Marga Gomez


Marga Gomez

Marga Gomez is the writer/performer of 14 solo plays which have been produced in New York at La MaMa ETC, Dixon Place, Under The Radar Festival, and internationally at the Edinburgh Fringe and Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival.

She is an artist-in-residence at Brava Theater in San Francisco. Her awards include the GLAAD Media Award for Theatre, The San Francisco Arts Council Individual Artist Grant, The Center for Cultural Innovation Grant, and the 2022 United States Artists Fellowship. Her acting credits include “Fefu and Her Friends” (American Conservatory Theater) and a guest role in Netflix Sense8. She was raised in Washington Heights in a show business familia. Marga is also a stand up comedian and tours nationally. She also coaches solo performers online. Her website is

B&A: Hi Marga, we just saw your show, Swimming with Lesbians. It was incredibly brilliant. We laughed so hard. It felt so good. You're such a skilled performer. We are excited to talk to you.

Marga GomezJJ: Marga: When did you move to San Francisco?

MG: I moved to San Francisco in…well, I've always been cagey about the years because of, you know… show business. But I figure I’m not going to live forever. So, I'll just be upfront with the years. I moved to San Francisco in 1976, the bicentennial year. My parents were entertainers who lived in New York City and I was their only child. I grew up in that milieu. I shared their passion. They worked in Spanish-language arts and entertainment. The community was a marginalized community: lots of people in it, but not mainstream.

When I came to San Francisco I didn't really have any kind of plan except for freedom. Growing up with my parents, even though they were entertainers, my mother was very repressive and strict. I wanted to get away from her. They had just found out I was queer. I came out here with my first girlfriend but we broke up on the ride.

When I first got here, I assumed that the Castro would be a Cuban neighborhood. I went to the Castro Cafe because I thought they'd have rice and beans. They did not. Guys were wearing Fidel Castro hats and green khakis. Then I realized nobody spoke Spanish. But I found a place to live very easily because there were all these cafes, like the Meat Market Cafe in Noe Valley where there were big bulletin boards everywhere, because we didn’t have Craigslist or anything like that. Everything I did came from a bulletin board. I found a cheap room to rent. At that time, artists could afford to live in San Francisco.

The central radius of my life became the Castro. My housemate lived in Duboce Triangle but she wouldn't let me use the kitchen. She made costumes for the Angels of Light. So that was my first introduction to the Angels of Light and the Cockettes. Then I started going to feminist theater. There were companies like Four Short Women, Les Nickelettes and Lilith Theater.

I lied my way into a job at the Acme Cafe on 24th Street. Everyone who worked there, be it a cook, barista, or wait person, was an artist. Plus, I had another job working at Fanila's Finnish Bathhouse. I gave out the towels. Some people there had sex and some were Jehovah's Witnesses. The woman who worked the counter with me was in Lilith Theater. So, I asked her all about it.

One day, in the morning as I was putting the muffins out at the Acme Cafe at 7 am, I saw Carolyn Meyers from Lilith walking by. I ran outside and asked her, ‘do you ever have auditions?’ They just happened to be having auditions for women of color. This is sort of a double- edged sword because it's tokenism; but whatever, I auditioned. I was pretty green and erratic as a performer, but they took me because I am Latina. And I’m charming. In 1978, I wound up in Europe on tour with Lilith Theater. I was 21.

B&A: How old were you when you got to San Francisco? Wikipedia said you were born in 1960.

MG: Alright, I'm gonna say it. I was born in 1954. I lied to my Wikipedia. That’s show biz. But the jig is up, and even now as I'm talking to you, I’m trying to recalibrate what the actual years were. So I think I arrived when I was 19. You can do the math.

I went from this feeling of entitlement, being a kid with show business parents who were stars in the Spanish language community, to suddenly touring with a feminist theater company throughout Europe. The governments in Europe were very supportive of the arts and artists, so we were treated royally. We played in a lot of festivals, circus tents, that sort of thing. There were so many feminists and lesbians who came to the shows. And men who were feminist in their own way.

Marga GomezMy touring performances in Europe were the first time that I actually earned money as an entertainer. I worked with Lilith on and off. I think I went on a second European tour with them in 1981; then I came back to my job making omelets at the Acme. There was a publication back then, called Backstage I think, where you could find out about auditions. I auditioned for Les Nickelettes and worked with them on a couple of shows. That was basically my life from 1976 to 1982.

Lilith was savvy with getting grants and doing business. We shared this big office space at the Women's Building on 18th Street with Women Against Rape and various other organizations. I'm glad to see that the Women's Building is still there, which is kind of amazing. We were right over the Irish bar, which I don't think is there anymore, right?

JJ: Absolutely. Yeah, that was the Dover Club, the Irish Republican Army bar in San Francisco’s Mission District.

The bar was already there when the Women's Building bought the building.

MG: From 1978 to ‘82 I worked with the Les Nickelettes which was a lampoony, satiric, silly company. But they were doing something important because at that time women weren't doing bawdy burlesque comedy. Denise Larson published a book in 2021, Anarchy in High Heels: A Memoir about Les Nickelettes. Denise is a lovely person, and she has been so supportive. There is also a documentary about the Les Nickelettes in the works.

In 1982, just before we knew anything about AIDS, I was working at a store on Castro Street called High Gear selling gym wear: T-shirts, gym shorts, duffel bags, socks, jockstraps… Selling jockstraps is a pretty easy job. I worked with 2 gay men that I loved very much. I was pretty happy. Around that time the comedy scene was blowing up. There was Jane Dornacker with her hilarious traffic reports, and her band Leila and the Snakes. She also performed live with the rock band, The Tubes for a couple of years.

I really wanted to do stand-up comedy so I started going to comedy clubs. I think Robin Williams began Mark and Mindy a little bit before that. There was the Holy City Zoo, a dark, aggressive and misogynistic club that was not good for me at all. The Other Cafe was a little bit better. Sometimes Paula Poundstone or Ellen Degeneres came through the door.

But I did not do very well at The Other Cafe. At the open mic nights, they always put me last on the bill, if they even put me on at all. They called it, “comedy audition.”

I was in Europe when Harvey Milk was shot. In 1979, there was that demonstration with the police cars turned over and all that. I remember seeing the newspapers with the largest, darkest headlines. I couldn't believe it. When I got back in 1982, people were discussing releasing Dan White from prison. We held a big demonstration on Castro Street and a lot of us were mixing political activism with comedy. We knew that comedy was a powerful weapon. So we were pumping up the crowd, rallying with the upper hand that you have as a comedian.

Then, on a telephone pole, I saw a notice about Valencia Rose’s gay comedy night. I went and it was like a complete 180 from what I had been experiencing at the straight comedy clubs.

You know, when you do stand-up, you have to make yourself into a persona. As a lesbian, I didn't know how to do that, I just did quirky stuff. But I didn't mention anything about my sexuality. But the first time I went on stage at the Valencia Rose I could just talk about dating, about coming out. There was always a full house, because finally queer people were not the butt of the jokes. These were the jokes that everybody was waiting for. We were doing them, with waves of love and laughter simultaneously.

Marga Gomez

Donald Montwell and his boyfriend Jimmy managed the Valencia Rose. Donald was definitely one of my mentors, because I was still not sure if I wanted to be out. Did I want to risk not getting my own sitcom or anything like that? Which is what happened if you were out. Ellen was doing really well doing comedy in San Francisco, but she was not out.

Donald and Jimmy were not your stereotyped gentle gay artists. Instead, the two of them were brawlers. On White Night in May 1979, when the cops rioted on Castro Street and were beating the shit out of everybody at the Elephant Walk Bar, I guess the cops pushed Donald over a newspaper box. He was injured, he sued and got lots of money. He and Jimmy were always down to fight with cops.

JJ: Ron Lanza and Hank Wilson owned the Valencia Rose.

MG: They were school teachers. Tom Ammiano was also a school teacher before he became a politician. He was always a very funny person who wanted to do stand-up. Of course, we all knew that if you went to a club like The Punch Line, it would be pretty painful and very hard to beat the misogynists in the audience. Tom wanted a place to do standup and they came up with the Valencia Rose.

JJ: I had been Tom’s campaign manager when he ran unsuccessfully for the School Board in 1980. I also became one of Hank Wilson’s long-term political allies. He asked the questions that most people didn't dare ask. Tom’s motivation was that he really wanted to be a stand-up comedian and the Valencia Rose started his career. That's where I first saw you Marga, with Tom, on a double bill.

MG: At the Valencia Rose, everyone there knew Whoopi Goldberg. That's where I met Whoopi Goldberg.

JJ: Me too.

MG: Whoopi was always supportive of Donald and Jimmy, who was also very good at throwing comedians out of the club. Because when we would have an open mic, some comedians would come up there and they would be kinda disrespectful and weird, Jimmy would just smile because he would get to throw somebody out. He just had this bouncer side. He was a playwright as well.

One of the Jehovah's Witnesses I met at the bathhouse told me that the Valencia Rose building had been a mortuary. She said that it was a painful place for her because that's where the previous owners had made most of their money during the Vietnam War. It was one of the main mortuaries where the corpses of the soldiers killed in Vietnam ended up.

JJ: It was ironic that this former mortuary became not only a comedy club, but by 1985, a place where the friends and families of people who had died of AIDS began holding memorial services that were celebratory.

MG: Then they lost the Valencia Rose. There was a tax issue or whatever.

JJ: The building was purchased by the now defunct New College of California.

MG: Yeah, now it's a bicycle store. It fell out of their hands because they were artists, so they weren't really keeping the books that well. But that’s where I established my voice as a comedian because my mentor, Donald Montwell, was very firm that I had to stay out of the closet. I couldn't go back in.

He had this philosophy that being queer isn't just about who you fuck. Being queer is about being subversive and being a resistor: like Paul Krasner, a straight satirist who published The Realist, a magazine that was quite renowned in the anti-war movement and the resistance movements that came after that.

I'd say Donald, Joan Menkin and René Yañez were my 3 mentors. Joan was one of the most magnetic, arresting performers you could ever see on stage. She was radical politically and most of her work was with the Mime Troupe. She was very committed to the people's movement and to crating art for the people. They might have reached out to me because they were looking for a Latina.

Marga GomezI appeared in a Mime Troupe show called Crossing Borders. It was about Salvadoran immigrants and what they were going through. I went on tour with that show. That's where I met Stacy Powers-Cuellar, who now runs Brava Theater. Maria Acosta played my sister in the show, or a cousin or something. It was a great experience to work with them. But I didn't really have the chops, to be honest.

A lot of my growth as a performer has been by working with really great performers. I never took an acting class that wasn't corny. By throwing myself into the highest levels of a performance company, I had to sink or swim. That's what made me the performer that I am, or am not.

My connection to The Mime Troupe and Culture Clash happened around the same time. Culture Clash happened because I was with Monica Palacios, one of the comedians I met at the Valencia Rose. We wound up being lovers for about 5 years. Well, she says 3. I say 6 years. So, we'll split it at 4. We started a little comedy duo called Gomez and Palacios, the funniest Latina Chicano comedy duo in the Universe and Oakland. We did some skits.

Monica had a connection with René Yañez from Galeria de la Raza. She and René were very close. She wound up doing some events and installation projects with René. I think this was in 1984. He wanted to do something different from the usual folkloric Cinco de Mayo kind of entertainment. He loved comedy and wanted to have an evening of Chicano, Latina, LatinX comedians. So, Monica brought me in. He brought in Richard Montoya who has gone on to be a very renowned playwright.

JJ: His wife is now the head of the California Arts Council.

MG: Cello? No kidding! Wow, that’s great.

JJ: Cello. Yeah, she's the chair. Ellen Gavin was on that committee.

MG: At first there were 6 of us: it was Richard Montoya, Jose Antonio Burciaga, Herbert Siguenza, Rick Salinas, Monica and me. But basically it was more of a variety show because Monica and I were really the only ones who told jokes. Then Richard did. Herbert was very much into doing drag. Then Burciaga would come on stage. He was like our anchor. We loved him so much. He was a stout guy, very Tex-mex. He came out and he pulled out a machete, and had the audience drink from a bottle of tequila and then he’d read his poems. He was really our favorite. So, the 6 of us worked as a group. A variety show really was what we were. Then 3 of us left and Rick Salinas, Herbert Siguenza and Ricardo Montoya became the Culture Clash that most people know today.

JJ: Around that time, didn’t Ron Lanza open up Josie’s Cabaret?

MG: It was right next to the empty lot at Noe and Market where the Eureka Theatre formerly was before it burned down in the late 1970s. It was across from Cafe Flor. That little triangle was amazing. Then Josie's got even more popular than the Valencia Rose. Now we get to the stage of the AIDS crisis. There was resistance to the inaction of President Ronald Regan

JJ: I remember seeing Brian Freeman at Josie’s. He started a group called the Pomo Afro Homos—the Post-Modern, African American, Homosexuals-- that produced very dark satirical comedies.

MG: Brian actually changed my life when I was just starting to do my first solo show. At Josie's I did stand up but I also started to stage my one-person shows there. It was a comedy club and a cabaret. It was a wonderful place to do solo performances, and shows with a small cast as well. Brian put my name in the ear of George C. Wolf of the Public Theater who brought my first one person show to New York.

So, okay, now we're in the 1990s. In San Francisco I met Josh Kornbluth at one of the comedy clubs. He had just come from Boston. He was very frustrated by the comedy scene because it was just so apolitical and still racist and sexist.

He wanted to do solo theater so he just started to do it. Then the Marsh Theater opened up, which specialized in new shows. It started at the Hotel Utah. Stephanie Wiseman and her partner went from having a one-night show at Hotel Utah to getting the back room of a place called the Cafe Beano on Valencia Street. That's where I did my first solo performance, Memory Trick, a piece about my mother. The show was presented by The Marsh, which now owns its own space at 1062 Valencia.

In the late 1980s, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. She was a very high femme. She was always disappointed with how masculine I seemed to her. I was unlike the little frilly girl she wanted. Our relationship was fraught. I never got to work it out with her when she was healthy, so I had to work it out when she was ill.

Both Josh Kornbluth and Whoopi Goldberg both made their careers as solo performance artists. The dramatic solo form has been really good for queer and BIPOC performers to get our stories out there, and good for our audiences.

So, I did this show, and I thought, I don't know if I should be doing this. I thought my audience might get mad because I had only been doing comedy for years. But Memory Trick was very well received. Thanks to Brian I had a connection who wanted to bring the show to New York. After that, I just continued being both a stand-up comedian and someone telling stories.

Some of my solo shows weren't just about my family. Some of them were about being queer. I did a show called Pretty Witty and Gay. That was in the 90s, the time of lesbian chic, when lesbians started going on the talk shows. I was asked to go on the Geraldo Rivera show. Well, I just couldn't do it. I thought, this is a trap and I'm not gonna do it. It just felt wrong, like I was reducing myself to something on a TV show in between commercials with Geraldo. Even though he is Latino, I passed on it.

Marga Gomez

Instead, I wrote a show about lesbians in the media that I premiered at Josie's and I had workshopped it at The Marsh. I was doing the show but I didn't have all the lines. So, I had little cheat sheets everywhere. I wound up dropping my notes and they flew all over the place. I had to go down on my knees and just read them in front of the audience, which included Laurie E. Seid, and Kate Bornstein. They loved that I fucked up and kept going. From there, my show Pretty, Witty and Gay, got booked at the 1993 Whitney Biennial.

I do feel like I’ve been able to find opportunities without trying too hard. I don't know if that's the most sensible plan. I don't know that I'd recommend that strategy because that's also why I never paid much attention to the long range, to grant writing and all that stuff. Because I figured, hey, someone's always going to be out there to book me at another biennial. The 1990s in San Francisco, for me, was a mix of queer comedy, Latino comedy, and I started doing a lot of events for Latino organizations.

B&A: When was the Whitney show?

MG: I think it was something like 1994. I remember thinking this is sponsored by Philip Morris. I’ve gotta say that cigarettes are bad. I just got to, because my dad had pretty much died because of cigarettes. So yeah, I'm no angel. I took the cigarette money. If I had known Jeff then, I wouldn't have needed the cigarette money.

JJ: Did you perform at Life on the Water?

MG: Yes, I did. In fact, I got an award from the Solo Mio Festival. Who was responsible for that?

Annie: I was in the Solo Mio Festival too. There were four producers; Joe Bullock, Marcia Crosby, Kate Boyd and Billy Talon. Billy now performs as the Reverend Billy with the Church of Stop Shopping. Billy and the Choir are touring the USA with Neal Young right now.

MG: Yeah, but wasn't it Ellen Sebastian Chang?

JJ: Yeah, and Joe Lambert was involved.

MG: A year later, Donald Montwell was pretty ill. He got an award as well from Life on the Water or maybe from the People's Theatre Coalition. I think Susan Hoffman was the head of it. I remember doing something for Joegh Bullock when he ran Climate Theater. I think it was some kind of crazy Halloween party or something on 9th Street.

B&A: I was just at his memorial. He was an incredible events producer. So, were you ever in the Queer Cultural Center’s Queer Arts Festival? You probably did several of them, right?

MG: Yes.

B&A: Jeff Jones would have written some grants to help fund those shows.

MG: Yes, my relationship to grants back then is that I worked for presenters who got grants. I personally never got a grant. But I must have gotten paid with some grant money. When I did Memory Tricks, the show I did in New York about my mother, I remember not liking the audience feedback session because I felt they were telling me what to do as an artist.

JJ: Did you ever meet playwright Toni Press? We used to work together. She read a play at BRAVA and said the same thing as you about community feedback. She said it was the worst experience to be subjected to a bunch of people telling her how to write a play when she’s already written 20.

MG: Yeah, they're called “talk backs” where you get to listen to audience members tell you “it's not Latina enough;” “It's not feminist enough.” I'm sorry, please go see something else!’

JJ: Yeah, the whole premise is that people are gonna come in and give you feedback but eventually you end up with people telling you what you should have done.

B&A: What's your greatest achievement in your life and work? What do you feel most proud of?

MG: I'm a Gemini. So, my real answer is that my greatest achievement has yet to come. But off the top of my head, I feel very proud of how I adapted to the COVID lockdown. I didn’t stop and was able to put work out with live streaming. Work that meant something to people. Now suddenly overnight, I’m getting this thing, people are calling me a “Legend.” “Iconic.” That seems nice.

JJ: Okay, you're getting really old.

MG: Right. It's like, “why aren't you dead?” Sometimes on social media I see where somebody goes, “Oh I love her.” Then somebody as old as I am, if not older goes, “She's still doing it.” Yeah, and my work is better. I run into people who say, “Oh, I saw you in the 1980s.” What am I supposed to say? Do you think I'm the same person? Do you think I have made no progress? What is it like 40 years later? Come check out a show. All I ask is that every 40 years you come to a show!

Annie: What gets me is, “You look so much better in person than in your pictures.” Ouch!.

MG: I think that’s better than the reverse. People should just shut the fuck up.

B&A: What gets us is that sometimes a person will just come up to me and talk about my old work and just ignore Beth. That’s just rude. All my work for 22 years now has been created with Beth. We are a team. Have you run into a problem when you are with somebody and suddenly you are “a legend.” “An icon,”

MG: Yes, it's bad. It hurts. I will just say, ‘this is my partner’ and if they continue with their weird ass-kissing, I'll just repeat, ‘this is my partner’. Sometimes you have to train people. They think there's only one person there, and there's usually two or sometimes there's a group, and they're just myopic. I would never just talk to just one person when there are two people there.

Annie: Of course, sometimes I get ignored, because Beth is a hot shit professor, and I'm not. So, it evens out.

JJ: I want to go back to the 90s. I remember that you were doing a show at the Castro Theater. You had just come back to town. You had gone to LA or to New York, or both?

MG: Oh yes. Was that the show with Lily Tomlin and Robin Williams?

JJ: It was in the early 90s, because I remember it being after the Mapplethorpe controversy, and Andre Serrano's Piss Christ.

MG: That was probably 1993. We can look that up. It was a benefit for Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's film, The Celluloid Closet. Harvey Firestein was the emcee and he told some sort of lesbian joke that pissed off the women in the audience. Robin Williams was there and saw it happen. I was up next. So, I go up. I can't remember what I did. Maybe something like ‘this is what a lesbian looks like.’ No big deal. But it was a big deal because the show had fallen into this pocket of doom that Firestein had accidentally caused. But then everybody came back up and everything was great again. Basically, I saved the show from disintegration. Robin saw me do that. Then he booked me on the spot to be on HBO’s Comic Relief.

B&A: Can you talk about the Vagina Monologues?

MG: The second time I did the Monologues was I think in 2002. Jonathan Rice, who went on to produce one of my shows Off Broadway, contacted me to be one of the vaginas with Rita Moreno and Vicki Lawrence. That was at Theater on the Square. I wasn't very good and I was on the verge of getting fired. I knew how to write my own stuff and perform it, but to take someone else’s piece and perform it, I didn't really know how to do that. I got a call from David Stone who was the producer in New York. He wanted to know if everything was okay. I knew he meant that Rita and Vicki were not pleased.

So, I got my video camera, set it up and did all the monologues into the camera so I could see immediately what not to do. Then that night, I came in and killed it. I remember Rita said to me, “I don't know what you're taking, but don't stop.” After that they loved me. One bad night then, boom! Again, it was trial by fire.

B&A: You are still living in San Francisco. What keeps you here?

MG: Yeah, I’m still here and I'm still alive. I still get to perform in New York a lot. If there was any other place for me to live it would probably be New York. That's not to say that I wouldn’t leave here. I remember seeing Sandra Cisneros, another mentor, and her advice to new authors was to get cheap rent. Live wherever you never have to worry about rent, and then be an artist. So, now I can pay my rent. But if I couldn't, I would just go live anywhere where the rent was cheap and I can be an artist.

B&A: Have you worked in Central or South America?

MG: No. Unfortunately, I'm not bilingual, I don't know a lot of Spanish. My last show I did that went off-Broadway was Latin Standards, which was part of the Under the Radar Festival. That show is a story about my father and our parallel arcs. He had his struggles, and so did I. While starting a comedy night at the SF-based Latinx gay bar Esta Noche, I had to get my piece translated into Spanish in order to have subtitles. I would love to have all my shows subtitled, especially the shows about my family and Latino life in New York City so they could be performed in Spanish, if not by me, then by someone.

B&A: Could you see yourself doing movies? Your shows could be made into movies.

MG: Well, I know from my experience in L.A. and from all the stuff we hear about what a hassle it is to finance a film and to have to deal with all lawyers. I've been in movies. You've got to be very patient to make a film. The hurry up and wait, filming all the angles, and all the money it costs. I don't like the work.

One thing I'd like to do is to record an audio version of all my shows.... What I would love is to have my performances filmed like they've done to various solo performers throughout the years. Of course, if somebody wanted to turn one of my stories into a film, that'd be okay with me.

B&A: You said earlier on that you were tokenized. Do you still sometimes feel tokenized, or is that less of an issue nowadays?

MG: Oh gosh. All the time. And if I need the money, I'll take it. I just got this invitation from a random lesbian festival. I happen to know that they have all white performers. They don't know anything about me. They just wanted to have me on the bill so they can say, “We have a Latina.” Stuff like that. I prefer that they know my work and they are booking me because it's me. But if you get an opportunity, you take it and try to be as great as you can be. Then maybe they'll learn.

On Facebook I follow groups of performers of color and I think that there are a lot of people watching and calling out. I have seen administrations, boards of directors, and the leadership of some theaters reflecting the fact that it can't just be all CIS white men. There's a long way to go. But at least there is some awareness now. But I'm not sure what the gatekeepers are doing behind our backs.

JJ: What did you think about Jonathan Moscone being at the California Arts Council today and gone tomorrow.

MG: I met him with Marie Acosta. She arranged a little cocktail thing I went to for Stacy Powers-Cuellar who runs Brava. I went with Rodney Jackson. I said, ‘Oh, Jonathan. I'll put you on the list for this comedy series I’ve been running at Brava Theater.’ Then Stacy said we're not really supposed to do that, because it's like a bribe or something.

JJ: We really didn't talk about the solo performance art form, which I don't know if it's uniquely American, but I sense it has allowed people from different communities to tell their stories in a format that was much less expensive than a full multi-character production. I think the first time I saw Guillermo Gómez Peńa was at the Solo Mio Festival: he was doing Border Brujo. Back in the 1980s, how many artists from marginalized communities got to tell their stories through the art form of solo performance?

Marga GomezMG: That's right. Tim Miller. Holly Hughes, Annie Sprinkle, my show Memory Tricks, which all got a lot of press attention. I was invited to be in the Sundance Writer's Lab. It was the first time that Sundance invited playwrights. We would tell the filmmakers our play, our story, then talk about adapting it to a film. One night 5 of us soloists each did our shows on stage and everyone in the audience was a filmmaker. This really taught me the power of the solo art form.

That experience sold me on solo performance. When a person reads a novel, they make a movie in their own head. I think it was so great for so many of us who didn't want to jump through all the hoops to get that Hollywood or Broadway green light. All we needed was someone who was going to listen to us. That's kind of why I stuck with solo performance. I love standup. But I felt that there were stories from my life that I wanted to share with the world. I think that it's something that a lot of us in the queer community, Latino, BIPOC community have really been able to nail.

JJ: I'm sure that Europeans did this too, but I don't know if they were dealing with the multiracial democracy that we clearly have to create, and not only in California but also in the entire country.

MG: It's storytelling. You can perform a solo piece around a campfire and you don't need permission to do it. People that inspired me to do solo performance were Lily Tomlin, David Kale, Charles Bush and Whoopi Goldberg.

JJ: Did you see Whoopi Goldberg when she did Moms?

MG: Well, of course. Ellen Sebastian Chang directed it. That's when I met Whoopi Goldberg at the Valencia Rose. We were both at the cappuccino counter. She saw the tail end of my stand up. She was developing Moms with Ellen there, and she said to me, we should workshop together. One of my biggest regrets is that she gave me her fucking phone number and I never called. I never called! I did see her a few years later when she was emceeing a KQED Comedy night at the Great American Music Hall. Whoopi was the big star and the emcee. She came backstage to find me to say “what's up.”

AB: Did you ever get to perform for your mom and dad?

MG: No. My parents never saw me perform as a professional, just in school plays. But the first time I ever went on stage was at my father's show. He had me do a walk-on with a chihuahua. He and my mother had a sketch called The Funny Family– La Familia Comica. They were performing while getting a divorce, and I was basically the punchline. They're dividing what they owned according to what’s masculine and what's feminine. Then I walked on with the chihuahua and they both dropped to their knees to pet the chihuahua–i.e. the baby. That was my first time on stage and they saw that.

My dad passed away in the early 1980s. I had to close up his apartment so I have his photographs of all the artists that he booked and all his scripts. He never saw me perform, but he knew that I was starting to do it. There's a story I tell, which is true, that he would tell his friends that I went to medical school and was a doctor!

My mother passed away in the early 1990s. I started writing Memory Tricks while she was in the late stages of Alzheimer's. That was how I was able to cope. I felt it was a tribute to her. I would visit her in the hospital and I would perform it for her.

JJ: Thank you so much, Marga. It was great just listening to you talk.

B&A: Yes, thanks so much. We love you! And we really look forward to your next show.


Posted in Interviews.