So much has changed in a year. It would be this time last year I received an email from someone I knew at The Stephen Lewis Foundation requesting I participate in their Dare Campaign. It's a pledge campaign to raise money based on a dare, not dissimilar to The Breast Cancer Walk etc.
My challenge was stand-up. I'd wanted to do it but was too chicken shit to do so. I had comic friends and had played with improv. But the thought of going up and bombing was too frightening. Where do you start? How do you figure out material when you've never had an audience to gauge it by.
As with everything, once you pick a date, it will happen. I did, and it happened and I killed that night (thank god or I probably would have never done it again).
Up until then I had been working on this national online magazine for people who are HIV positive in order to foster a sense of online community.
It was hard going into comedy and walling off this (HIV) part of my life. It's such an ordinary thing in my life and in the lives of most people I know. We accept it (as there is no choice) and we move on integrating into our loves and a new sense of normalcy is achieved.
However, no matter how hard I try, I can't keep my mouth shut about it. Not that I want to talk about it all the time, but I have nothing to be ashamed about. If I feel I want to talk about it, I have every right to since pedophilia, rape jokes and general misogyny have found homes in comedy, after all. And if there is room in comedy for that, then there's plenty of room for me.
There is a secret part of me that does like to freak people out. Not in that they should be freaked about my status, but rather that I'm so open about it, that I don't bat an eye. I've shared my life literally with thousands of people prior to there even being an internet. I have about the same emotional attachment to the subject as a hooker giving her 10,000th hand job. So to see people be shocked by my dark humour is in some ways rewarding.
Do you know how much stupidity we have to deal with? What it's like to wonder if someone will only think of me as this weird being with a virus and not just Brian Finch the moment I talk about it? If the shoe is on the other foot in terms of uncomfortableness, then so be it. Try it on and see what it feels like, cause I sure could use a break from time to time.
None of this would have been possible if it were not for the process of my becoming Jewish. This was the first time I stepped out of my protected safe world where I could be a big mouth, write crazy articles and gain community profile. Once I stepped out of this world, I reverted back to the old quiet, scared and shy me.
You see, I never felt anyone could really accept me as me unless I hid significant aspects of my life. I wasn't comfortable about sexuality my entire life. I separated myself from my family, basically living a double life. This was the beginning of my compartmentalization.
Family got to know certain things, friends another. This carried on for a long time. Then I got into the drugs, something else not to share with family. This continued for a very long time, in fact until the Jewish process began (and Facebook).
Obviously there are a lot of things that were not appropriate to share at that time. But at least I could talk openly about being gay, and, with some, even about being positive. It's a hard topic to avoid when I was the founder of an online magazine and am asked what I did for work. This, my friends, is why I hate that question as an aside.
Once into the process of converting, I was starting out to hang out with straight guys. I've never done this before. Call me old fashioned, but kicked in the head once, twice shy. And I retained that through out my life. Straight guys were the enemy. They were the oppressors who would go out on purpose to seek people like myself and beat them to near death. Once just stopping into a 7/11 late at night (and on acid, go figure) in Winnipeg was a near death experience.
There were years of harassment from the way I looked to the way I spoke. For years I mumbled because my voice had been mocked so much I just didn't have enough self-esteem to be actually heard. It is because of this I started working with a voice coach, not just for the quality of voice but the baggage that goes with it.
Take all of this, and the idea of performing in front of straight crowds, mostly, and getting up and just being myself, serostatus included, has taken a lot of work. Most people don't know I started public speaking at the age of 23 and have been on all the media, a documentary even, and a social marketing campaign. Also I worked as a corporate trainer where I had to be the company cheerleader. There are still masks to hide behind in these roles. It wasn't unitl comedy that I could take the mask off.
So it is with this long preamble that I express so much gratitude for those who have been so supportive over the last year. January 18th will be a year at working on stand-up. I can't possibly name everyone.
You are the people who treat me exactly the same once you know everything about me. I can't tell you enough that such a simple thing means a lot.
You have encouraged me to do stand-up and storytelling.
You've talked to me when I'm having challenges and helped me remember that yes. I am funny even if not every set is stellar.
You've given me great notes to help with material.
You are people who understand that this is a journey, not a goal to be a headliner at Yuk Yuks (that would be great – but not the ultimate goal).
You are the straight dudes that joke with me in a way that makes me feel like one of the guys and girls. (Probably more of the girls. let's face it.)
You've invited me to your shows.
You've taught great workshops
You are challenging me to dig deeper and work harder.
You inspire me to walk through the fear.
Some special shoutouts go to:
Brian Ward - first guy to tell about the rooms. etc here.
Erin Rodgers - quickly became friends and coproduced a show together.
Catherine McCormick - amazingly supportive and sticks to her guns.
Marilla Wex - what can I say!
Zeb Pike - taught me str8 guys don't bite, well they do, but that's why they're straight :-)
Sage Tyrtle - her wonderful storytelling workshop is amazing, and she's even abetter faciliator.
Todd Turtle – If were a girl, I’d marry him, sorry Sage.
Tracey Erin Smith - whose soft and articulate direction allows me to think, "I can do it."
Joanna Downy - for getting me up at Spirits.
Scott Thompson for being so supportvie with the new people.
Shannon McDonough - super fab and supportive.
Maggie Cassella & The Flying Beaver - "When you have an hour come back, I'll book ya."
Blair E. Streeter - cause he's amazing.
Sandra Shamas - very supportive and for coming out to our storytelling show.
Eli Jakeman - (Rene squeaks in there too) only straight guy I have competitions on who is gayer, oh ya and it’s not gay if you are doing it for money.
Scott Dell - who sat down in order to stand up and give me an ovation, which is the golden seal of offensiveness approval.
Joel West - got to know him better with our last "Tales of", great guy to work with. Love his stories.
Phil Luzi & Sandra Battaglini - for just being you.
Shelly Marshall - don't know what to say other than she's great & her lesbian daughter could beat me up.
Brenda Lennie - for being so great, and getting me on her shows when I started.
Jim Maxwell - for giving me motivation for all these changes.
Anto Man-Ming Chan - very cool guy & super supportive
Rene Armondo Payes - for just being you.
Jennifer McAuliffe - as well being so encouraging.
Paul Bellini - just read his book, you'll know why.
Zabrina Chavennes - cause she is so funny, and supportive.
Jennifer Gee – amazing workshop partner and a lot of fun.
Marco Bernardi - for being so warm and actually giving me a hug in Caplansky's the first time we met (no I'm not stalking).
And a special thank you to the folks who continue to keep PositiveLite.com going. It's been a privilege to create it. One thing I've learned this year is that I like to create, but I suck at managing. So here's to another great year for PositiveLite.com.
There's a lot more so don’t feel left out. People can have the biggest impact with the smallest gestures. These are just a few names that stick out over the year.
As we head into New Year's Eve I also think it's important to think back with some gratitude over the last year. Usually I hate the year just past and think, "Thank Christ year X is over". It's been a great year of transition, new friends, new collegaues and most of all, new challenges and opportunities to grow. None of this happens in a vacuum, but within communnity.
I just know that 2013 is going to be a great year. Now if I could just brush up on some Middle East comedy, I could hit some open mics during my month long stay in Israel.