Portland’s Lez Stand Up Super-Troupe Brings Queer Comedy to L.A.

Kirsten Kuppenbender’s collective of queer women comics takes the show on the road.

Kirsten Kuppenbender inadvertently created a hit comedy night for queer women six years ago when she got into standup.

“I was going to a lot of open mics and kept not wanting to get on the mic after a bunch of guys who just told rape jokes or dick jokes using the mic for a prop,” Kuppenbender said. “Open mics are great places to work on material but are also just a breeding ground for a drunk young, stupid and gross dudes who love hating on women. I really wanted to start doing comedy but I kept getting turned off and just wished that there was a place where I could get up and wouldn’t get psyched out by the room I was in.”

photos courtesy Kirsten Kuppenbender

She shared this annoyance with friends, and they encouraged her to put together her own show.

“One of them ran into me at a club and was like, ‘Hey, man, what happened to your comedy thing?’ And I told her how much I was having a bad time and I wish that I could have a gay room to do comedy in. Lesbians in the audience, lesbians on stage and I’d call it ‘Lez stand up!'” Kuppenbender said. And when the friend offered a venue (a pizza place, opening for a DJ), that’s where Lez Stand Up was born.

“I didn’t realize she was going to make that into an actual event,” Kuppenbender said. “I didn’t find out until I open Facebook and have been tagged in the flyer for my own show!”

That first show was an undisputed success.

“I think it’s just because of the name and what it implies, but we had a packed house before I ever even told my first joke,” Kuppenbender said. “The name implies queers and queer comedy and that the audience is going to be in good hands.”

Lez Stand Up was so successful that it moved out of the pizza place and into a “monthly, sold-out 150-seat showcase” named 2016’s Best Comedy Night in Portland Oregon by the Willamette Week.

“After the first show, a lot of people wrote to me and told me I should do more of them, and that it was so cool to go out to comedy and know that they were not going to get made fun of,” Kuppenbender said, noting that they never make fun of “anyone who’s there to see us.”
“So that became the mission of the show,” she continued. “We have a no bullshit policy that we try our best to uphold. Basically, it’s a hate free room: no racist, homophobic, transphobic, sizeist, xenophobic, ableist, misogynist or otherwise hateful speech is tolerated.  We did an open mic for a little while and had to come up with that policy, but it was cool because people respected it. And the show just kind of took off from there.”

Lez Stand Up has become an integral part of Portland’s comedy scene, with beloved regulars like Mel Heywood, Diane Gasperin, Laura Anne Whitley and Bob Wolf and Kuppenbender herself, as well as visiting comics and special guests like Rhea Butcher. A collective of queer comics that aren’t exclusively playing to LGBTQ crowds but looking to cater to them with smart, feminist, inclusive comedy, Lez Stand Up is one of the must-sees of the city’s annual All Jane No Dick comedy festival. 

This month, the show is going on the road with Lez Stand Up’s Los Angeles residency, kicking off tonight at The Virgil with a killer line-up including Sabrina JaleesCandy Lawrence, Janine Brito, Tara Jepsen, Vanessa Gritton, LSU regular Caitlin Weierhauser and Liza Dye. Next week’s show (February 25 at the Lyric Hyperion) will be followed by a dance party, DJed by Portland’s Mr. Charming (Gaycation). 

“I brought the show to LA because we all wanted to perform here, and there doesn’t seem to be a show like it,” Kuppenbender said. “We’ve done the show in Seattle and San Francisco to very warm reception. Not sure we’re ready to go on a tour, but we like bringing our show to town and see if it resonates with comedy goers down here as well as it does up in Portland. There certainly is a huge built-in audience of queers up there.”

Kuppenbender said Lez Stand Up audiences tends to be “90 percent lesbian” in Portland, but it can range in other cities.

“I’m hoping to have a wider rainbow of an audience down here, but we tend to have at least half the room full of beautiful gays,” she said. “But the cool thing about the stand-up is that it’s great for everyone. You really can go and sit down and watch people being funny all the while knowing that you’re never going to be the butt of a joke, that’s really special and it changes what the night is like.”
As to what’s next of Lez Stand Up, Kuppenbender jokes there could be a television show, a cable network or an airline down the line.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” she said. “I do know that I want to keep bringing the show to new eyes and get people to come out of their houses to watch comedy.”
 
For more on Lez Stand Up, visit their website.