News Column

Comedy show adds former Pittsburgher

July 12, 2013


July 12--When Gloria Bigelow found out she would be a featured comedian on the Oprah Winfrey Network's new comedy special "Wanda Sykes Presents Herlarious," she ran around her apartment screaming and tried to get her dog to understand what a big deal it was.

"I think he got it," she said.

Hosted by Ms. Sykes, "Herlarious" is a two-part stand-up special. Ms. Bigelow, who's from the Pittsburgh area, will be on the first episode, which will air Saturday at 10 p.m. on OWN. She will be performing with fellow female stand-up comedians Andi Smith and Dominique Witten, actress Brooke Shields and a special guest.

A producer who had seen her perform many times approached Ms. Bigelow about being on the show, and she said that moment felt like the culmination of her stand-up career.

"When you get something like this that happens, it feels like a huge reward for the writing and the working out and the rooms that are not so cute and the awkward times and the bad time slots that you get on a show sometimes," she said. "It feels like that's OK, that this is a break, that that's so worth it."

Before the show was taped, Ms. Bigelow had the opportunity to spend time with Ms. Sykes and the other stand-up performers.

"The other women on my show have more experience than I do," she said. "I've only been at it for seven years, and they've each been at it for 10, 15 years. So I was just doing a lot of listening and trying to soak it up."

The show was taped at Harpo Studios in Chicago in front of a live audience, and the comedians were given free rein.

"They were like, 'We're not censoring you. ... You can curse if you want and we were like, 'What are you -- you think I'm going to be up here in this, Oprah's house, just cursing up a storm? ... What if Maya Angelou shows up?' " she laughed.

"It was really cool because they set [the studio] up like a comedy club. I thought it was going to be set up like Oprah's show."

Ms. Bigelow grew up in Mt. Lebanon in what she calls a "shockingly white" neighborhood. She said that's one of the reasons she developed a sense of humor.

"I didn't always want it to be Gloria the Black Girl. I just wanted to be the one that was funny or the one that likes to sing, other descriptors," she said. "I didn't just want to be that quick description and so ... I was always trying to entertain my friends."

One of her friends was so entertained, she told Ms. Bigelow she should go into comedy. At the time, Ms. Bigelow was a classically trained actress. (She has an undergraduate degree in drama from Spelman College and a master's of fine arts degree in acting from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.) In 2006, she got up on stage at the Improv in New York for her first show. She had packed the audience with friends, but as the night wore on, she realized people who weren't her friends were laughing at her jokes, too.

Since then, she has made the rounds at many popular comedy clubs in New York such as Caroline's on Broadway and Gotham Comedy Club. She has performed at various festivals including The New York Underground Comedy Festival and the Michigan Comedy Fest. She also has made television appearances on "Laughing Matters ... Next Gen" and "Fierce Funny Women."

As a black lesbian woman in comedy, Ms. Bigelow deals with race, sexuality and gender in many of her jokes. She draws from her own experiences, such as growing up in a mostly white suburb, people asking to touch her hair in Whole Foods or the misogyny she has noticed in the rap industry.

"When I started stand-up, I thought it was really loaded that I was black and a lesbian and a woman. It's like, 'My God! What do I do with that?' " she said. "But actually that point of view is unique. ... Everybody's point of view is unique and in my case, [that] is where the comedy comes from."

Kitoko Chargois: or 412-263-1088.


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