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Comedy Wed Sep 05 2012

Do Your Own Thing: An Interview with Wes Perry

Wes.jpg
Wes Perry, photo by Justin Luety

Seven years ago Wes Perry moved to Chicago so he could attend Columbia College and become a professional actor. He started taking classes at iO during his sophomore year of college and was performing at the theater by his junior year. He quickly fell into the improv and comedy scene and decided that's where he wanted to be.

Perry was on an iO Harold team for about a year-and-a-half. Through Columbia, he was also able to do the Second City Comedy Studies program. For the past three years his quote-unquote comedy home has been The Annoyance Theatre, where he's performed in such shows as Glitter in the Gutter (which ran for 14 weeks!) , Flames and Blazes, a puppet show called Frienz Finds It, and most recently his one-person-show, Don't Act Like a Girl.

His current project is a monthly show at the Upstairs Gallery called Making Out with Wes Perry and Friends.

After his performance in a variety show on Monday, Perry and I found a nice, quiet alley, sat on the curb, and he dished about being a queer-comedian, doing comedy he likes, and what his mom thinks about it.

Comedy is subjective, but what's something that just isn't funny?

What's not funny is pushing someone when they're down. I think every topic is fair game as long as it's cushioned in the right way.

Who would you say is your ideal audience when you're doing your personal shows?

I hesitate to say that it's a queer audience, because I don't want to limit who it is, but that's what I've kind-of fallen into. I've decided to make stuff that I want to see, so I feel people like me have been the ones to see it. But a lot of people who are not like me -- I've had plenty of straight people come.

At my solo show, I had a 50-year-old-couple come up to me, crying saying how much they liked it. I hesitate to put it in a box, but it's definitely been a younger, sort-of what you call a queer crowd -- a lot of people who do DIY performances...It's people who wouldn't usually go to iO, people who are going to The Annoyance for the first time.

Is it important for you to identify as a queer comedian or do try to not let it affect your style?

I do have to say, when my mom -- who is very supportive of me in general but had never come to see my shows -- came to visit recently, she goes, "I promised dad that I would tell you that we just want to make sure that you're not limiting yourself with all this gay stuff." And I said, "Point taken -- thank you."

She had seen the posters of me with lipstick on and makeup on...so I get it, but I definitely will never turn down publicizing it in a gay way, but I never sit down and think, "OK, time for my next gay show." I just do whatever I want to do and whoever wants to write about it and whoever wants to see it should come.

What's something that you would change about the comedy scene in Chicago?

I always think that there's a fatal flaw in something that embraces the idea of working together, but is also based on the idea of cutting people and excluding people and having a really regimented hierarchy... I definitely think that drives some people crazy. There are going to be people who you are collaborative with, so go to those people. If you are being pushed away from a theater or from a group or from everything -- say good riddance. Go. Getting cut from something or not getting an audition or not getting a callback can really feel like the end of the world when really you should think of it -- as cheesy as it sounds -- as just being told to take a different path.

Something that I like about you is that you've kind-of created your own space in the city -- just doing what you like.

Yeah, what I decided about a year ago -- I had done a lot of fun stuff, so many things that I liked and that I was proud of -- but I was just kind-of stuck for a second, and I just said, "Fuck it, I'm just going to do whatever I want to do." Sorry I'm cursing so much by the way. I just said, you know, "Fuck it -- I'm just going to do whatever I want to do and just see what happens."

What is the best place for someone to see their first comedy show in Chicago?

I really would say iO -- it was the first place where my mind was blown. I mean there are definitely off-nights there, but with the amount of shows that they turn out per night -- you know multiple spaces. Find a show that looks good and just go -- or just go for a whole night, because if you go on a Saturday night and you see three shows, one of them is going to blow your mind, at least a little bit.

Who in Chicago is really making you laugh right now?

You know who makes me really fucking laugh: Connor O'Malley. He's the exact opposite of me -- he's straight, he's an Irish douchebag. If I'm doing the gay stuff, he is covering the Irish douchebag. His performances can be called, like, heavy metal drunkard. They fucking kill me, because he is so original, he's so honest, and he's the most committed performer I've ever seen.

What's some advice you would give to someone just starting off in comedy?

In terms of talking about rejection from the comedy scene, I think it's important if you don't get the team or a callback, I think it's important to try again, but I think some people kind of take that kind of rejection as a "no, you should quit" when it's often a "why don't you try something else." I think people really shouldn't be afraid to try new things and do what they like to do and not what they think they should do.

We all know that shameless self-promotion is the best kind of promotion, so where can we catch you next?

I've been doing a monthly show called Making Out with Wes Perry and Friends. It's at the Upstairs Gallery every third Wednesday of the month. It's a mix of comedy, performance art, drag queens, and me, and it's free. I'm going to try and tour* [Don't Act like a Girl] -- we're still figuring that out, but my main project is with the Making Out show. In that show I host and I tell true stories and sing songs with a live band and I think we're going to try and pull some funds together and record an album of the songs and the stories and then do a DVD of the best performances.

~*~

The Annoyance is remounting Don't Act Like A Girl for one night in Wilmette, at the Wilmette Theatre, 1122 W. Central Ave., on Saturday, Sept. 22 at 9pm. Tickets are $15.

 
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