Kirsten Kuppenbenderis brilliant, charming and humble on and off stage. With her confident displays of vulnerability and genuine support of her fellow comics, she’s just likable. Before starting Lez Stand Up in 2010 and finding her gift for comedy, Kuppenbender did a little bit of everything – she learned stagecraft in a New York City theater school, pursued acting in LA, and was in a band.
Kuppenbender created Lez Stand Up because she wanted to try out comedy. She kept signing up at open mics, but didn’t want to share the stage with guys telling rape and roofie jokes. She expressed to a friend that she wished she could control the room. “It would be a lesbian audience, lesbian comics, it would be this fantasy land. I would call it Lez Stand Up.” With that, her friend scheduled Kuppenbender to do comedy at her next DJ night.
Today, nearly seven years later, Kuppenbender is doing comedy for everyone. “I don’t want to be in a lesbian comedy bubble. I want to be in the world and I want my whole thing to be connecting.” Like many in our community, she admires Ellen for demonstrating to others across the world that lesbians are people that you love. “The reason my dad finally came around on my gayness was because of Ellen DeGeneres…He called me and said ‘I saw what Ellen did. That was really brave of her…I’m really sorry.’”
Similarly, through her work, Kuppenbender wants to be a “bridger of humans.” In her sets, she centers topics of queer identity and experience when she authentically shares things like her “I cut my boobies off” jokes about her top surgery and interactions with people about it. “It’s like the best thing I’ve ever done in my life…Ever since I’ve done the surgery, I’ve been very open about it.”
What’s next for Kuppenbender and the troupe? “We’re all solo artists and I want to know what happens with that. I want to grow as a comic. I want to meet people and spread laughter, which is totally what happens with Lez Stand Up.”
Kuppenbender is overflowing with gratitude for her audience, but really, we should be thanking her. Get more of her at www.kirstenkuppenbender.com/.
Described by her troupe as a commanding, political baron, Mel Heywood’s comedy is smart, timely and off-the-cuff. Her sets touch on everything from life experiences as a recovering ex-Mormon, to real-talk about her rage with the current state of political affairs. At the heart of Heywood’s work is making an intentional space for queer activism and building the next generation of talent to produce queer comedy in Portland.
While Heywood started in theater and performed much of her life, the first time she did stand-up was at a Lez Stand Up show in 2013. Now Heywood is the driver of the Lez Stand Up comedy school. With its first cohort of 11 comics graduating in 2016, the free 10-week school was a collaborative experiment between the troupe and students. It taught lessons new comedians normally have to learn the hard way – like how to hold a mic, storytelling and finding your voice. “I conceptualized it as a free skill share – in the same vein as other queer and feminist punk organizing from the past – with all of us taking turns as teacher or facilitator throughout the weeks of the class.”
“The school is important because stand-up comedy is an amazing opportunity to get people we need to hear from – including women, queers, people of color, people who are not able-bodied, trans people, etc. – on a stage, projecting and amplifying their voices.”
The first comedy school graduates came together to form “That’s What She Said” Feminist Comedy Collective. Graduate Caryn Brooks said, “Mel’s idea was for all the queer and women comics to share their secrets and tear down the barriers that would make someone without experience second-guess themselves. Her plan to saturate the mostly cis, white, straight male comedy scene in Portland with a bunch of queers and radical feminists is working! Next, we take over the world!”
Caitlin Weierhauser describes her comedy as combative, argumentative and very tantrum-prone. She leads with anger and a lot of giggles. That combo affords her a spot in a laundry list of gigs across Portland as one of Lez Stand Up’s most active members in the broader comedy community.
After losing her sister and moving in and out of highly demanding careers, Weierhauser first tried performing stand-up comedy in 2014 on the suggestion of a therapist. She felt it was a good distraction and escape that gave her a lot of purpose in a time when she had a lot of grief. Soon thereafter, Lez Stand Up found her.
Weierhauser’s delivery is punchy and kind. She drops some harsh truths, but at the end you are left empowered by it. “I think I get labeled more political than I actually am. I think there’s an aspect of a very outspoken and confident kind of cocksure attitude that for me, just to be on stage, is a tiny bit political to some people. And that’s kind of a bummer.”
While Weierhauser is constantly performing, she describes the Lez Stand Up experience as magical. “Before the show we all hold hands, pass a crystal around and hold power poses…That vibe isn’t there for other shows. It is the most fortifying experience. It’s the best thing I have going on. It fills me up. It makes me a stronger performer. It reminds me of everything that’s good in stand-up, in comedy and our community. It reminds me how important it is to be an active and engaged member of my community.”
And that she is. You can catch this comedic powerhouse literally all over Portland. Weierhauser performs on: You’re Welcome, every Wednesday, at Mississippi Pizza; “I, Anonymous,” a Portland Mercury column turned into a live show, monthly, at Secret Society; Queer Story Jam at Doug Fir Lounge; Dinner Date with Nick and Cait at Funhouse Lounge; Room of Requirement 237 a Harry Potter fan theory podcast; and XRAY.fm community radio, Fridays, from 7-9 a.m. PT.
Laura Anne Whitley
Laura Anne Whitley thinks her comedy is very controversial and exactly like her personality. Whitley speaks to what it’s like to be onstage and not really know how people are interpreting her jokes, “Honestly, sometimes I can’t tell if people are laughing with me or at me and it’s an odd thing to navigate as a femme comic.”
Whitley has a cool, playful delivery that makes her comedy totally relatable. I must admit, the first time I saw her perform, I thought she was speaking directly to me. With jokes about her sexuality and relationship to social media, it was like I was at brunch with friends getting a download on what happened the night before.
Throughout her life, Whitley found herself adjacent to creative scenes, but never actually performed until joining Lez Stand Up four years ago. Though she was totally terrified, she had a natural talent and became addicted to it, genuinely seeking ways to get better. “And I don’t usually give a shit about most things for very long. It’s honestly crazy I haven’t quit yet. It’s so hard sometimes. But I just can’t, really. It feels so important to me on a personal and professional level.”
For Whitley, her troupe is her family. “I think I haven’t flaked, partially because they are all just the kind of dykes you wanna be in a cool club with forever, seriously. Lez Stand Up represents this point where my life sort of went from ‘medium crappy’ to ‘not terrible’ to ‘pretty actually good.’” Today, she sees this work as the most important, positive thing in her life. “It feels like really good feminist art and I’m proud to be a part of that. I’m proud to be associated with each and every one of those dudes and I actually have Caitlin’s name tattooed on my ass, but it’s like, sort of a joke. But it’s totally real, the tattoo.”
Bob Wolf is Lez Stand Up’s resident sketch performer bringing a fun, satirical element to each show. Unlike the other members, Wolf only performs comedy with Lez Stand Up, but she’s been with it from the start. The troupe has written a sketch for almost every show where Wolf plays regular characters like Ruth McCallahan, a lesbian separatist musician; Tammy Faye Butcher, the half-butch drag version of Tammy Faye Bakker; and Yohanna Joanne, Kuppenbender’s over-involved therapist, among others.
Wolf met Kuppenbender in the music world. As roommates they got used to being silly together at the house, playing music and making jokes. After Kuppenbender’s first Lez Stand Up show, she and Wolf laughed about how they could make the show better with a sketch performance.
It was while channeling Ani DeFranco at her first performance that Wolf discovered this new outlet for herself. “Something happened for me when I was performing that had never happened in all my years of performing music. I just completely lost myself in the character and was just having fun and I wasn’t self-conscious.” Wolf sees comedy as a new creative outlet for queer women, similar to what music was in the ’90s. Sometimes when she creates a sketch, she’s responding to what’s happening politically. That ability to improv and react on-the-spot wasn’t there with music.
Wolf is also all about the Lez Stand Up audience and the unique space it creates. “Our audiences are so amazing and they are coveted by every other comedian. Being queer and being a woman, there’s a lot of anxiety that comes with socializing and being out in the world because of being more of a target for abuse or judgement…[We’re] really providing a way the community can come out and have a good time that isn’t around the bar scene.”
When she’s not at Lez Stand Up, you can find Wolf at North Portland Bike Works, the non-profit bicycle shop she started, which hosts a women and trans bike night on Wednesdays or at the P:EAR homeless youth mentorship program’s bicycle mechanics school.