FTM comic Ian Harvie doesn’t hold back

by Jim Halterman
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Aug 27, 2009

Ian Harvie is the kind of stand-up comic that doesn't hold back anything from his personal life when standing on stage with a microphone. As part of his comedy act, the FTM transgendered performer has no problem sharing stories about his hormone intake or his chest removal surgery along with any other area of his life. He's learned more than a few things from none other than Margaret Cho, who Harvie has toured with the last few years. However, Harvie is taking the plunge and transitioning (again!) from being the opening act to being the headliner with his show, Parts Sold Separately, which he'll be performing at The Vixen in Provincetown this Thursday and Friday (August 27 and 28).

Edge's Jim Halterman talked to Harvie about his journey from the non-queer regions of Maine to being one of first transgendered comics on the comedy scene today.

About Margaret Cho

EDGE: I’ve been talking to so many stand-ups and drag queens who are performing in Provincetown this summer and I know you’ve worked with Margaret Cho the last few years and I talked to her...

Ian Harvie: Did you have to talk to Margaret via text? [laughs]

EDGE: I actually got her on the phone!

IH: When did you talk to her because she’s been sworn by her doctor not to speak for several weeks?

EDGE: I talked to her just before that. Maybe it was my fault that she lost her voice!

IH: Right!

EDGE: Nobody called to yell at me so I don’t think I was to blame.

IH: We did a show last Thursday and because she couldn’t speak she had her friends read her jokes for her and she acted them out. It was so fun. It was one of those things where you don’t know if people will be mad that she can’t speak but everyone was so with it and she was so funny because she just acted out everything.

Growing up

EDGE: Where did you grow up and how did comedy become a part of your life?

IH: Comedy has always been a part of my life. I grew up in Maine and there are not a lot of comedy role models in Maine but there was, of course, television and I was glued to the TV whenever Carol Burnett was on or if I saw Rich Little and I was obsessed about it and tried to emulate things that he did. Back then I didn’t realize that comedy was more than doing impressions and there are a lot of great comics out there that started late like Rodney Dangerfield, who didn’t start until he was much older so I started out almost 7 years ago. Someone sent me a postcard and said ’Hey, we’re doing a stand-up comedy workshop at the local comedy club in Portland, Maine.’ After about eight weeks we had a graduation performance and I was so nervous and I was in the bathroom and I had terrible diarrhea and I was flipping out. ’Why on Earth did I ever sign up for this stupid class and workshop?’ and then I did five minutes and five minutes can seem like nothing or it can feel like an eternity depending on how things are going and I wanted to do it again immediately after. ’This is the best drug I’ve ever done!’

EDGE: Then you ended up in Los Angeles, right?

IH: I moved [to LA] three years ago and the day I arrived I had a gig booked. I went and did my gig and it was fun and I met some nice people and then, weirdly enough, from that gig I got booked on this weird little contest thing at Hamburger Mary’s in West Hollywood and the guy who was putting it together was also putting together a queer comedy festival that was going to be on Logo called OutLaugh. When I met him he was telling me about it and he’s booked all these gay and lesbian, bisexual and drag performers. I asked if he had any spots left and he said ’No, sorry.’ I said, ’You’re all filled up of F to M Transgender performers?’ He was like ’Let me call you back.’ He called me back and said ’You have five minutes.’ I did this show and it was on Logo and it was my first TV performance and I was really excited about it. It was a blast.

EDGE: How did you initially hook up with Margaret Cho?

IH: I met Margaret at a little bar called Akbar in Los Angeles. She was doing a set on Bruce Daniels’ show and afterwards I went up to her and said I was a big fan and a comic and I said ’I’m Ian’ and she said she had seen me on MySpace - this was when MySpace was in [laughs ] - and what I had done is I had written to her and asked if she was accepting any performers for her burlesque show that was putting together. She said to send her a link and she emailed me and said ’You’re really funny and you should meet me at this show" and she’d make me get up and do a set in front of her. Then, she took me on the road with her and that was three years ago this coming fall. I’m trying to take that next step. I love Margaret, she loves me, we’re great friends and we’re comedy comrades and we have a great relationship but I also want to make that next leap so I’m trying to make that leap from going to opening for Margaret-fucking-Cho to making that next leap to headliner. First of all, I wouldn’t be able to make that leap to PTown or headlining other places if I hadn’t gotten the opportunity to absolutely get the amazing gift of doing 25-20 minutes in front of her for the last 2 1/2 years. That is unbelievable.

Fear of queer crowds

EDGE: Have you always included material about yourself and being transgendered in your act?

IH: I remember I was super afraid of queer crowds because my growing up as a comic was in a straight non-queer club in Portland Maine. There are not a lot of queer performers, there’s not a lot of queer exposure or representation so I was really used to straight crowds and tailoring my material for, honestly, not-so-smart people. I mean, queers are smarter and have had to deal with more and they’ve had to process more about themselves and question and answer a lot more about themselves than people who have not had to address their sexuality as much. So when I got in front of a queer crowd, I wanted to impress them so much. I was super scared and I got diarrhea all over again and it was Margaret’s crowd; that’s who you’re talking to which is like fathoms of LGBTQ people, which are my people. I consider myself queer, I’m trans, I’m butch, I’m female bodied but I’m masculine and I feel like that is my family so, of course, I wanted to impress and I got super scared. She said, ’Listen, nobody is doing what you’re doing. You’re representing an underexposed population of people in the queer community. You’re representing trans people as a comic and that’s amazing and they’ll love you for that.’ I was like, well, okay. Sometimes it takes a mentor or a friend to say something that makes perfect sense to settle you down. It’s been a beautiful ride and I’m the luckiest trans boy on the planet to have the opportunity to work with her as much as I have.

EDGE: Tell me about your show, Parts Sold Separately. Great title, by the way.

IH: It’s basically my jumping off point and it’s funny because I had no idea what to call my stand-up comedy show. What do I call that? So I put it out on Facebook and I got so many hilarious responses and the best one was Parts Sold Separately, which is the culmination of the last couple of years of touring with Margaret and transitioning on stage. When I was with Margaret I had a chest and I hadn’t been on hormones. I had tried hormones but I had gone off of them. I went on them again and had chest surgery and that was the last couple of years that I’ve become visually this super manly man...I’m like Ian’s brother, not Ian. ’Holy shit! What the...?’ The jokes are all a sort of culmination of the last couple years of travel, transitions and shenanigans and that’s what Parts Sold Separately is. There is definitely education in my comedy. I get a lot of questions so I try to answer them with jokes. I don’t really make fun of myself a lot. I just sort of share stories and I’m not real self-deprecating because I think there’s enough of that in the trans community and we feel bad enough about ourselves and a lot of us feel bad enough. We don’t need a comic to objectify that point of view so I would rather just be funny, tell jokes and tell stories. There is definitely a through line about loving yourself through the show and, you know what, when I first came out as trans I thought nobody feels this way and I’m so alone and woe is me. And now, you know what? Everyone is like trans to me because nobody feels 100% okay about their body. Nobody does. If you do, then you’re the weirdo. If you feel 100% okay about your body then you’ve been going to too many fucking private yoga retreats!

EDGE: And what kind of people do you find yourself attracted to?

IH: I actually have a partner, a girlfriend, and I’ve been with her for a while so I’m spoken for. But, I have to say that I’m attracted to all people but I tend to lean towards high-fem women but it’s not until recently when men are hitting on me and I wouldn’t consider it a possibility in the sense because I’m partnered and in a committed relationship but if I were in an open relationship or if I were single, I think I would consider dating men or I think I would date men that I would want to look like. [laughs] There’s a part of me that would want to be with...I would like to be a big muscle bear and hairy and muscley and ripped and there’s a part of me that would be with that kind of guy because that is probably what I would aspire to be so if I can’t be it then maybe I can have it.

EDGE: When I talked to Margaret, she said she had a huge fear of insect bites and I read that you have a fear of public restrooms.

IH: A little bit, yeah, because I’m always afraid I’m going to be found out in the men’s room. Like, what would happen if...because I always have to go to a stall and I can’t stand at a urinal and let it rip. It would be a mess. There are tools in order to be able to use urinals but it’s just too much work. I get all caught up on ’is that sanitary?’ ’where do I keep this thing when I’m done?’ ’how do I deal with all that?’ so I just go in the stall. My biggest fear is that somehow my pee is going to sound different than the guy next to me and I’m going to be found out. So I’m sitting there the whole time rocking back and forth going ’I’ve got a secret!’

Ian Harvie’s Part Sold Separately is playing tonight and Friday at Provincetown’s The Vixen. For more on Ian, go to www.IanHarvie.com.

Jim Halterman lives in Los Angeles and also covers the TV/Film/Theater scene for www.FutonCritic.com, AfterElton, Vulture, CBS Watch magazine and, of course, www.jimhalterman.com. He is also a regular Tweeter and has a group site on Facebook.


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