What It’s Like Telling Gay Jokes in Tennessee
A lot has changed for Peter Depp. Once a married father of
three children living in Tennessee, Depp has transitioned to life as an
aggressively open stand-up comedian and reality show star. Depp is featured in Girls
Who Like Boys Who Like Boys on Fridays on
the Sundance Channel. And he appears this week at Homo Comicus, an all-gay comedy show at Gotham Comedy Club in New
Depp talked to The Advocate about how comedy helped him come out of the closet and his plans to
tackle antigay bullying in rural Tennessee.
You went from being a married father of three children in the middle of the
Bible Belt to an aggressive gay comedian. What was that transition like?
Peter Depp: Coming out of the closet was
the hardest thing in the world, and I’ve had open-heart surgery. I was just so
afraid. I wanted to live this picture-perfect American life with a wife, three
kids, and a white picket fence. It makes me feel good that my ex-wife supports
me and stands by my side. We got together young. I was 17, she was 16. We got
pregnant at 18. She knew we were together too young and was really
understanding. I was so in denial. I couldn’t say that I was gay. She was the
one who pushed me out and said, “This is who you are.”
Are you friends?
We’re best friends. We had Christmas at her house with the kids. She cooked for
all of us. She’s the greatest person in the world. We’re at the point where we
can talk about our dating lives now.
As strange as it sounds, your storyline on the show seems
the most normal compared to others.
I tried so hard to be the crazy one, but it’s a lot of work!
You didn’t get to be the Snooki.
I wanted to be trashy and crazy. I don’t do drugs, so it’s hard to act that
way. I feel like they really portrayed me as who I am, unfortunately. I wish
they had done a better job to make me look insane.
Were you a comedian before you came out or was it part of
This was part of the process. When I got divorced, I started doing comedy
because I felt like it was cheap therapy. I didn’t come out in my comedy
routine until after about six months. When I did my first gay set, my comedian
friends said it was the best set I had done. At that point, I was no longer
afraid or nervous. It was very empowering to say I was gay on stage and to make
people laugh because of it.
You’ve got a pretty forceful approach to stand-up. A lot
of LGBT comics take a more subtle approach to sexuality. You put it right in
Sticking my dick in a guy’s mouth makes me
gay. That’s what I’m going talk about. It is very aggressive and can be
offensive, but I try to break down barriers by hitting you over the head with
it. Interestingly, it has worked in Tennessee, which is a very homophobic
climate. The formula works. Objectifying men, they connected with it. I don’t
meander about. I come out and say I’m gay and punch you in the face with it. I
don’t come off as weak, and it works.
Any stories of when it didn’t go well?
I’ve never had backlash from a man. I’m filthy, and they connect with it. I
offend women. They have heckled me, and I say, “I know you’re upset that I’m
gay, but I wouldn’t fuck you if I wasn’t, so sit down.” I’ve been lucky
overall. I’ve gotten onstage and rednecks have said, “I know he’s gay but,
damn, he’s funny.” That has always stuck with me. They’re demeaning me, but it’s
a back-handed compliment. They at least got it and it resonated.
There aren’t a lot of gay comics in Nashville. You are the
I was the first. I was the only gay comic in Nashville, and now we have some
creeping out of the woodwork and I’m excited.
You’re like the Pied Piper.
There’s an open mike here that looks scary. [Gay comedians] are afraid in
Nashville to leave their little gay bars and come to straight bars because they
might get called a faggot. When they came out finally, they realized that I’ve
already fought that battle for them and that no one gives a shit about them
kissing dudes. I’ve already talked about it. I feel good that more gay
comedians are getting up the nerve to do it. Stand-up in general is scary. I’ve
always wanted to put on a gay show in Nashville, but right now it’s just me and
two lesbians. That’s all we’ve got.
Has it been tough for your kids to grow up in a
conservative area? Tennessee is home of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which proposed
banning teachers from discussing homosexuality in the classroom.
That was a huge deal. My kids came home to talk about it a lot. But, this is a
great community for my kids and the families here have been so supportive. It’s
a double-edged sword because it is great for the kids, but it’s horrible for
gay men to date in Nashville. I sacrifice my lifestyle a lot for them. We
didn’t teach our kids that gay was bad. They learned it in school. When I came
out to them, it was a challenge because of what they were taught. It’s one of
my biggest fears that they will grow up hating me. I just want them to grow up
happy and healthy.
You’ve gotten pretty involved in the fight against gay
I’m headlining a show from March 29 to 31 in Murfreesboro, Tenn. on anti-bullying
called Bully This. Once I got involved in that, someone set me up
to also speak at a conference. It’s called Bully-Free Tennessee. It’s free to all students, educators and allies.
They asked, “do you want to come perform comedy?” And I was like “have you seen
me perform comedy?” They asked me do 45 minutes on gay bullying, and I feel so
honored to do it. I hope I can stop crying long enough to write 45 minutes
worth of material for it. I’m so excited to get involved.
You’re playing Homo Comicus, an all-gay show here in New York. Does your
material change for gay audiences?
Not really. I do tiptoe around God a lot around here in Tennessee. I have a
joke about going to church for the first time and eating a Krispy Kreme donut.
I talked about the cream being what Jesus Christ’s semen tastes like. That joke
isn’t popular in Tennessee.