music hall ... and said 'I would like to come headline that room,'" says Champlin.
The promoter told her that she just wasn't a big enough name.
"What if I bring two other comedians who don't have a big enough name and we call ourselves the queer queens of comedy?" she asked. He gave it a green light. They had 450 people at the first show.
"It is such a good show now, and it's in such good shape because I have been doing it for 10 years any kind of club can fit it in," says Champlin.
Though the tour usually sticks to comedy clubs, the women are hardly tied down.
Champlin has notches on her belt like LOGO, Showtime, HBO, VH1, Joan Rivers, Oprah, Comedy Central and more.
Williams has her own LOGO comedy special called I need a snack. She also has moved with force across the country with her tour Healing With Humor-Freedom From Fear, a show dedicated to victory over sexual violence. Gonzalez has appeared on LOGO, The Today Show, and The Latino Laugh Festival. She also spent time overseas performing for U.S. military troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Korea.
Gonzalez came to comedy far later in life than Champlin. It wasn't until after college and being in the workforce (using her journalism degree to do ad sales) that she made the first step with open mic nights.
"As the corporate luster lost its shine and the promise of suit — a paycheck from a suit — didn't really materialize, only then did I really start doing comedy," says Gonzalez.
After a few fails at open mic nights Gonzalez was discouraged.
"It's part of the due paying — getting up after failing," says Gonzalez. "When a comic has a bad day at work, everyone sees it."
For her, identity has played a pivotal role in her sets and writing (she currently uses her journalism chops for a few LGBTQ magazines in the northeast).
"I came out when gay was only three letters — G.A.Y," says Gonzalez. "Now I am a woman who identifies bisexual, woman of color, citizen, taxpaying voter, part time journalist. I could just go on and on about all my 'labels ... when I came out the whole saying was labels are for soup, closets are for clothes."
Much of her set touches on race, sexuality and society — all things she found to be points of contention and comfort when she was performing for troops overseas.
"The military is a culture shock," says Gonzalez. The last time she was in Iraq it was 2007 — in the thick of Don't Ask Don't Tell. While she was under no threat because she was not enlisted, she did find that it was something that soldiers wanted to talk about.
"By coming out as bisexual it afforded some of the military people to come up to me afterwards," says Gonzalez. Several just wanted to talk to her and vocalize that they were gay. All three have used their microphones to kickstart positive change, even if it's just a family laugh.
"It is hard for lesbian comics to get to where we have gotten ... We are really strong," says Champlin.