July 21, 2005

Laughing out

Mike Player hopes his latest "first" in the performance arena will also be one of the funniest.

The sketch comedy veteran has created OUTLAUGH 2005, the country's first multi-day gay and lesbian comedy festival.

Beginning July 28 and running for four nights, OUTLAUGH will offer improv, sketch comedy and stand-up by several nationally recognized performers, including comic Lea DeLaria and TV and movie actor Ant. Player's own group, The Gay Mafia, will perform, too.

"We have one of the only gay sketch comedy groups in the country," said Player, who previously belonged to the popular New York comedy theater troupe Shock of the Funny. "During my time performing I have noticed there are few places to go to see gay-themed comedy in L.A. Gay and lesbian comedy tends to be relegated to off-nights at clubs. I want to find a permanent space, but for now this seemed like an obvious way to give more comics a time and place to share their voices."

Player and stand-up comedian Jerry Calumn put a call out across the country for performers.

"We knew several people we wanted to perform, but we also wanted to be surprised by others, particularly up-and-comers," Calumn said. "And I think, just as we were, audiences who don't know these comics will be surprised and impressed by the level of talent we have."

Player added, "The style of comedy is really varied, too. We have edgy comics, people who do more political humor and more traditional comedians. We have comics of different cultural backgrounds and, of course, there are men and women."

Though the bulk of the audience is expected to be gay or lesbian, Calumn and Player also expect straight people to attend.

"Comedy is comedy," Player said. "These are performers who work in front of straight audiences all the time. When a straight person comes to see The Gay Mafia, they leave having laughed as hard as anyone else, because they are seeing good comedy."

All proceeds for opening night will go to L.A. Shanti, a volunteer organization supporting people facing life-threatening illnesses. That evening's lineup includes Calumn and Bob Smith.

Jen Slusser and Sabrina Matthews will be the featured performers on July 29. There are two shows on July 30, both headlined by DeLaria.

The Gay Mafia does its thing on July 31.

"This is the first of what will become an annual event," Calumn said. "We hope years from now people who attend can look back and be happy that they were there at the beginning."

OUTLAUGH 2005 will be at Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. Performance times and acts vary. Tickets are $20. For more information, call 1-800- 595-4849 or visit the Web site, http://www.outlaughfestival.com.

E-mail freelance columnist Jeff Favre at jjfavre@yahoo.com.