The Qu Interviews Carey Callahan

By: The Qu

Performer Carey Callahan

Queer Comedy at Zanies has been named the Advocate.com’s “9 LGBT Friendly Comedy Shows You Should Be Supporting,” Timeout Chicago’s “Critic’s Pick” and The Redeye’s “Do.” On Tuesday January 29th at 8:30pm, join us for the season 3 opener with headliner Liza Treyger hosted by Adam Guerino, featuring Carey CallahanAli Clayton and Archer Coe.

OutLoud Chicago is a series created by Adam Guerino to bring queer entertainment to mainstream Chicago venues. Queer Comedy at Zanies showcases the best queer and straight comedians of the country who have appeared on Comedy Central, BET, TBS Just For Laughs, A Night At The Apollo and Last Comic Standing. Each show has continued to show that no matter if the comedians or audience members are queer or straight, laughter knows no sexuality.  Their third season opens tonight at Zaines,

Callahan is a trans humorist from the west side of Cleveland. They’ve performed all over the Midwest at diverse locales such as The Cleveland Comedy Festival, The Grog Shop, The Beachland Ballroom, Zanie’s, Chicago’s Mayne Stage, Chicago Underground Comedy and the Ohio Lesbian Festival. They host the weekly podcast “The Awkward Sex Show” (which they encourage you to download.) and are currently studying to be a Family and Marriage Therapist. They prefer gender neutral pronouns, if you hadn’t caught on.

The Qu took some time to chat with Carey! Check it out!

The Qu: Carey, when did you get started in stand-up comedy?

CC: I got started in comedy 6 years ago, when I was 24, and had just been abruptly dumped by my college boyfriend. I needed some attention, and it turns out telling jokes will get you attention in a way that being dumped and going through a major depressive episode will not. I will not support the cliched idea that standup is a substitute for therapy, but I am into giving people experiencing mental illness a microphone to talk into. We have interesting stuff to say, at least as interesting as whatever is on the jukebox.

The Qu: What kept you in the stand-up game?

CC: I’m very good at it. I’ve quit more than once, and each time I quit I had a moment of watching standup on tv and being like, “What are these fools doing? I am so much better than that.” Or I’d see some really GREAT standup (I see great standup at showcases in Cleveland and Chicago way more often than I see it on tv) and be like, “Oooohhhh I want to be that good, gosh darn it, that means I have to start going to open mics again.” Telling a good joke makes me feel powerful. Telling a great joke makes me feel like Gandalf- a great, powerful, gay wizard. With a beard some day.

The Qu: Although no trans person’s story is the same, what has your experience been like?

CC: I’m going to save the details for my memoir/ongoing therapy, but one great lesson I’ve learned by going through this is how the options presented to us limit how we understand ourselves. I never got comfortable with the boobs and thighs that arrived with puberty, but I didn’t connect being uncomfortable with any the possibility of identifying and presenting myself to the world in another way until my late twenties. I needed to sit in a room of non-binary identified people at the Philly Trans Health Conference before it all clicked together- we don’t owe the world compliance with gender categories we didn’t get to participate in creating. Realizing that I could pursue medical changes to my body, that my body exists for my happiness and comfort, and that I shouldn’t have to reflect some story line about what a “true” transgender experience is to access medical technology to change my body, was such a sanity creating experience. I had big bad fears about the people I love thinking I had really gone off the deep end and deciding they were done with me, and actually, people have been wonderful in their reactions to me transitioning. The transition process for me has been blessing after blessing.

The Qu: How has transitioning influenced your stand-up material?

CC: It’s been a total goldmine for material. Being on testosterone is a trip. Audiences are so interested in the transition process, I think because it creates all these questions for them, like “What kind of person would I be on a different kind of hormone regimen? What personality traits are the authentic me versus the result of my body’s hormone cocktail versus the result of gender socialization?” And I’m psyched to get people thinking about those questions. When I was doing standup and presenting as a woman most of my material was about navigating the world in that role, so a focus on gender roles is not new to me. But it does feel fantastic to be talking about gender roles while presenting as a gender that feels true and easy for me.

The Qu: How transitioning limited your ability to get booked at shows at all?

CC: My material has always been so outspokenly feminist that any shows that wouldn’t want a trans comedian decided they didn’t want me years ago. I’m not mad. The audiences who like me and my podcast (the Awkward Sex Show Podcast, cohosted by the hilarious Ramon Rivas) are super smart, and queer or as good as queer (which I use as the highest of compliments.) I LOVE getting to talk to audience members after my shows because they tend to be kick-ass people with interesting things to say, and I’m not sure I would feel that way if more of my gigs were with “mainstream” audiences.

The Qu: How often do you believe that you are the first trans person some audiences meet?

CC: Audience members often say I’m the first trans person they’ve met, but since us trans people can be so lax about wearing our official t-shirts I don’t believe them. I think what can be really disconcerting about me for audiences is that at the moment I look like someone they’d label a “butch woman.” So my appearance is a visual testimony to gender not being a static, fixed thing, even as I’m talking about actions that in a lot of people’s minds make me “officially trans,” ie. hormone injections, therapy, and surgery plans. I love having the chance to be openly trans before I’m read as man, and am psyched to see how audience reaction changes as my appearance changes.

The Qu: Do you feel an obligation to explain and educate audiences about being trans?

CC: For me to think I had insight into and could educate about a wider “trans experience” would be stupendously arrogant. I love stupendous arrogance, so I’m a little surprised I’m not more tempted to present myself as some kind of ambassador from the Trans territories. But no, my comedy is specific to the weirdness that is living with my weird brain in this weird world. That means stories about me dealing with testosterone surges, but also unwise attempted threesomes, bus harassment revenge fantasies, and lots and lots of uncomfortable phone conversations with my mom, who is also weird. I get it from her, and she’s not even a little bit trans (SO FAR).

Note: This was originally published on The Qu, you can view the original here.

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