The Gay Mafia improv/sketch comedy group frequently invited queer comedians to open for their shows. The variety of group comedy and stand-up in one evening was a crowd pleaser. In early 2004, Mike Player, the Mafia’s kingpin (founder and director), as well as a member of the cast, created a three-hour evening of queer comedy in a theater in Silver Lake, CA. The evening featured a queer comedy competition, an hour of stand-up by two queer comics, and a set by The Gay Mafia comedy group. The evening was a sold-out party for all those who attended.
A few months later, in a moment of inspiration, or perhaps from an injury in a nasty fall, Mike got the idea for Outlaugh. He teamed up with Jerry Calumn (a frequent opener for the Mafia) to form Outlaugh Productions. OP’s first project was Outlaugh 2005.
The Outlaugh Festival was intended as an annual live event, and was a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants project from the very beginning. Leo Garcia, Creative Director at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, was a friend of Mike’s and was eager to have Outlaugh in his theater. Thanks to Mike Player’s tenacity and connections in the comedy world, and Jerry Calumn’s event planning know-how and spunk, word got out. Lea DeLaria flew in from New York to headline and Outlaugh took on a life of its own.
Turns out there really is a queer comedy community in America! The comics and the sketch group performers rallied together and by the final night of the four-night festival, performers who had appeared in earlier evenings were hanging out to support their colleagues. All four nights of the festival sold out.
However, in theater, sell-out crowds don’t necessarily mean a success.
Outlaugh 2005 did not sell to television – although eventually a film was made from the footage that was shot. Sponsorship for another Outlaugh was tough to find.
Oddly, things looked bleak for Outlaugh 2006.
Luckily, Margaret Cho had dropped by a few of the Mafia live shows in early 2006, liked the un-pretentious vibe and hot comedy, and decided to perform with the Mafia. In addition, Mike teamed up with Hugh Wright of SVP productions in Santa Monica. The combination of Margaret Cho’s participation and Hugh Wright’s connections at MTV’S LOGO --not to mention a stunning concept :-) -- sold Outlaugh 2006 to television.