The Lez Stand Up comedy troupe has been bringing the power of queer, feminist comedy to Portland since 2010. Voted Best Comedy Night in 2016 by readers of Portland’s Willamette Week, the collective delivers sold-out monthly shows to audiences of 150. So what makes it a success? For Lez Stand Up, it’s all about honoring their community and declaring “no bullshit.”
Founder Kirsten Kuppenbender admits that in the beginning, the show, which started as an open mic, was sloppy, but there was something about the experience for both the performers and audience that made it a hit. Today, Lez Stand Up has evolved into a curated comedy experience with other producers, including Mel Heywood, Caitlin Weierhauser, Laura Anne Whitley, and Bob Wolf. When you watch their hilarious sets it’s hard to imagine that, except for Weierhauser, all of the members had never performed comedy prior to Lez Stand Up.
Kuppenbender shared how she and the regular performers started defining Lez Stand Up’s no bullshit policy duing the open mic days of the show. “If you’re going to be on our show, you’ve got to be smart. You can be funny without being an asshole…I don’t want transphobic, fatphobic, xenophobic, classist, racist shit on my show. Don’t hurt my audience.” The members put the no bullshit policy on one of the open mic fliers and started introducing the show that way, and that’s when Lez Stand Up became a safe space.
The show has received overwhelming support from the LGBTQ community and Lez Stand Up members are regularly booked as individual performers in comedy events across Portland. This success isn’t without the scrutiny of others in Portland’s booming comedy scene. According to Weierhauser, there’s a perception that safe space comedy makes weak comedians. “Safe spaces aren’t for us, the performers, it’s for the audience. If you’re against safe space comedy, you’re against having people who are marginalized and historically and systematically unconsidered in mainstream comedy…in your audience. You don’t care that they’re there. You don’t care that there are jokes, and they’re the butt of them.”
Lez Stand Up’s thoughtful comedy is what brings people back. “What we’re offering, people want it. We’re going to give you a night of comedy where you’re going to feel good when you go home,” said Kuppenbender.
That was the case for me when I left shows immediately following the election and inauguration. In the queer community, comedy in these times is a form of empowerment. It’s about finding laughter, lifting people up and healing, even when you are faced with devastation. From the audience of a Lez Stand Up show, it feels like you are part of a conversation. I can see myself and my friends reflected in the performers and their words. I think Weierhauser put it best, “Everyone’s always welcome. And, yeah, it’s totally a gay show. But you’re gonna fucking like it. No matter who you are.”
Tagg Nation’s Chelsea Shorte recently performed with Lez Stand Up and said, “Before I arrived in Portland, my friend told me how great an influence the women comics in this city have in the community, which was a bit hard for me to believe because in most comedy communities women have to fight incredibly hard to have their voices heard and their opinions respected. After performing on a few shows in my week here and speaking with the comics in this city, it is such a pleasure to discover that it is in fact so! The people involved in Lez Stand Up are well respected in their community for their talents. The loving, safe-space comedy they promote—which may have existed before their formalized organization—has caught on in Portland…”
Tagg had the opportunity to sit down with the talent behind Lez Stand Up to find out more about the work that they are doing to revolutionize comedy with queer, feminist representation.