Monica Palacios stands up and out

  • by Laura Moreno
  • Tuesday April 18, 2023
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Monica Palacios (photo: Patricia Varela)
Monica Palacios (photo: Patricia Varela)

"Just comadres? I don't think so," is one of the many brilliant lines Monica Palacios has delivered onstage, commenting on Mexican women singing passionate mariachi songs together.

Named one of the most influential Latinx performers ever, Monica Palacios was born to be a comedian. She was one of the first out Chicana lesbian comics to hit the stage in San Francisco in 1982. The unique period was documented in the queer film "Stand Up, Stand Out: The Making of a Comedy Movement."

Now, the renowned Chicana lesbian presents her solo show "San Francisco, Mi Amor!" about the start of her queer comedy career and activism in San Francisco in the 1980s.

It all started at the hot spot Valencia Rose Cabaret, which opened in 1982, the first gay comedy club in the nation, in the time of AIDS. The supportive, welcoming atmosphere there stood in stark contrast to the competitive, hostile edge at the straight comedy clubs.

In "San Francisco, Mi Amor!" she takes a bleak narrative and makes it triumphant, and reminisces about her first brushes with fame. At the time, she was waitressing at a funky Mexican restaurant at the tourist trap Pier 39 by day, birthing the comedy troupe Culture Clash by night. Throughout the play, projected images will be shown from this time period: funky first hand-made flyers, headshots, business cards, newspaper clippings and more.

Among numerous accolades and rave reviews, Palacios was awarded a National Performance Network Residency to participate in the 2009 International Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz Festival in Houston, named for the Mexican 17th-century lesbian philosopher, poet, playwright, painter, composer, scientist and nun.

Palacios has directed, written, and/or served as dramaturg for more than 400 student theater projects. As the director of VIVA, Lesbian and Gay Latino Artists, a non-profit art agency, from 1992 to 2000, she produced cultural events throughout Los Angeles through which she was able to discover, empower and promote queer Latino artists in the community.

She co-founded, an online community for lesbians and allies. Palacios discussed her work in a Bay Area Reporter interview.

Monica Palacios  

Laura Moreno: The city of Los Angeles named Oct 12 Monica Palacios Day in 2012, like Selena Day in Texas which was her birthday, Easter 1995. What an incredible honor. What did you do that day to celebrate?
Monica Palacios: The recognition from the City of Los Angeles was amazing! This honor coincided with my show, "Queer Chicana Soul," a 30-year retrospective of my performing career. I celebrated Monica Palacios Day by doing what I love: performing a show. Some members of my family were in the audience so after, we had a celebratory dinner.

Are comedic geniuses born or made?
I believe comedians are born funny humans. I was born into a family where everyone was funny. We loved laughing together. We actually had a family "gag" drawer where we kept a sample of fake dog poop, whoopie cushion, Dracula fangs, rubber masks, stick-on mustaches, eye glasses with metal eyeballs attached to springs allowing the eyeballs to bug out: fun times!

As a kid, I would watch my dad interact with relatives and they would joyfully laugh so hard, everyone would end up crying. I remember thinking, 'I want to experience that with my friends.' I was very shy until the sixth grade. Up until that time, I was observing people, trying to understand why they acted like they did.

During my quiet observing phase, I was watching a lot of comedians on television and listening to comedy albums during the '60s and '70s such as Flip Wilson, Richard Pryor, Phyllis Diller, Rodney Dangerfield, Redd Foxx, Steve Martin, Robert Klein, Lily Tomlin, David Steinberg, Moms Mabley, Joan Rivers, Elayne Boosler, Cheech & Chong, to name a few.

So when the sixth grade came around, I was ready to communicate with people and my language was comedy. After watching all the funny stuff on television, I would mimic whatever I saw to my friends at school the next day. Making people laugh felt exciting, good, healthy, and powerful.

Going to a private Catholic school did help my comedy chops because I had a smaller audience to entertain, and I was the only girl in my class who was an amateur comic. High school was even a better stand-up comedy prep because my parents made me go to Notre Dame, an all-girl Catholic high school in downtown San Jose.

This was the 1970s, a time when stand-up comedy and comedy on television was at an all-time high. I continued to mimic what I saw on TV but I was also creating my own material. As I was doing so, my adoring fans — I mean my classmates — were telling me I should be a comedian. By my senior year, after performing sketches with friends, writing and performing in plays, doing stand-up, making students and teachers laugh on a regular basis, I knew I was going to try stand-up comedy.

Do you love mariachis?
Yes, I absolutely love mariachis. I grew up with a father who taught himself to play the guitar, piano. Actually, he could play any instrument. I referred to him as a pseudo-mariachi guy because he had the guitar but not the outfit. My father, Guadalupe, was always playing his guitar and singing rancheras, contemporary American songs, rock and roll; he was always singing.

He and my mom would entertain relatives and compadres at our house. My dad taught me to play the ukulele so I would join my parents and we would all sing and jam the night away in Spanish and English.

Any time I come upon a group of mariachis at street fairs, festivals, restaurants, I always have to stop and listen and honor their magic. Live mariachi music makes me feel prideful of my Mexican ancestry, I can't help but think of my father, and I have imagined myself as a fierce mariachi!

For my show, "Greetings From a Queer Señorita," I dress as a mariachi but of course after five minutes, I have to remove my big ol' sombrero otherwise I couldn't do my performance. For my current solo show at Brava Theater, "San Francisco, Mi Amor!," there will not be mariachis per se but fun mariachi music energy.

Was your family okay with you coming out?
My family was supportive of my coming out as a lesbian. Actually, my older sister came out first, so we have a Double Dyke Familia! I told my mom I was a lesbian too and she said, "You're a lesbian tambien?! Is this contagious?!"

The most important thing that my sister and I showed our family was that we were happy about our lives and our queer friends were loving, supportive and respectful. What threw my mom for a loop was when I brought a girlfriend over to meet the family and she was stumped about us being vegetarians. My mom was a cool cat and a great cook. She said, "We can handle you being a lesbian but not eating carne asada tacos. That is a sin! But I can adapt. I will make you Enchiladas Lesbinitas."

Monica Palacios' 'San Francisco, Mi Amor! The '80s: Queer Comedy, Taquerias, The Castro, The Mission, Mullets & Shoulder Pads So Wide You Can Fly!' $20. April 28 & 29. 7:30pm, at Brava's Cabaret, 2773 24th St.

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