A Barb Is A Sharp Implement
JIM DAVID, one of the comics showcased on Comedy Central's "Out On The Edge," talks about surviving gorilla suits, Mafiosi, and the nasty barbs on "Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn"
After 17 years as a standup comic - on TV, in nightclubs, and occasionally on gay cruises - Jim David gets recognized on the street almost every day. "This morning I went into a coffee shop," says the out Manhattanite, "And the counter guy says, 'You are Mr. Jim! I know you from the TV!'" Though flattered, Mr. Jim finds these random shout-outs a tad unsettling, especially since he's been known to drop such botton-pushing barbs as "Last week George Bush outlined his plan for postwar Iraq - then he colored it." "I'm afraid somebody's going to come up to me with a hatchet, like, 'I've been lookin for you!'"
David may want to pick up some Mace, because his profile is about to get a lot higher. In addition to recording his second CD, "Live From Jimville," and appearing as a "guest comedy consultant" on an upcoming episode of "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy," the North Carolina native has landed a plum spot on Comedy Central's variety special "Out On The Edge." "It's one of the gayest things you've ever seen on television," says David of the extravaganza, hosted by Alan Cumming. "It should be rated TG for Too Gay. Alan changes costumes more than Cher."
David's also gearing up for the New York revival of his one-man show, "South Pathetic," his semi-autobiographical solo play about a down-and-out actor who takes a job directing "A Streetcar Named Desire! at the worst community theatre in the South. "It's about thinking you're a failure when the truth is, you're not - it's about having to start over in your life and how that's OK."
It's terrain that David knows well. After graduating with a drama degree from South Carolina's Furman University, he moved to New York at 22 to work in the theater. "But the theater said, 'We don't see you as an actor, we see you as an usher," he quips. David waited tables, sold typewriter ribbons, and even did singing telegrams. "I went into a jewelry store as a gorilla, and the jeweler held up a gun to my face and said, 'Get the fuck out of here!' before I could even sing my song," he recalls with a laugh. "Then there was this Mafioso type guy at a party who was convinced I couldn't be a singing chicken, I had to be a make prostitute as well. He said, 'I'll give you $500 to take my cousin Gina home and fuck her.' When I said no, he said, 'What kind of chicken are you?'"
David's transition from poultry-for-pay to professional joke teller happened almost by chance. "I was at a comedy club with a friend in 1986 and I said, 'I can do better than that guy,' and he said, 'I dare you.'" Within six months David was able to hang uphis feathers for good and turn pro, but it was over a decade before he mentioned his sexuality in his act. The comedian, who lives with his partner of 16 years, a music publishing executive, says it felt like a huge gamble. "You think you'll never work again, or if you do you'll be pigeonholed," he explains, "but I thought, if I'm going to do this, I want to just be able to be myself."
David, whose half-hour Comedy Central has been in regular rotation siince its 2001 premiere, still plays primarily to straight crowds, but he's pleased to report the ramifications have all been positive. "I've noticed that when I started talking about my personal life, audiences perked up. People respond to something that they themselves would be afraid to say in public, regardless of what that is. Being out in my act has been completely liberating artistically. I'm not afraid to talk about anything now."
That's a good thing, since one of David's ongoing gigs is as a panelist on Comedy Central's relentlessly un-PC "Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn." "At first I was offended by some of the antigay things that were said, but then I realized you have to be able to give as good as you get on that show," he says. "I remember one comedian said something really nasty to me on the air, and I replied, 'All right, all right, tonight you can be on top' and that shut him right up."
As for Quinn, the show's gruff host, David has nothing but nice things to say. "Colin asked me to go to Baghdad with him to perform for the USO, and I really want to go. I can't wait to walk out onstage and say, 'I'm here to test the limits of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell." - DENNIS HENSLEY