Heart of the City Archives

Latina lesbian comic shares Intimate Details
by Hank Donat

In San Francisco, personal history walking tours are twice as salacious as the Barbary Coast trail, and three times as entertaining.

"The Eureka Theatre was here," says comedian Marga Gomez at the garden lot on the corner of Market and 16th, "This was the schmoozing capitol of hipster life in the 1980s. Across the street, where Tower Records is now, was the Finnish bathhouse where I worked at my first job."

A few feet away stands the Zao noodle restaurant, formerly Josie's Cabaret. During my own foray into comedy there in the 1990s, I got to know Gomez, the Latina lesbian comic who emerged from the Valencia Rose a decade earlier. She was in good company. Whoopi Goldberg and comedian/city Supervisor Tom Ammiano also honed their talents at the Valencia Rose.

"Do you remember when I loaned you the shirt off my back for a performance on a very cold night?" I ask Gomez. "Yes, I do!" she says, "That was awfully nice of you. Did I return it? I usually don't return things." (She did.)

"My second job was at Acme Cafˇ on 24th Street between Noe and Sanchez," Gomez remembers, "I had only come to San Francisco smoke dope and get away from my parents, but everybody at the Acme was an artist or some wonderful queer person who was working on art. I don't know if I would have become a performer if I didn't work at the Acme."

And what a performer she became. A darling of the art world, Gomez has brought her seven full-length performance pieces to sold out audiences at a catalog of prestigious venues including the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, Off-Broadway at New York's Public Theatre, The Whitney Museum, La Mama Theatre, The Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Gomez's career is featured in Andrea Meyerson's documentary "Laughing Matters." I knew Gomez had made it when her caricature appeared in The New Yorker magazine.

Gomez brings her award-winning one-woman show, "Marga Gomez's Intimate Details" to Theatre Rhinoceros on 16th Street this Thursday through September 5. The comedian's latest onstage tell-all is a walk of shame through a composite of disastrous affairs. In it, Gomez grows weary of gay pride month and shacks up with a suburban housewife. Don't tell Dr. Phil, the woman in Gomes'z life also happened to be a dangerous coke-snorting stripper.

As we walk along the sidewalks of today's Castro district, Gomez recounts a bygone era.

"On 15th near Sanchez was the Island Cafˇ, which was one of the best restaurants in San Francisco," she says, "You could actually smoke dope at your table. Vegetarian food tastes much better when you're stoned."

We wend our way from Zao to 19th and Castro, looking at the present as well as the past. I ask Gomez, whose mother died of Alzheimer's disease in 1997, if she is aware that Nancy Reagan said earlier in the day that she would endorse George W. Bush for re-election in spite of their differences over stem cell research. Gomez has not heard the news but remarks with ease, "Nancy just wants to go to the parties. She's single now."

In her show and in real time, Gomez shares intimate details of her own single life. "The new show is about my quest to find love," she says, "which is really subverted by my sex drive. I keep projecting angelic qualities onto women who aren't good for me." When the sex wears off, Gomez says, her angels turn into Satan's helpers.

It's a familiar trap for women and men, gay or straight. What makes Gomez's take unique is big laughs. "When I did the show last year in New York, my 12 year-old Jack Russell terrier, Tabasco, got very sick," says Gomez, "She came very close to dying. It cost me thousands of dollars to save Tabasco. But what I realized was that's my longest relationship."

What did Gomez learn from the trenches of the love war? "That I'll never learn anything. Although, I no longer think I'm going to bump into that enchanted stranger and have a relationship until the end of time. Other than that, I learned that dating is very expensive."

"Intimate Details" won a 2004 GLAAD Media Award. However, Gomez is no fan of the media GLAAD usually awards. "Unfortunately, there's a deadening of everyone in this country and it's sort of going worldwide, and it's clichˇ to say it, but it's television.

"There's a uniformity and a complacency. Gay population is not exempt from it. Everyone is staring at the TV, dressing like Queer Eye, and they're not thinking.

"In the day of the Castro, this was the riot street. People would take it here; they would talk to one another here. That's how people heard about what the action was - from people hanging flyers. What happened to those people?" Gomez asks and answers all at once, "A lot of them are no longer alive. The rest got priced out. They'd have to come over on BART to put up a flyer and then someone would take it down."

So how does someone with an affinity for the past remain of today? "I'm not really interested in being of today. I like some of the technology but I don't like the consciousness of today. Today is very apathetic. I think the best thing I can do to be of today is to remember the past and the values and the energy."

After four years in New York, Gomez says she's ready to "move the operations back" to the City with Tabasco. "I'm glad I kept my apartment here," she says, "I don't remember San Francisco being so quiet. When I step out of my apartment to walk my dog at 10 o'clock at night it's like there's nobody living for miles around my block. The quietest place I've ever been is the Haleakala Crater in Hawaii. That's what it feels like on the streets of San Francisco at night. I'd like to hang here."

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Copyright 2004 Hank Donat
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