For D’Lo, to be a comedian is to be a “practitioner of joy”

The Sri Lankan community dinners that comedian D’Lo grew up at in Lancaster, California and Los Angeles were lovingly chaotic — about 100 people crowded across someone’s living room, the “aunties” huddled around the couch, the “uncles” outside drinking beer and singing. There were fragrant trays of chicken, fish and vegetable curries, barrels of steamed rice and sweet watalappan Pudding for dessert.

D’Lo was a goofy, friendly kid who often entertained other kids with jokes and imitations from family members or friends. He remembers how, at the age of 7, with an aunt and an uncle, he found uncontrollable laughter with a crude joke involving a cowboy, a banana and… penis growth pills.

At a young age, D’Lo, who was assigned female at birth, became knew he was a boy and a comedian.

The actor and comedian D'Lo.

D’Lo has witnessed a changing comedy scene over two decades.

(Emily Monforte/For the Times)

Now the self-proclaimed Tamil-Sri Lankan-American cultural worker-activist-poet-writer-actor-comedian who describes himself as Queer/Transgender is a performer of solo theatre, stand-up comedy and mainstream TV and film work, while he’s been over two decades, witnessing a changing comedy scene.

D’Lo has toured it He performs stand-up in the US and internationally, appearing on Transparent and Mr. Robot,” among other TV shows, and he has a role in Billy Eichner’s upcoming movie “Bros” which is opening in September. But his solo theater shows are his most personal work to date. “To T or not to T? A Comedic Trans Journey Through (T)estosterone” – the second in a trilogy of plays – is currently running at the Center Theater Group’s Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City.

What ties all of the work together, D’Lo says, is comedic storytelling as a vehicle for healing and change. More than ever, in such socially and politically turbulent times, speaking the truth in front of an audience is an act of survival, he says in this edited interview.

Comedian and actor D'Lo sits on stage.

D’Lo’s solo show “To T, or Not to T?” runs until Sunday. (Emily Monforte / For the Time)

(Emily Monforte/For the Time)

Tell us about the performance trilogy – how do the three pieces fit together to tell your life story?

The first is a journey through queer adulthood when queer people aren’t being validated in many of those profound ways that are there for straight and cis people. It follows the trip with my mother. The second is: “What does beautiful masculinity look like in a toxic male world?” and then follows the journey with my father. The third track is called “Queer Noise” and follows the journey with my sister, both when she was alive and as an ancestor in my life. It’s about how queer people live up, loud and brave in this world that’s poised to slam so many people down, especially when we look at trans people of color, non-binary people of color, the stats of declining mental health and look at suicide rates [being] super high

All of the plays are really about, “How do I share my story so that people have a chance to reflect on their own story?” And in my heart I know that as an artist I want to do something for our community, for ours Well-being, for our mental health.

You said you see comedians as “practitioners of joy” and healing – how?

I think we have a lot of power as comedians. We can say what we need to say in a way that people will understand far more easily than anything that is overtly or overly political. For me, as a trans comedy artist, I thought, “I know so much of our narrative is out there around our tragedies — and we all have our tragedies, we’re living in this moment, s — it’s not okay — but so does.” much joy. And I think queer and transgender people are practitioners of joy. We have not only existed as our big and bold selves, but in ways that we show to the rest of the world and our communities. And we love doing that, especially when we’re connected to the community. “In the middle [of “To T, or Not to T?”] I say “Be Testimony is the only way I know to stay alive.”

“To T or not to T?” is about so many things – identity, family, community, love and loss. Why focus it specifically on your testosterone journey?

All shows mark specific moments in my life that are milestones — and T would be just one of those milestones. I wanted to share with both queer and non-queer people that all of our choices aren’t just like this: you wake up one day and you want to do this. It’s more like you’re sitting there and contemplating whether or not something is right for you. Sometimes I think that the outside world, people who don’t understand trans, think, “Oh, these trans people are asking too much and what’s with these pronouns?” And it’s like: We’re just trying to be seen and our to live life.

I believe that every single trans person and queer person – just like every single person of color in America – struggles with internalized racism and colonialism. Trans people to boot – trans people of color, non-binary people of color in particular – also struggle with internalized queer phobias, transphobias and homophobias. So it was important for me to talk about testosterone in this way. Not much research has been done on this. A lot of the questions I ran through were, “Am I even supposed to do this? Is this my journey?” And I think a lot of people who are considering a medical transition are grappling with these questions. It’s not an easy decision. It’s never fast. It’s a big, long process and I wanted to share that with people.

D'Lo in an empty theater with a strip of silk fabric suspended over two rows of seats behind him.

D’Lo’s plays often deal with pivotal moments in his life.

(Emily Monforte/For the Time)

How do you think the transgender comedy scene is changing?

There are definitely still people doing pioneering work. But there are so many more queer and trans comics now because there are so many more queer and trans people in general. That’s why I always make this joke: “Queer people and people who think they’re straight.” Because this world is changing.

I travel all over the nation, but that’s usually the college circuit. In LA and New York, where I perform stand-up, I perform in the altrooms or clubs. And I would say it’s become more expansive. Not so long ago – five to seven years ago – it was different. Seven years ago, it was harder to find a space that would take you seriously as a trans comic. Yes, the other rooms would accommodate you; but in some of the big clubs you’d have to be part of that bro vibe to even get ahead. And that’s hard for people who are queer or trans. But the climate has changed. A lot of queer and trans comics are now playing the big houses. We have bookers who are very queer and trans friendly. Some of the main stages are still known as the boys’ club, but many of them have changed. The Laugh Factory had a produced queer night — I think it was a monthly one — but now I feel like there are queer comics in every show.

Have these opportunities spilled over into mainstream Hollywood?

For me it’s a huge difference. Five to seven years ago I wanted to play gangster roles and comedic characters rather than “We’re looking for a queer character or a trans male person”. This [roles] are still hard to come by, but they happen a lot more now. Back in 2003, when I was younger and trying to find an agent, I was flaunting all the time and managers and agents were like, ‘Yes, no doubt you are talented, but we don’t know how to recruit you. To this day, many of my friends who are trans and queer actors have reps and management and can get gigs. But still – I always joke that there is always a tranny [masculine] Roll it would be like a goodbye I met all my friends who all played the same role.

Which comedians did you look up to when you started out in the late ’90s and early 2000s? Were some of them queer and transgender people?

I don’t think I’ve necessarily had queer and transgender people that I look up to. I would say the people who were close enough to me were Margaret Cho, Wanda Sykes – when I first saw Wanda I didn’t even know that she identified as queer. The really strong colored comics that were queer or queer neighboring. As for solo comedic theatre: John Leguizamo, Whoopi Goldberg, they were all people I was just in love with. I would watch everything I could.

How would you describe your comedy now?

My comedy is really about the relationships I’ve had and what I’ve observed – I happen to be a trans person and I’m talking about my journey as a trans person. But a lot of those things are about the relationships I have with family or friends or in the community. Me as a person and how I appear in this world. It’s personal and there’s a dash of observation; and depending on what kind of show I’m doing, there will also be some observations about our political world.

Did your parents see To T, or Not to T? — and has the show brought you closer to your dad?

Oh yeah. In our Tamil Sri Lankan culture, it’s not like sitting and talking about your feelings. Like many immigrant cultures, once you come to the States, it’s like, “OK, now we’ve got to put our heads down and make this thing work.” There’s not much time to just sit there and say, “Oh, me feel s—y because this racist thing happened to me.” You’re just like, “OK, this is America, and we’re not welcome, and we just have to make sure we survive this and become successful.” Especially after mine sister died, we didn’t really talk about what happened to us.

The way my mom watched the show about her, there’s a possibility my dad will be seen without having to say things. It is their child who understands the trajectory and development of things and does the emotional processing. Just like I say, “Being a witness is the only way I’ll stay alive,” I think that’s the truth for every human being. When we witness each other’s pain and tragedy and joy and celebration, we don’t just give an ointment, we say, “Yes, I see you. You are OK. You belong.”

Did it bring us closer? I would say it did – it opened doors for us to see each other.

“To T or not to T? A comedic trans journey through (T)Estosterone and masculinity”

Where: Kirk Douglas Theater, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City
When:8pm Tuesday to Friday, 2pm and 8pm Saturday, 1pm and 6.30pm Sunday. Until July 10th.
Tickets:$30-$75 (subject to change)
The information:(213) 628-2772 or For D’Lo, to be a comedian is to be a “practitioner of joy”

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