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Equal Rights Washington fundraising banquet hosts GLBT comics, singer as entertainment
by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

The annual Equal Rights Washington (ERW) Fundraising Dinner & Gala next week, Saturday, February 23, will bring together the movers-and-shakers from the state's diverse GLBT community, a lot of glad-handing politicians, a few up-and-coming businesspeople trying to make their mark on the hard-to-capture Gay and Lesbian commercial scene. It also brings three nationally known GLBT artists - two standup comics and a rising (and newly "out") country/western singer to the Emerald City.

SGN had the chance to interview all three and preview the banquet's highly anticipated entertainment segments - and Bits&Bytes got the writing assignment. (Yeah, life is tough at SGN, and Bits&Bytes suffers more than most.)

First the details: The Equal Rights Washington (ERW) fund raising dinner and awards ceremony is set for next Saturday, February 23, at the elegant and stylishly modern W Hotel in downtown Seattle. Dinner starts at 6 p.m. with 330 guests expected. Tickets were still available at SGN's deadline time, but ERW expects a traditional sellout by curtain time next weekend. Tickets for this all-important fundraiser are $175 for general admission or $275 for patrons - which seems to include getting your name in the program, an extra nibble or two, and access to the "meet-the-artists" reception. Tax deductions, of course, make the high price a consideration for many.

Complete information and reservations are available at the ERW office (324-2570). As usual, Connie Watts, ER's executive director, is "excited" about this year's gala event. Who wouldn't be & a new feature this year is a Silent Auction - "bring your checkbooks," Watts laughed.

Three nationally known GLBT artists - two standup comics and a "just out" country/western star - join together for the entertainment sequences at the ERW dinner. "We each get about 30 minutes solo," the exuberant Michelle Balan told Bits&Bytes. "We don't really coordinate our routines - we each do our own thing." Some of the entertainers know each other well, but all three bring new material to Seattle - and to each other.

Michelle Balan, Jim David and Jimmy Demar headline the ERW show. They range from "30 going on a Wal-Mart greeter" to "the new kid on the block" to "after 17 years, I'm an 'overnight' success." Exclusive SGN interviews with each follow:

Some writing gigs turn out to be great fun. Bits&Bytes, knowing none of the three ERW stars, bonded instantly with Michelle Balan - we've become new "best buddies" as the result of our one phone interview "at the crack of noon" New York time. Can't wait to meet her in person....

Balan "can't wait to get back to Seattle - love the city!" Her breathless enthusiasm was obviously contagious. Born in New York, raised in New York, Balan found "overnight success" after 17 years of headlining at comedy clubs after she was named a finalist on the Last Comic Standing broadcast.

In previous visits to Seattle, Balan played a benefit at a local comedy club for an Emerald City GLBT group. "Can't remember what it was," she brayed into the phone, "but they were a terrific audience." The benefit for a local Lesbian group "was a smash - I loved them and they loved me. What can I say?"

Balan often performs on Olivia and RSVP cruises. "The women love me, the 'boyz' love me. I love 'em all." It was on one of the Olivia cruises that Balan met Seattle-based Lesbian comic Lisa Koch.

"Lisa is so funny, so talented. Gotta meet up with her next week." Koch, a triple threat entertainer (who has been openly Lesbian most of her life), and Peggy Platt ("hopelessly straight, but everyone thinks I'm the Lesbian - it's sort of flattering!") often team together in various cabaret or comedy pairings. Their Dos Fallopia is a faux-Lesbian duo that sends up the GLBT community - especially "Women's Music Festivals" - and everything else. "Love those two & gotta get to know Peggy more. Lisa is a hoot," Balan gushed.

Like many standup comics, Balan goes where the work is. After Seattle next week, she flies to Chicago "for a corporate gig - straight crowd, my jokes." Although she identifies as a comic who happens to be Lesbian ("I don't push anything about my personal life down anyone's throat - never have, never will"), she has always been open about her sexual status. "No one in show business cares. If you're funny, you're funny."

"I was in Florida last week doing a Gay gig at a Jewish country club. I've always played the Catskills (in upstate New York), and the traditional Jewish summer crowds have always loved me & and I love them. They are so easy." Her Seattle topics are, as always, "off the top of my head. Nothing political. Nothing! I think that's why I work with so many different groups - I just wanna be funny, not make a statement."

Balan is approaching five years with her current "girlfriend." "We take it one day at a time - going 'one step at a time' for just over four and-a-half years. Imagine & it works for us."

She's played only one men's chorus event, an increasing popular (and lucrative) venue for standup comics. "It was in Columbus, Ohio. Loved 'em & they loved me!" After a pause, a question came into her animated voice. "You got a Gay men's chorus in Seattle? Send 'em to my show. Gotta do more chorus gigs!"

After Seattle, she appears with the touring Queer Queens Of Comedy - "a great group&audiences love us!" The "casually collected" Lesbian comics will play San Francisco on March 22 "at some club - the audiences always find us!" March 21 finds the troupe in San Jose at the Rio Theatre. "Is that really near San Francisco? Remember, I'm from New York." She leaves March 29 for a two-week Olivia cruise. "Stay on the whole time & it's a vacation and a well-paying shot."

Balan plays regularly in New York at Caroline's, a comedy club at 50th and Broadway. "You gotta come see us," she enthused. We're

The Broads - what a name!" The rotating regulars in The Broads mix Lesbian humor with "straight humor - whatever that is." Sounds like great fun. "The tourists love us, but the New York regulars are our bread-and-butter fans & they come every week. They love us."

Bits&Bytes will be in New York - "The City That Never Sleeps" - this spring, and Balan and The Broads at Caroline's will be a "must see" stop. Couldn't miss my new best friend&.

Closing comment: "I love Seattle, I love my Seattle fans - all four of 'em! Send them my love." Over and out.

Jim David arrives in Seattle for his first visit with pages and pages of rave reviews. A Montreal newspaper praised his "flawless timing & he hurls his words at the audience with surgical skill and a killer's power." Politics is often a major topic - "in today's world, it has to be." David writes a regular column in The Advocate magazine. "It's an Op Ed thing - politics, Gay rights, commentary. Read it."

While his comedy routines stress political issues, he "covers the whole spectrum - political, social, attitudes, personal stuff." Two best-selling comedy CDs are readily available online and will give Emerald City fans a chance to get to know David's style before next week's banquet.

He plays comedy clubs, big and small venues, but prefers big theaters. "They're a lot more fun. Easier to 'work' a big audience - and the audience is not drinking," he noted. He plays a lot of "equal rights" events, "but not enough. Politics are important."

After our interview (another phoner from New York), he was off for a week in the Caribbean for a gig. Would he arrive in Seattle, The Rain City, tanned and rested? "Why would you think that?" he replied. "I'm working on the trip."

Seemingly sensitive about his age, he laughingly notes that he's "somewhere between 30 and working as a Wal-Mart greeter." His 21 years in comedy followed his early career as a drama teacher (we agreed that "every teacher is a standup comedian") and a New York-based actor and director. One of his favorite colleagues, Dee Hoty, is in Seattle for a guest turn as Mame at the 5th Avenue Theatre. "We go back a long ways."

David plans to stay in the Emerald City a few extra days, "see Mame, hook up with Dee, see the sights." He's appeared "all over" the West Coast - San Francisco, Portland but Seattle is a first.

The "first 'out' comic" to do a TV special on Comedy Central, David's career really took off in 2000. He will undoubtedly conquer Seattle with his barbed humor at the ERW dinner.

Jimmy Demar, the third artist on the roster, planned a phone interview from New York. It was then rescheduled from Los Angeles where he was "locked in the studio" for days. A new term to this scribe, it turns out that the young and charming - and ever so sweet - singer was recording his first country/western CD and studio time (which costs a zillion dollars an hour) had to come first.

"I can talk to you about midnight," an enthusiastic e-mail explained, "or we can shoot questions back and forth." The other option was to do the in-depth phoner after the album was finished but before next week's Seattle visit. "Let's do that," we agreed. Watch this space for details.

The "new kid on the block" is obviously a rising - and "out" - star. "He has a terrifically funny, terrifically touching coming out story," one ERW official noted. "Get him to tell it." Well, he will - at the ERW banquet. Watch this space for complete details.

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