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That Time I Opened for Etta James

20 Jul Posted by in Marga Gomez | Comments Off on That Time I Opened for Etta James
That Time I Opened for Etta James

When I was just starting out in comedy in the 80’s I was hitchhiking in San Francisco one night, yup – me and Aileen Wournos – the last lesbian hitchhikers on the planet.  I very luckily got a ride from Lupe De Leon the manager for Etta James, Kenny Rankin and Tania Maria. I made him laugh and he signed me as an opening act for his clients. Maybe one of the most random events in my career.

I got to open for Etta James once at the Full Moon Saloon on Haight Street. A very small but respected music venue. Of course she was beyond compare vocally. Rocking the blonde wig. She had a very interesting move during music riffs. She would lean down on a stool and move her fabulous ass in a slow sensuous ‘O’ for however long the band riffed. She was in no hurry to pick up the vocals. The crowd was in heaven.

Photo: Kent Taylor

Unfortunately I was not a good fit as an opener. I don’t think any comic would be. You want to see Etta James—anything else is an annoyance. And I was very green. I thought that me and Etta were now going to be friends. Even though she probably hadn’t set eyes on me, spending all her time in her dressing room. At intermission I thought I would introduce myself. I knocked on her door. I heard lots of people laughing but nobody was letting me in. So I knocked louder and I actually said this. “Miss James? It’s me Marga Gomez, your opening act. Miss James? I’m your opening act”

The room got quiet no more laughing. No movement. All I heard was a deep smokey voice say. “LOCK THE DOOR” 

It was Friday the 13th but I couldn’t blame luck. I learned that an opening act and the headliner will never meet. Still I got a little bit of money and I got to watch an Etta James show with 100 people in an 80 seat room. In today’s paper I saw a quote from Lupe De Leon who was her manager until the end. I will always be grateful to him and his assistant Sidney Kafker for giving me a glimpse of the big leagues when I was just a rookie.

Marga Gomez is known for her work in solo performance and stand up comedy and for being one of the first openly lesbian performers in the nation. She has appeared on LOGO’s “One Night Stand Up,” Showtime’s “Latino Laugh Festival,” Comedy Central’s “Out There” and HBO’s “Comic Relief” at the invitation of Robin Williams who called her “Amazing… a lesbian Lenny Bruce.” She has been a guest on leading comedy podcasts Marc Maron’s “WTF,” “The Keith and The Girl Show” and Kevin Allison’s “Risk.”  Her comic style has been described as “deliciously cheeky and incendiary” by the New York Times and “salaciously surreal” by the San Francisco Chronicle. She is a regular at SF Comedy Day and has been featured at numerous comedy festivals including SF Sketchfest, Montreal’s Just For Laughs, South Beach Comedy Festival, Vancouver Comedy Festival and The Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  

 The SF Weekly named Gomez one of “2016’s Artists To Watch.” Huffpost named her an “Agent of Change” in 2015. She is also a GLAAD Award winner, a Theater LA “Ovation Award” winner and triple winner of the San Francisco Bay Guardian’s “Best of The Bay Comedian Award.” Marga is also the writer/performer of eleven solo plays which have been presented Off-Broadway and internationally. She was a founding member of the Latino ensemble Culture Clash. Her acting credits include Off-Broadway and national productions of The Vagina Monologues sharing the stage with Rita Moreno and Vicki Lawrence and roles in HBO’s “Tracey Takes On…”  and Warner Brothers film’s “Batman Forever” and “Sphere.” Gomez can be seen December 2016 in season two of the Netflix series “Sense 8″         

Marga also teaches solo performance in classrooms and online and is a tenured Artist-in-Residence at Brava Theater.  Selections from Gomez’s work have been published in several anthologies including Extreme Exposure (TCG Books), HOWL (Crown Press), Out Loud & Laughing (Anchor Books), Contemporary Plays by American Women of Color (Routledge) When I Knew (Harper-Collins) and Out of Character (Bantam Books.) She was born in New York City to entertainers in the Latino community. Her father, a cuban immigrant and influential comedian in his time, is the subject of her upcoming solo show “Latin Standards.”

For more info on Marga, check out

This post first appeared in Epochalips in January of 2012

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