Atomic Comic: Sara Toby Moore's 'human cartoon fantasia'

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday June 27, 2023
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L-R: Colin Johnson, Sara Toby Moore, DeMarcello Funes (photo: Kenna Lindsay)
L-R: Colin Johnson, Sara Toby Moore, DeMarcello Funes (photo: Kenna Lindsay)

Sara Toby Moore is pretty laid back. A non-binary queer person, Moore prefers they/them pronouns, says that they don't offend easily. Their family of origin still calls them "Sare," but Moore doesn't give them a hard time about it.

"It only gives me more license to tease and play pranks on them," they said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter.

Moore is the writer and star of "Atomic Comic: a Human Cartoon Fantasia," which will perform at Z Space from June 30 through July 8. It's a show they promise will be rife with humor while dealing with some very serious topics. Moore will be sharing their experiences on dealing with the death of a parent, a painful breakup and surviving cancer. Certainly not topics to laugh about, yet Moore found humor in all of these journeys.

Moore came of age during the AIDS crisis, where they witnessed funny and brilliant young men face death, all the while cracking jokes like, "I'm sorry I'm dying, honey. It's so rude."

"It's almost a queer rite of passage to find humor in the darkest parts of humanity," Moore said. "I'm recalling a favorite quote from Lucille Ball who said, 'I'm not funny, what I am is brave.' I saw a lot of courage in those beautiful young gay men, even as they suffered."

They were also raised on a diet of British and Jewish humor, which they found to be very dark. When tragedies struck their life, they thought of all the beloved friends who didn't live past thirty and how these friends laughed in the face of it all.

"As Joni Mitchell sang, 'Laughin' and cryin,' it's the same release,'" they said. "And it often is."

Moore explained what they mean by subtitling the show 'a human cartoon fantasia.' They consider this to be a new form of theater, one where performers mix emotional truth with physical comedy, all performed at cartoon dimensions, which is how they describe their day-to day life.

"It's mad fun to create this kind of theater," Moore said. "Mainly because I think it affords our actors/clowns license to be emotional acrobats while being wonderfully, wackily physical. This form is rooted in the craft of clowning while employing a traditional theater narrative that's sprinkled with some really cool and interesting filmed elements and visual effects."

L-R: Sharon Gless and Sara Toby Moore (photo: Fernando Gambaroni)  

The filmed elements come in the form of Sharon Gless, the actress best known for her long TV runs on "Cagney & Lacey" and the LGBT serial drama "Queer as Folk." Gless play's Moore's therapist as an outrageously inappropriate character. Moore and Gless found each other because Gless is close friends with Moore's co-producer Debbie Mosk. Gless wanted to be part of the project but was unable to do the run of the show due to other commitments. So Moore came up with the idea of filming Gless on video, which was done in 2019. Gless will appear during the show via faux Zoom.

"And as we all know she's a fantastic actor and a pro on camera, so we have a great performance from her," Moore said. "The trick for me is to get the timing right when responding to her because I'm live and she's on video, so she just keeps going. I can't miss any lines."

'Atomic Comic' performer Sharon Shao (photo: Kenna Lindsay)  

More from Moore
Over the years Moore has been busy as a writer, a director and a clown. Their first professional gig was in Philadelphia when they were 17 at a now-shuttered theater called The Repertory Company. This was followed by a transition into physical comedy. They wrote material for the clown contingency at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. This led to working for children's television puppeteers Sid and Marty Kroft and for Merv Griffin's resorts, writing gags, jokes and copy for comedy shows and clown routines. They also worked as a clown, moving to San Francisco in 1999 to work with Make A Circus. They have also performed with Circus Bella.

"Getting to perform Emmett Kelly's famous spotlight gag under the big top with them on Treasure Island in 2018 was a thrilling experience," they said. "Working in circus as a clown means human cartooning at the height of your ability and it's fun and funny stuff. There's nothing like little children laughing at you."

Moore is also a filmmaker, having written and directed "Homo Heights," a feature film that starred Quentin Crisp and LeaDeLaria.

Moore hopes that "Atomic Comic" will be seen as a queer show first and foremost.

"I'd love to have this production and future productions benefit LGBTQ teens and trans teens in particular, because I myself am non-binary and the show is all about resilience and humor as therapy," they said. "I hope too that it can have some measure of universal appeal because it's about overcoming trouble with humor and friendships. This is a blisteringly funny show but also a heartfelt trip into the tunnel of love. It's 70 to 80 minutes of fun, high sensory theater that will give you an emotional workout and leave you smiling. Oh, and please support your local queer clowns."

'Atomic Comic: A Human Cartoon Fantasia,' June 30, July 1, July 6-8, $20-$55, Z Space, 450 Florida St.

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