Sitting down with one of my idols: stand up comic, honorary drag queen and resident badass, Samantha Hale, I had so much I wanted to ask; namely “how can I be you?” But my instincts told me not to scare her off too quickly, so I started with a lowball: how did you get started doing stand up?
I come from a family of actors, my grandfather [Alan Hale, Jr.] was The Skipper on Gilligan’s Island, so I thought that’s what I was supposed to do, but I felt so out of control: it just depended on what you look like, and who you knew. I was working so hard and not getting anywhere and I just wasn’t in a great place. Then one night a friend invited me to see “The Women of Chelsea Lately” at the Laugh Factory. It was Natasha Leggero, Jen Kirkman, Sarah Colonna, all these very smart, powerful, wonderful women and I saw them and I just thought, “they know who they are and they are confident and they have opinions, and I want to feel that way.” And I was talking to Natasha after the show and she mentioned “Pretty Funny Women,” which is Lisa Sundstedt’s company, she’s been doing it for 20 years now, and it’s an all female class, empowering women, teaching them how to be stand ups, teaching them that it’s okay to be hot, sexy, pretty and funny at the same time. So I took her class just kind of on a whim and I just kept doing it. I was better at it than I thought I would be.
Photo by Janet Gorman
Sam works steadily in stand up comedy, which in the City of Angels is no easy feat.
It’s a process; it’s a constant hustle. I’m sure it’s very similar to drag in that you’re just constantly putting yourself out there and trying to meet bookers, trying to meet other comedians. I started with “Pretty Funny Women” and I would do her shows, and then I would meet other comedians and I would say ‘hey, what is this show you’re doing over here? Can I come do your show?’ So you just kind of work your way up, getting better and better gigs, hopefully eventually paying gigs, and then I fell into the world of drag and started opening a lot of shows for the girls.
As mentioned before, Sam is considered an honorary drag queen by many of the local artists here in Los Angeles, though she does not actually perform in drag. Being a straight, cis-female fully immersed in the community is quite honestly an accomplishment of it’s own, and so I was eager to find out how she was introduced to the world of drag.
I’ve watched [RuPaul’s] Drag Race since season one, I’ve always loved it, I didn’t even know they did live shows until at one point a friend of mine who I worked with, waiting tables, asked if I wanted to come to Micky’s after [work.] And I said “okay, what’s Micky’s?’ and he told me, there’s a drag show, they perform and I was like ‘no way, that’s so cool, let’s go!’ So we went, I remember I saw the full show and there were two girls who I thought were just incredible. It actually wasn’t until years later I realized those two queens were Morgan [McMichaels] and Detox. So they were the first ones I remember seeing live and being blown away by, but how I really got into it was Dolly Levi, who performs with Dreamgirls at Hamburger Mary’s every Tuesday.
Photo by Janet Gorman
Dolly and I were in the same Rocky Horror cast when I was in high school and years later we reconnected, I was doing a documentary on music and I thought it would be cool to interview her and talk about the music she chose for her numbers and how it affects the audience, how it affects her as an artist, and she said ‘yeah, that’s great, but I’m a movie gal. If you want to meet someone who knows about music, you have to meet Morgan McMichaels, and I thought, yeah, sure, why not. So we got in touch and I interviewed Morgan here at Micky’s and we just hit it off and became friends and I’ve been here every Monday since.
For those who don’t know already, Sam has her own residency at Micky’s West Hollywood, doing a spectacular weekly show called Ruthless People every week before Showgirls.
Yeah, I’ve been doing Ruthless People for almost three years now, we were all upstairs one night and the manager said they were thinking about bringing in another show on Mondays for happy hour to draw more people in, and Morgan was actually the one to say ‘um, hello, you have a comedian right here! Why don’t you try that?’ I did have to kind of convince them, but eventually he gave me a shot and I’m so grateful that he did because it’s been such a huge staple for me.
Photo by Janet Gorman
Check out Ruthless People every Monday night at 7 pm. I myself have been to several, and it never fails to put a smile on my face, always featuring an eclectic and extremely talented lineup of local comics.
I’m very lucky that I have a lot of incredibly talented comedian friends, a lot of it is being a part of this community, I could not ask for a better community to be a part of, or for better friends. People always ask ‘how are you the drag queen whisperer? How are you the straight girl that knows everybody?!’ I don’t know, it just happened. And in being a part of this community, you get to meet so many incredibly talented people. So, it’s mostly people that I’ve worked with, people that I meet through other friends. I’m a champion of anyone who’s funny, but I really love it when I meet and can support women, LGBTQ comics, anyone who doesn’t always get the opportunities that straight white guys get. Recently I was working this house party, and there was a trans woman there, Mary Jane French, who got up and did one of the funniest sets I’ve ever seen. I went up to her and said, I don’t know you, but you HAVE to do my show.
In addition to her weekly show Ruthless People, Sam does comedy shows all over the greater Los Angeles and Inland Empire area; where the queens go, she follows. I of course wanted to give her the opportunity to plug anything new she was working on, but got a much more sentimental answer than I was expecting.
I’m kind of in a very transformative part of my life right now, I just lost my mom and it’s made me really question what my purpose is, what I want to say and what I want to do. It’s hard, my mom was, is everything to me and losing someone like that makes you question a lot, how am I going to leave a mark on the world? How do I find happiness? So, I don’t really know what’s next… but I would like to be more real, more – not that I wasn’t authentic with my comedy before, but I wasn’t willing to go places that are as vulnerable as they could be. I met a girl a few days ago who came up to me after a show; I had done a set about my mom, and how she was so funny up until the last day, and she came up to me and told me how comforting it was to hear someone who was able to talk about it. She had just lost her mom as well and she said it had given her a lot of encouragement that it’s okay to talk about things and try to laugh. So I’m in this frame of mind now like, how can I do that? I want my comedy to mean something, as much as I love shit-talking Gwyneth Paltrow it’s not going to change anything. How can I take it to the next step, how can I make it more real?
In addition to continually guiding her in her comedy, Sam’s mom also helped to fuel her passion for music – and in particular one of her favorite bands Garbage led by the incredibly talented Shirley Manson, who continues to inspire her to this day.
The coolest thing about my mom is when I was 12 years old, she used to take me to different concerts, even if she couldn’t get a ticket, she would wait outside for me – she knew how passionate about music I was. So one of the first shows I went to was called “KROQ [Almost] Acoustic Christmas,” it’s a local radio station here and every year they do a big show with like, eight bands. I wanted to go see Alanis Morrisette, because I adore her, I had heard of Garbage but never really seen or heard their stuff before and they were one of the first ones out, and I was immediately like [GASP] ‘I don’t know who this woman is, but she is the biggest badass I have ever seen.’ She was just so incredible on stage, I immediately became a fan, my mom bought me the album for Christmas, I listened to it on loop – and then a couple years later when the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack came out, #1 Crush was on that, and that’s still I think my favorite song ever, and I used to sit by the “boom box” and wait for #1 Crush to be played so I could record it. So obviously I’ve been a fan of theirs for years and years, and just a couple of years ago a friend of mine asked if I wanted to go to the Garbage concert and I was like ‘Do I?!’ and he said, yeah we’ll probably hang out with them afterwards and I said ‘I’m sorry, wut?’ and he mentioned his brother was one of their tour managers. So that was the first time I met them, we went to a couple shows, but there were always tons of people around; and then two tours ago, that same friend said let’s go to The Greek to see them, and Morgan came with me, and brought a big ass Scottish flag, was waving it during the show so I’m sure Shirley saw it, and that was the first time we really got to sit down and chat with them. It’s really cool when one of your childhood heroes is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I know I’m biased, but I can’t say nicer things about Shirley Manson, she’s very genuine and real and honest, and she has an incredible memory, and is just really fun and amazing to talk to. Recently I just went to a couple of shows, just because it brings me joy, especially during this hard time, and I told her that and she could not have been more supportive.
Photo by Janet Gorman
Music and comedy aside, Sam’s other passion in life is the drag community. Sam has a unique insight to why drag has recently become such a huge phenomenon among young women.
I think female empowerment and drag go hand in hand, if you think about what the queens are doing. They’re taking the most incredible parts about being a woman, the confidence, the sexiness, the femininity, the strength and creating a character around it. I think that’s why so many straight women, in particular, are attracted to drag, because they see that and think, wow, they’re strong, they’re beautiful, they’re confident, they don’t take any shit and the thing that makes it so unique is that they are portraying these female characters, but at the end of the day they are men, and I hate to say it but women especially in America, verses say European women, we’re still put in a box, we’re still shamed for our sexuality, shamed for having voices. If we’re strong and have opinions we’re bitches, you know? Men never had to deal with that, men have always been men, they’re celebrated for the same things women are shamed for, so they have all the wonderful parts of women that they are taking and portraying in their characters, but they also have the confidence, the non-apologetic attitude of a man. And so we as women see that and think, that’s fantastic, I aspire to be more like that. So, it’s very empowering to see these men empowering women the way we should be empowering ourselves.
The empowering nature of drag is something that touches a lot of lives, my own included, and Sam is no exception to this wonderful phenomenon.
When I first met Morgan I was quite mousey and quiet, didn’t want to offend anyone, wasn’t really sure who I was. Comedy has of course helped me with that, getting older has also helped me with that, but he has always pushed me to stand up for myself and to be authentic, he’s always saying ‘you can be who you really are, you can say what you want to say.’
If you are unable to make it out to Los Angeles to catch a show, or to spot her hanging in the wings of a Garbage concert, fear not. Be sure to check out the video series on YouTube and her Instagram page, it (like Sam herself) is hilarious and extremely informative.
Straight Girl in a Drag World is about my experience of oftentimes being the only girl, or at least the only straight girl, in the room. I feel more at home in a gay bar than in a straight bar, I feel like a weirdo in a straight bar. I mean, I’m okay with it, I feel safe here.
As mentioned above, Samantha Hale actually is one of my idols. She carries an energy around her that I one day hope to exude, so of course while I had her talking, I had to get some advice of my own on how to embody that kind of energy.
Trust yourself to be who you are and who you want to be; I know that’s easier said than done, and it takes a lot of practice sometimes, but if you trust yourself it sort of just happens. If you had told me years ago that I would end up doing this and that the most important people in my life would be drag queens, I wouldn’t have thought it. It’s incredible what life will bring to you.
So, now that Sam is one of your idols too, where can you find her live and in person to check out her comedy?
Anyone in LA can find me here at Micky’s on Monday nights at 7 o’clock for Ruthless People, also once a month at the Laugh Factory, we have a show called Rainbow Pop and it’s a lot of incredible LGBTQ comics and it’s usually hosted by one of our fabulous drag queens. I also open for Morgan a lot at Hamburger Mary’s Ontario and in Long Beach.
For more information on upcoming shows and events, be sure to follow Samantha on social media:
Featured image by Brett Saari