ONSTAGE Out New York-based comedian Matteo Lane didn’t dream of a career in comedy, growing up.
In fact, the “Moving On” (2015), “Crashing” (2018), and “The Comedy Lineup” (2018) star told 48 Hills that stand-up wasn’t even a draw for him, initially. That is until he discovered more inclusive, gay-friendly comedians like Kathy Griffin.
“I didn’t watch stand-up as a kid, because it didn’t feel like it was speaking to me,” Lane said.
“So I didn’t become interested in it till I saw Kathy Griffin, because she was the first comedian I saw who didn’t make fun of gay people like we were the butt of the joke. We were in on the joke. I was lucky to have women like Kathy Griffin, Margaret Cho, and Joan Rivers lead me to comedy.”
As part of this weekend’s Clusterfest, Lane will be paying tribute to comedy queens Lisa Kudrow, Mira Sorvino, and Alan Cumming with the Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion Live Read alongside RuPaul’s Drag Race alums Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova.
“I’m playing Alan Cumming’s part where they do the interpretive dance at the high school reunion where I think Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’ is playing,” he said. “So I have to learn the dance.”
At the annual comedy and music festival, now in its third year and featuring Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, Neal Brennan, Issa Rae, John Mulaney, Leslie Jones, The Roots, Chelsea Peretti, Courtney Barnett, and My Favorite Murder, among many others, Lane will also appear in Todd Barry’s Crowd Work Show, Saturday’s Chi Guys, and Sunday’s Patton Oswalt show.
I spoke to Matteo Lane about coming out with humor, relating to Alladin’s Jafar, and why he refuses to make Trump jokes.
48 HILLS Matteo, you went from being an opera singer and oil painter in Italy to a stand-up comedian. Do you ever imagine what your life would have been like had you pursued those other talents?
MATTEO LANE I just don’t think about it that way. Your life just happens as it happens and stand-up has allowed me to do all sorts of things including drawing because I have my comic book with Bob the Drag Queen called “Kickass Drag Queen” that we’re going to hopefully get made into a cartoon, and I’ve been able to do my own singing show, which I tour the country with.
I feel like none of those would have been possible had I not done stand-up, so in a way I don’t look at it as separate. I look at it as other ways to explore my creativity, so if anything it’s helped me be more of a singer or artist than I ever was.
48 HILLS You have a bit called “Every Disney Character is Gay.” Do you really think so, or are you just trying to piss off conservatives?
MATTEO LANE I’m just trying to write material that makes people laugh. If we wanted to have an existential conversation about those types of characters, I’d say, “Yeah, usually the villain in a Disney movie doesn’t bend to the male or female roles, like the prince or princess. They’re somewhere on the outside, look different and feel different. They’re some sort of an other.
I think that gay people growing up often fall into that experience of being the other, at least in my experience. So I feel like I’ve always latched on to the villain, as most young queer kids do. I don’t relate to Princess Jasmine and Aladdin. I relate to Jafar.
But I don’t write my material to say, “Who am I going to get?” Or to do a bigger conversation about something. I’m doing it, at the end of the day, to make people laugh.
48 HILLS You also talk about growing up on the same block as your 22 cousins in your act. When you came out, was your family supportive?
MATTEO LANE I am very lucky because my brother’s gay and my cousin’s also gay, so we’re all gay. [Laughs] I’m very lucky to have a very supportive family.
My mom had a very difficult childhood and my grandfather grew up in an immigrant family, went blind at the age of five, put himself through law school, and became a judge. So my family was able to see that there are bigger things out there than just being gay. So being gay was like, “OK, cool, pass the butter.”
My family communicates through humor, so I used humor to make it not this taboo subject we couldn’t talk about, and, as a result, I feel just like the rest of my cousins.
48 HILLS You’ve said before that while you don’t discuss Trump directly in your act, your “material in itself is a stand against Trump.” What did you mean by that?
MATTEO LANE What I mean by that is a technical thing. I’m not the kind of comedian who writes topical jokes about what happened or what I saw on MSNBC yesterday because the news cycle is going so quickly that even if I do a joke that’s funny about what Trump said yesterday, it’s forgotten the next week. So it doesn’t serve me or an audience in any way, because they’ve forgotten because he’s done something else that’s stupid since.
So I have some jokes that are political but I’m not a comedian who’s only interested in talking about Trump. So yeah, if I’m onstage in Ohio and I’m gay and talking to voters who may have voted for Trump, by me not living my life apologetically or editing or censoring myself to hundreds of people I’m performing for daily, that’s something. It’s better than me just sitting at home and tweeting about it.
48 HILLS Gay material makes up a lot of your act. Do you feel like you’re a comedian or a gay comedian?
MATTEO LANE I don’t think about it as being a gay comedian. I think about it as doing good work and being as funny as possible.
But I probably am in the last generation who grew up not having the Internet and not having the easy access to a gay community. So now that it’s so prevalent, the only thing I think about is that it’s cool that young kids can look at the TV and see me or other gay comedians and it’s just normal.
48 HILLS Can you envision a day when your sexual identity won’t matter to audiences?
MATTEO LANE When I started stand-up, I would have thought, “I just want to be a stand-up and not have my sexuality determine who I am.” But now that I’m doing it and onstage and talking around the country, I’m proud of it.
I don’t care how anyone reads me — that’s a gay comic or that’s just a comic — because it doesn’t matter what someone else says. I know who I am and I’m proud of being gay and proud of being a comic.
I think where we start to go wrong is when we start labeling everything. So however you want to describe me, I don’t care. I think as we have more diversity onstage we can start having the idea of stand-up not being just for straight men. But I think it’s happening right now.
June 21-23, $119-$1250
Civic Center Plaza
Tickets and more info here.