Flame on! Queer comedy series celebrates its two-year anniversary

Peter Valenti, Simone Leitner, Sam Campbell
Three’s company: Queer comedy hosts Peter Valenti, Simone Leitner, and Sam Campbell will celebrate the two-year anniversary of “Open Flame” on March 12.
Photo by Mindy Tucker

It’s the hottest show in town!

A queer comedy showcase based in Kings County will celebrate its second anniversary with a stacked benefit show at the Bell House on March 12. “Open Flame,” from hosts Pete Valenti, Sam Campbell, and Simone Leitner, has created a much-needed, tight-knit community for Brooklyn’s queer stand-ups, said its hosts.

“It’s been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done,” said Leitner.

By highlighting queer comics and providing them with a mainly-queer audience, the hosts said they have created a space for comedians to try material they would not perform anywhere else, giving a home to jokes about starting testosterone injections, for instance, which might fall flat at straight comedy clubs. 

“Making it a queer space was really important,” said Campbell. “Comics can get up to a mic and tell a joke that straight audiences might have mixed reactions to.”

The show’s founders also say they felt the need to create a more positive space for comedy in Brooklyn — one where comics are more focused on building each other up than taking each other down, and to make that space a queer one made the most sense to them. 

“It’s just not healthy to be around that all the time,” Campbell said. “When we thought about spaces that we all felt the most comfortable in, we thought ‘What is the antithesis to that?’ And a lot of those spaces happened to be queer.” 

The three started “Open Flame” as an open-mic night at the Bushwick nightclub Mood Ring in 2018. After two years of fortnightly performances, the series has expanded to steadily larger stages, and the organizers have honed their open-mic planning skills. For example, they  keep the regular lineup to 20 people, even when 50 sign up, by prioritizing newcomers, people of color, and transgender comedians — people who might have a hard time being heard anywhere else.

“It sucks to tell people that they can’t do it, but what makes it easier is we set guidelines for who we selected,” Campbell said. 

For their anniversary show at the Bell House, the team has put together a lineup of 17 comics, including Solange Azor, Aarushi Agni, Kendall Payne, and more than a dozen others. 

“We wanted to pay homage to how we started with open mics and just bring a s— ton of people,” Leitner said. 

Open Flame anniversary show at the Bell House (149 Seventh St. between Second and Third Avenues in Gowanus, (718) 643–6510, www.thebellhouseny.com). March 12 at 8 pm. $15.