Open Flame is a comedy open mic show where LGBTQIA folks come to make each other laugh. The hosts, Sam Campbell, Peter Valenti, and Simone Leitner were fated collaborators. They met serendipitously while pursuing their individual interest as performers and comics. Once their magical friendships were established they got to the urgent work of bringing queer performers and audiences together for good times. It’s inspired work, really. It's work that elevates comedy; how it’s practiced and how we consume it. It all got even more magical when, interest piqued, Peter decided to check out The Phluid Project in person. We made a connection, and our missions aligned so well that it would have been criminal not to combine our efforts.
Peter: I knew I wanted to do something with you all when I researched your mission. I read about how The Phluid Project believes everyone should be free to express their authentic selves. It aligns with Open Flame’s mission so much. Open Flame is an environment that encourages and supports people being themselves. We support people making comedy of their lives without the pigeonholing that happens in a cis and/or straight context. People can be their fun flirty freaky selves; they can be whatever they want. The phluid project’s mission is congruent with our goal to champion carefree authenticity and freedom. We want people to be creative and uninhibited by expectations that the world puts on us.
During the day, Peter writes and produces video content and does a bit of art handling. Sam is a pre-school teacher, and Simone works with an architecture firm. But, speaking with these three, it’s easy to note that comedy is in their blood full-time.
The Phluid Project (TPP): I’m obsessed with the genesis of friendships that become work collaborations—I’d love it if you told me your story.
Peter: So, Simone and I met in a sketch writing class, then six months later I met Sam in an improv class. As it turns out, we all had a connection with one another.
Simone: Yeah, we all had a line sort of tethered to each other before we even met. It was really cute.
Sam: It made so much sense. It was meant to be!
TPP: I love that. I love that you met each other in the process of coming into your comic selves. So, for each of you, tell me, why comedy?
Simone: I come from this funny and weird family and I was a quirky only child. I’d tell people stories of my family and they would find it hilarious. I realized early on, oh, I like this. This is fun, I loved to make people laugh.
Peter: Honestly, I just wanted to have more fun in my life. I was studying visual art, and I saw one improv show and became drawn to it. As a visual artist I spent a lot of time in deep thought, which I loved. But with improv and comedy, I wanted to do it because it was a lot of fun and I wanted more of that in my life.
Sam: I actually got into it really early, even before college. I used to volunteer for this youth leadership conference and I wrote skits for the staff and campers and loved doing it so much.
TPP: I have to tell you the truth, which is that I’ve loved comedy for a long time but I’ve also been endlessly disappointed by it. I’ve been disappointed by being in rooms where it feels like my body or my life’s story is the joke. Do you have some things that you find hard to deal with in mainstream comedy. And, what was the appeal of making a show or event that catered to the queer community.
Peter: Yes, the list is so long! First, I don’t like stereotypes. It can be good. Some [comics] handle it with tact. Some make it fun even, but some rely on it just to make fun of other people. They have no comparison that they’re making, and it’s just being lazy and mean. I don’t like meanness. I don’t like it when folks don’t know what they are talking about and they’re just being ignorant. I don’t want racism and homophobia in my night out.
Sam: Same. It’s exhausting to constantly be either the butt of the joke or left out of the joke. I came to comedy through the lens of my gender. I’d go to shows where there’d be only one or two women comics out of a group of mostly men. Two comics in, someone would already be heckling you. It feels like a form of catcalling. There’s a lack of support. For instance, most of the men would finish with their set and they’d walk outside with each other! So it would just be you and the other women comics listening and supporting. I wanted to help create something where folks felt safe as audience and as performer. A space where folks would feel supported. At Open Flame, you just stand on the stage and people are screaming for you, cheering you on.
Simone: Honestly, some of the funniest things come out. It’s such a great time to see folks try whatever they want to up there.
Peter: And, since the audience is a lot more than other comics listening to you, there’s good feedback. That’s also because of the trust that you can put in the crowd. I’m writing jokes for people like myself. Some things, I don’t want to have to explain like I’m five.
TPP: So, tell me, who are favorite comics? What funny people do you love?
Sam: I love Tig Notaro, she’s great. Oh, and Margaret Cho is so funny!
Peter: Jane Krakowski on 30 Rock made me laugh harder than anyone. I know they don’t give Oscars for television, but it was Oscar worthy.
Simone: Ok, I know she’s a fictional Character but Janis Ian from Mean Girls! She gets called a lesbian the whole time and doesn’t care. She’s a standalone in her character, and the funniest.
TPP: How do you sustain yourself, or stay grounded if you will, while doing comedy?
Simone: Hard work and good intentions. It’s really stressful, but worth it. You learn so much. You’re traveling a lot and you’re in lots of shows, but it’s inspiring. It’s tiring, but the best.
Peter: I stay connected to the fun of it. For the record, I’m not a full-time comedian but I want to be. I’ve met so many other creative, queer, and wonderful people. I love the social aspect of it. Yeah, going to a show is about comedy, but it’s also about being with friends.
Sam: I check in with how I’m feeling often. I always feel so great after we do Open Flame. We each do many different kinds of comedy, and I’m not letting something I hate keep me from doing something I love in comedy. So I check in with how I’m feeling, and if I don’t like something, I’m not doing it again.
Open Flame is returning to The Phluid Project on September 15th, from 6-8 PM. Come out to support queer comedians, or to try the stage yourself! Open Flame also happens every other Monday at Mood Ring in Bushwick, Brooklyn.