Hear My Story: A GLAAD x Audible Interview Series - Season 2 Part 1: Philip Dawkins

Philip Dawkins Audible x GLAAD

GLAAD has teamed up with audio entertainment leader Audible to co-curate and produce the second season of a written interview series featuring LGBTQIA+ talent from the Audible family.

Our first interview features Philip Dawkins, author of The Comedians, a modern queer love story, told through individual stand-up acts. We hear the ups and downs of their journey—from falling hard to failing harder than a botched punchline—in this hilariously relatable play about love, loss, and, above all, "The Laugh".

Check out GLAAD’s interview with Dawkins below:

 

For so many of us in the LGBTQ community, we find inspiration from role models — idols that are within our community who have helped change the way we are seen, heard, and represented. So I’m curious if there is someone in the community who has inspired you or your work to this point?

Oh, gosh. So many people! I’ve really taken a lot from Dan Savage, who over the years has become a really good friend of mine. I’m 42, so I come from a generation where most of my gay mentors are dead, you know? I grew up with the people who I was looking up to for inspiration were actively dying in front of me when I was a 10 year old or didn’t even make it long enough to be my mentor. So, I’m very lucky I’ve had a lot of queer women in my life who helped me and showed me the way and we’re very inspirational to me. And a lot of allies. but when it comes to queer men or queer male-identified people there are fewer on the ground so I really took a lot from Dan Savage and his writing is a part of that. You know, it’s just on the underside of that generation that disappeared for me - or that disappeared for all of us. Over the years he’s become such a friend and I love hearing his perspective from the other side of those trenches.

Also I think Che Yu, a director and writer in the American theatre, has always been very inspirational to me. Also people I’ve never met (well, I did meet Sondheim) but people who I didn’t know very well like Stephen Sondheim. Like I listened to every single Stephen Sondheim musical; I don’t know how many times and every time I hear something different and I always hear a little bit of encouragement and a little bit of a challenge. There’s lots! Gosh, I could just go on forever listing people who were so exciting to me and so inspirational to me.

This year I lost one of my biggest inspirations in the queer community unfortunately with Mama Gloria Allen. God, she was a very special person and just kind of transitioned from my angel to everyone’s angel now. She taught me a lot and especially now that I am teaching middle and high school, I think of how Mama ran a room and how Mama created space and how Mama created open space for everybody to feel welcome. I don’t think I’ve quite made it to her mastery level of post-dislike generosity but I try every day. I actually printed off a picture of her, one of her favorite pictures from the Tribune, and I made a little kind of frame and altar for her. And I’ve hung it up in my classroom so she looks over me and she looks over all of us. When I’m feeling at my most frustrated, I just look up on the wall and look at Mama and try to think what she would do so she continues to inspire me.

 

I love that. Mama Gloria, the documentary, was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award actually. I mean a winner!

 Well deserved! I think Regina, who made that documentary, did such a lovely job with it. It’s very solid!

 

Thank you for sharing that. I appreciate that.

  Thank you for honoring that film. That’s really great!

 

Yeah! Absolutely! You know I think thanks to services like Audible access to the stories that you talked about and just LGBTQ content it is more accessible which is great. What are some of the LGBTQ stories that you still think need to be told and heard?

 Every story needs to be told. I mean every single story needs to be told. Stories are how we know each other, you know? And if anybody stops telling their story then we stop knowing each other and god, wouldn’t that be shitty? I’m not one of those people, again because of when I grew up there wasn’t a lot of or any queer content that wasn’t coded in any popular media, so I had to find myself in stories that were either coded or I had access my empathy and put on my imagination hat - which is what I think theater and storytelling is. I don’t necessarily go to theater - and again, this could be a function of when I grew up and what I did have access to and what I didn’t - or open a book or turn on a movie to see my story reflected back to me. I go to see something I have no familiarity with. I go to see something that I’m like “I don’t think I understand this experience at all” and then have it prove me wrong.I really do want to hear everyone’s story. I think every story needs to be told. Two nights ago, I watched this Icelandic movie called “Rams” about two warring brothers fighting over their flock of sheep. I couldn’t possibly have less in common with these people except for that I’m an avid knitter so I do care about wool. But other than that, I was so moved and I saw so much of my own experience and the world’s experience in this really beautiful movie, I highly recommend it. But I probably got more out of it than if I sat down and watched something that was maybe targeted towards me because it’s easier to dismiss something that I’m like, “I have familiarity with that. Yeah, yeah, yeah.” But when I’m watching a movie about ram herders (Which actually does sound like a gay movie now that I think about it), all I have is opportunities for empathy, right? And so it really accesses that muscle and gets me excited.

Then there’s the second part of that question which is, “Whose stories are not being told and whose are being ignored?” I think even in the LGBTQ community - and maybe even especially in the LGBTQ+ community - we’ve done so much to suppress, silence, and distance trans stories of color, stories from two-spirit people, stories from asexual people. The further you get down in that alphabet, the more that we’ve kind of suppressed these stories. Not “kind of,” the more we’ve actively tried to suppress these stories. And that’s a crime. I really would like to see more opportunities and more platforms for people whose stories have not been given the limelight yet. Because I’m a greedy story motherfucker. I want them all!

 

I love that! Well, let’s talk about your latest story. “The Comedians” is out on Audible so congrats to you on that. Tell me about the project. It is very specific but I think a lot of people will really connect with it because I found myself laughing of course but there’s a lot of heart as well.

Aw, thanks! Well, I do always kind of lean into Dolly Parton’s line that laughter through tears is my favorite emotion. I mean that’s touched me. I think that could probably be applied to everything I’ve ever written including probably grocery lists. I just laugh through tears pretty much instead of cardio.

But this piece came from a number of places. When Emilia La Pinta came to me from Audible and was like, “We want pitches from you about what you might wanna do.” I think it was two days after the country started shutting down from COVID. I was in San Francisco at the time which of course was the first city to shut down and I fled and came to my parents’ house in Arizona and I was like, “Oh shit, there’s not going to be any theater what am I gonna do?!” And I remember this lovely relationship that I’ve been building at Audible and I thought, “Well, there’ll probably still be radio.” We were actually thinking about what story could possibly be told without anybody having to be in the same room. And so I thought about what is a communal/community experience that takes place solo. And I thought of stand-up comedy. I’m a huge stand up comedy fan. I think during the pandemic I watched a different comedy special every night. I’m terrified of it. I’m just in awe of anybody who gets up and does it. And I’ve always wanted to try my hand at it and I was in this place of, “Oh my gosh! What if we never get to do stand up again?!” and I told her, I said, “well what about a romantic comedy that’s told entirely through stand-up. That way just in case we can’t be in the same room together when it’s time for us to record this, we don’t have to be.” And we actually weren’t.

Gabe and Drew were never in the same room and I think both of them just did such a beautiful job. And Nick Bornstein, our director, did such a beautiful job of guiding them and even when they are (spoilers!) in the same room in the piece. I don’t think it feels like they’re literally on separate coasts recording but that’s a testament to the actors and the director. I was really looking for something that was about community during isolation, and what does it mean to be in a relationship while being completely alone.

I wrote this during isolation. I wrote this alone in a cabin in the woods in northern Arizona where I hadn’t seen somebody in person for - maybe a year? And it was especially difficult because the first rule of comedy is get up and do it. You can’t really write stand up unless you get up and try it out. And I couldn’t, you know? There was nowhere I could go where I could try out these bits so I just started trying them out on Facebook. Everybody must be so sick - all of my friends are so sick of my Facebook because it’s just joke after joke after joke and then I would look to see how did each do. ‘Cause I couldn’t get up and do it at a bar!

Then when we got very very funny people involved, we could bounce it off of each other. I had always been interested in the idea of telling a story through comedy routines and laughter through tears being my favorite emotion, it’s like, ‘Well, it has to be sort of tragic as well because everything funny is.” I know we talk about this in plays how “comedy is just tragedy plus time.” So it’s people experiencing tragedy and then having time to joke about it on stage. So that’s where that came from - from a very dark and isolated place.

 

Well, I love that you’ve made something out of that. I mean, It’s funny when you said, “I’m like, so terrified of stand up comedy.” I mean, I love it but I’m always the one that’s like, “I’m the one in the very back row, I don’t want them pointing at me or interacting with me or saying something.” I’m always so worried that’s gonna happen.

     Oh totally! Or even worse, it’s like what if it goes badly?


Right!

I’m so - I’m such a den mother that if they’re failing up there. Oh god. I just want to stand up and say, “You can do it!!” You know? It would be better going to live comedy if I could bring a big foam finger and a noisemaker and just cheer them on in case it’s going badly but I know it’s discouraged.

 

Who do you hope listens to this? You don’t have to be someone in the community necessarily. You don’t have to be someone that’s into comedy. Who are you hoping will listen to “The Comedians”?

Is it fair to say “everybody”? Everybody listen to it! It’s a good production. I think “The Comedians” is for people who have invested very very very hard with a hundred and thirty percent of themselves in a relationship - and still it didn’t work. Which I think is a lot of us. I don’t tend to write a lot of villains or antagonists. Up until 2016, my experience of the world wasn’t that people wake up in the morning and say, “How can I ruin everyone’s day?” I didn’t experience a lot of antagonism in the world. Now I do! But to me what I experienced more often is, everybody trying their best to make it work and it still doesn’t work. And that to me is almost more frustrating, more difficult, and more human ‘cause you can’t point to one person. You can’t scapegoat something and say, “Oh, well it’s this person’s fault!” You know?

It’s more interesting to me. Well, what are those moments where we’re all giving 100% of ourselves and it still comes out at zero? And this for me is that conflict: “person vs reality”, basically. But in specifically a romantic setting and specifically a romantic setting where the assignment is “Be funny every day?” These people are basically doing stand up on the sinking Titanic, you know? People are running for their lives, everyone’s dying, and they’re like, “Don’t forget to be funny!” It’s such a hard situation. I also think it’s a piece for creators; like anybody who is putting out writing or acting or painting or something creative, this ongoing pressure to create which I felt a lot during the pandemic. A lot of people were like, “Oh, great! I’m loving all of this time to write my new novel.” Like who the fuck are you?! Taylor Swift put out two perfect albums in the pandemic and I will never speak to her again! That was so inappropriate. I couldn’t understand how she was living through this thing that was destroying most of us and be like, “I’m just feeling so creative!” Like what?! That pressure to always be making, always be creating, even though everything was falling down around you. If you’re an artist, you’re somehow failing twice if you’re not creating.

Like, “Oh, your marriage is breaking up! Oh, also you didn’t write something this year!“ It’s a pressure that I think maybe non-artists can relate to but certainly every artist understands that experience.

 

No, completely. I mean, the Taylor of it all - that’s so funny!

  Can’t she just fall apart like the rest of us?

 

I know! That’s such a good observation. Why is it so important that you continue to share and make these LGBTQ+ specific stories? Because I know you got a lot going on, the kids you’re teaching and beyond. 

I mean, every character I write is myself, right? At least to some extent. So they’re going to share similarities with me and they’re gonna veer off and branch away from me. When it comes time to write a love story, which, basically, all of my plays are love stories. I’m very much a love junky. I have to start somewhere rooted in me and with this play, I had to teach myself how to write stand up comedy and also tell a story through it. And I was like, “Well, everything that I can grab onto that is familiar to me, I better grab on to it. So I have a foothold before I try to jump.” And so it’s gonna be a romantic comedy that’s definitely gonna be a queer one. You know, I do love queer romance. I love - I have my favorite queer romances. Whenever I need to cry, I turn on “Weekend.”

If I’m going through it and I can’t access my emotions, I just turn on “The Weekend” and OOP - There they are! There’s my emotions! But like, if I need to feel nostalgic or loving or generous to everyone, I turn on “The Broken Hearts Club.” You know, I have these things that are - or if I just need to be devastated but not completely, I’ll turn on something. I have these stories that for me are very regenerative or push a certain button and I like to put those out in the world for other queers who need it. You know? If I just need to laugh and to cry and then go on with my day, maybe I could listen to “The Comedians.” Or just one section of it. It’s an audio play, you can walk away from this and come back.

 

I love that. I live in LA and I’m always in a car, so if I’ve got an hour stuck in traffic, put it on and then think about it. Come back on the way home and listen to another 45 minutes too. I love that. That’s the best part.

I love that too. Because I write plays so I’ve never had the ability to write something that you could choose to experience episodically. And I really like - ‘cause my experience of the last 15 minutes of every play I’ve ever seen in my life is, “I have to pee.” I can’t tell you what happens at the end of “Les Mis”; I can just tell you that I had to pee. So I love that this is an experience that you can delve into at your comfort level, at your leisure, you know? I wrote it with that in mind. I told some of my friends, “I haven’t had time to sit down and listen to it.” It was like, “Oh, you can listen to five minutes of it. Walk away. It’s fine!”

 

Jumping off of that whole thing of the ease of listening and the accessibility of Audible, I think Audio storytelling is just diverse and just lends itself to telling diverse stories. I think especially for our community. What would you say about “The Comedians” specifically that lends itself so well to being an audio production?

Hmm… I think because… gosh, I wonder if I have anything smart to say about this.

Well, if I don’t have anything “smart,” I’ll just say something honest! It takes us to so many different places that if you were doing this as a live play, which I suppose you could, but you can’t control the audience or the venue. You know? This takes us to seven different venues, more or less. Six and a half, I’ll say. And I really feel like we and our sound designer Alex (who is actually Gandalf, he is so magic!); he created these seven different spaces so beautifully and I think we really get to go on the journey with them. You know, ‘cause sound is such a strong, strong visual trigger. I think getting the aural experience of this story, we really get to build those rooms and we get to build their experiences. When are they performing to seven people eating swordfish and when are they performing to an auditorium? And what does that feel like? And yeah, you could sort of recreate that in a theater but with a sonic experience, it really allows us to drop in there. In our car, we’re suddenly at a Denny’s connected to a HoJo and there’s a comedian there. Or we’re at the Laugh Factory. You know?

And also there’s something really personal about having a story kind of penetrating your ear. There’s something sort of weirdly invasive about it and this play is about two people who get very very personal while holding up a huge veneer of comedy in front of it. I think it would be easier not to see through the veneer, if we could actually see them. If these comedians had access to their full instrument and they could use their - ‘cause I couldn’t do any visual comedy with this. I would think of jokes and bits all of the time but it would require a look or a hand gesture. We couldn’t do any of that! They make a couple jokes about their appearances and I realize, “Oh! We first have to have a set-up joke where we learn what their appearance is!”

 

What they look like! Yeah!

Yeah! Like all of my favorite comedians would always have to make fun of [themselves] first and they almost always start their set by making fun either of themselves or somebody in the audience. And we couldn’t do that! So there were fewer places for these comedians to hide because they only had the aural experience available to them. And I think that allows us as an audience not to see through or to be able to see through their veneer. It allows us to penetrate their shield a little bit more because they’re not firing with all of their cylinders the way that a comedian can get up on stage and be having a devastating day but with all of the tools available to them, you might never know it.

 

Well, listen: I think that was a very smart answer! You were saying it wasn’t gonna be smart! This has been perfect! I so appreciate it. I really appreciate the time and like I said, it was so fun to listen to it all!

     Thank you so much! I’m so honored to be asked. Thank you so much!

Thank you!

     Bye!

Bye!


 

 

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