Cultural and creative life

Meet the Sydney duo putting more queer into the comedy scene

How a City of Sydney sponsorship is helping to bring Sydney’s brightest performers to Oxford Street this Mardi Gras

Image: Clare Hawley , 2024
Image: Clare Hawley, 2024

From the Mousetrap Theatre, tucked away in the basement of a Surry Hills hair salon, Brendan Hancock and Jenna Suffern, the brains behind the Two Queers Walk into a Bar comedy event, took some time out from organising their 2 week festival over Mardi Gras, which opens at Paddington Town Hall. They tell us what it takes to be a LGBTQIA+ performer in our city.

Brendan described their on-stage presence as ”sexy dumb clowns” and what it means to be queer in Sydney.

“I went to high school here and it was a very straight experience. Being queer in Sydney today is such a great new lens on the city – there’s so many more opportunities. We have a nice little community,” Brendan said.

Jenna added her experience as a Brisbane transplant.

“It’s liberating to be my true, authentic self here - to be queer in Sydney is a step up. I think it feels hot, it feels exciting, it feels cooler than everyone else.”

Image: Clare Hawley, 2024
Image: Clare Hawley, 2024

Comedy is a rollercoaster for queer performers

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is one of the largest and most diverse celebrations on the planet, but for artists under the spotlight, it also illuminates some challenges. 

“It’s great to have a time where we’re celebrated as a community - it comes to Mardi Gras and we’re booked so much – and we’re so thankful for it – but I just want there to be a year where we’re getting regularly booked for like November or June.” - Jenna

Jenna shared the moment she and Brendan connected 4 years ago at an open mic night. She had to follow a triggering, misogynistic act and thought, ‘I don’t feel safe’.

“We met backstage and said, ‘We’re sick of this – we have only just started our comedy careers and can already see a problem for queer people, people of colour, trans people’.”

Image: Andy Mullens, 2024
Image: Andy Mullens, 2024

How Two Queers was born

The two met for coffee the very next day and conceived a bold counter-comedy idea, a dedicated monthly queer line-up and performance space.

“For a start, artists always got paid if you had your name on the poster. Plus, everyone was just so happy to be in a queer space that was so joyful and to hear acts that weren’t just ‘coming out’ stories,” Jenna said.

Brendan told us what audiences can expect at one of their gigs.

“It’s queer joy. And people you don’t usually see doing comedy. There are so many good, queer comedians that don’t get booked at the big theatres”.

“We’re not a typical stand-up event – it’s not just get up, talk into the mic– there’s drag, cabaret, dancing, rip-away pants– we put on a real show. That’s why we are so excited to perform at Paddington Town Hall, just to have that space. It’s the biggest show we’ve ever had,” Jenna said. 

They explain how being queer and feeling safe in the community go hand-in-hand with feeling supported on-stage.

“If I was an 18 year-old who’s just moved to Sydney and I see events like ours, I think ‘Oh my god, I might be that' and you start going to these things and start to feel safe in the community - that’s the biggest thing. People feel safe when they come to our events. And we feel so supported in return.” 

Image: Clare Hawley, 2024
Image: Clare Hawley, 2024

The City of Sydney's role: funding the funny

The duo explained how the financing of non-mainstream events is key for awareness and Sydney’s cultural diversity.

“If you look at the Matildas and the FIFA World Cup, having that huge marketing push made people go ‘Ohhhh, women’s sport is good!” It’s the same with artists and queer performers. People don’t know that it’s out there and if acts like ours have marketing and financial support, the word gets out. Having this kind of support means we now have a theatre - and it’s a queer theatre.”

Brendan also touched on a pain point for performers.

“If you want to be an artist, Sydney is so expensive ...these things just don’t happen without our daddies at the City of Sydney - queer performances don’t exist through ticket sales alone.”

He recalled the challenges Covid had on artists and the knock-on effect it had on the queer community.

“It put a real stopper on things. So many of these queer comedy spaces died, so many artists had to leave Sydney.”

He added the importance of live performance for local businesses.

“Fifty people go to dinner next door at the Dove & Olive before coming to our shows, or after for a drink - it gets people into local businesses.” 

Image: Clare Hawley, 2024
Image: Clare Hawley, 2024

The future? A queer universe

Brendan and Jenna envision Two Queers as more than just a comedy duo. They see it as the foundation of a broader queer movement,

“I’d love this to be a full-time thing, to be an Australian queer comedy empire, live events, TV, film, just like our very own Marvel universe, only super queer," – Brendan

Before we ended our chat for Brendan to run off and find a glitter cannon for the show, we asked if they had any advice for those considering applying for a City of Sydney events sponsorship,

“It’s a lot of work if you want to get a grant, make sure you really want to do the project you’re putting the application together for. Start doing stuff anyway, don’t wait for a grant. Just do it. Do it on an oily rag, and then when these grants come up, you’ll have examples of work to show,” Brendan said.

Jenna added to “speak to other people who are doing similar things to what you want to do and go for a coffee. People are always willing to help and chat.”

Two Queers Walk into a Bar tickets for the Paddington Town Hall opening event and their festival-long program at Kinselas in Taylor Square on now on sale.

If you’re feeling inspired, you might want to apply for a grant of your own.

Summer round applications for City of Sydney grants and sponsorships open from 6 February to 5 March.

Published 5 February 2024, updated 20 June 2024