BITCH SALAD hosted by ANDREW JOHNSTON with SABRINA JALEES, NICOLE ARBOUR, JO-ANNA DOWNEY, KATIE CROWN and DANA ALEXANDER at Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander), Friday (August 17) at 8 pm. $8. 416-975-8555, www.myspace.com/notandrewjohnston. Rating: NNNNN
Here's a test, people. think about that person you know who speaks incredibly quickly.
Speed up the voice, add a few dramatic eyebrow-raises and a couple of hush-hush confidences. And - voilà - you've got Andrew Johnston.
He's the brash, ballsy and unabashedly out stand-up comic and host of Bitch Salad, a newish monthly showcase of comedy by fiercely funny women. Anyone can attend, but Johnston thinks the show will appeal especially to gay guys, straight women and their posses.
"Look at the fan bases for comics like Margaret Cho, Kathy Griffin, Sarah Silverman, Amy Sedaris or Amy Poehler," says Johnston, rattling off their names with lightning speed. "They're worshipped by gay guys. When Griffin travels to a new city, she says, 'We've got to get the gays.' I think there are female comics in this city with the potential to achieve that kind of cult personality. But it's about concentrating all that talent in one place."
One place, preferably, that isn't overrun by straight white guys.
"If you're a gay male or a woman, you're probably not going to go out to a mainstream comedy club and sit through eight white guys with the exact same humour so you can see five minutes of Debra DiGiovanni."
The liberal crowd and venue (Buddies) affects the performers' delivery, says Johnston. Female comics can own their sexuality completely, and gay comics last month Trevor Boris, one of Johnston's mentors and friends, took part don't have to hold back either.
"In a mainstream club you're kind of there on the audience's terms," says the Brockville-born comic, who sometimes performs at Yuk Yuk's Downtown. "There's compromise. I can't, for instance, go on about how I lost my virginity or talk about foreskin and stuff. You have to put a different slant on it."
Not that all gay crowds are created equal. During the lead-up to Pride, Johnston took part in a Homo Night In Canada show for a crowd of mostly older, wealthier gays who had paid $25 for tickets and were pretty much soused. He bombed.
"I'll know if I ever do it again to go in with my most corporate, whitewashed material," he says. "They liked predictable things about cats, next-door neighbours and the differences between straights and gays. Maybe my material goes over better with younger crowds. What was so crushing was that it means I won't be playing gay family vacation cruiselines any time soon."
He delivers that last line with deadpan earnestness, and then breaks into one of his nervous giggles.
Nominated for last year's Tim Sims Encouragement Fund Award (he tells me he hated the telecast, however), Johnston makes a likeable, high-energy host. He looks as preppy, white and upper-middle-class as his fellow alumni at Queen's University, but he readily admits to an obsession with urban black women.
One of his strongest bits includes a discussion of the roles black women get to play in film and TV: it's either crack whore or Supreme Court judge. He's got a killer story imitating a black woman on a late-night TV infomercial, and another bit where he's more Jennifer Hudson than J-Hud herself.
"Whenever I hear straight male comics do impressions of gay men, they're always wrong," he laughs. "Margaret Cho imitates her gay friends in a black woman's voice. That's accurate. Talking with my co-fags is like being in a nail parlour in Hotlanta, Georgia."
Lately Johnston's been devoting a lot of his energy to his chatty blog, which every comedy fan needs to bookmark now (follow the links in address above).
There, he'll shred folks mostly women again, sense a theme here? like CNN's Nancy Grace or the frighteningly thin Star Jones or praise the ladies of country music or female sidekicks from old TV series. And, like fellow comics Boris and DiGiovanni, he also likes taping Video On Trial episodes whenever he's asked.
"I could not do that show enough," he says. "I would pay them to do it. It gets me out there. Whenever a VOT is on, I'll get MySpace and Facebook requests. That means someone has gone and Googled my name. Amazing. Then they'll read my blog and we'll continue and there's communication.
"I think Video On Trial is the only thing in this country that's created some sort of a star system."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
On his early comedy influences:
On his self-loathing adolescence:
On fellow gay stand-up Trevor Boris: