‘Kweendom’ comics bring LGBTQ stories from stage to page in new book

Kweendom creator, comic and “Welcome to Kweendom” editor Bobby Hankinson.
Bobby Hankinson

New York City’s live LGBTQ comedy show Kweendom is back, and now, the production is going from stage to page, as the Brooklyn native behind the show Bobby Hankinson celebrates the release of a collection of essays featuring LGBTQ comedians.

Described in its foreword as “Illuminating and remarkable and heartening” by award-winning actor Alan Cumming, “Welcome to Kweendom: LGBTQ Comedians Make Pride Personal with Stories of Love, Loss, Sex, and Everything Under the Rainbow” features some of NYC’s very own queer comedians and storytellers.

“I did not want it to be my book, but a reflection of the community,” said Hankinson, who was approached by publisher Wheatfield Press at the end of 2018, thanks to his comedy show.

Hankinson then reached out to past performers of Kweendom with the open-ended ask for them to write what they wanted. Although he expected many comedic tales and anecdotes, what he received was a mix of “vulnerable and surprising” stories.

“It was amazing to get such a diversity of essays: some funny, some sad, some wild, some sexy,” Hankinson said. “Comedians tend to have a darkness in them, so folks were really generous with their stories — sharing personal and transformative stories.”

Tiling the pieces together, Hankinson decided to group the essays based on the symbolism of each stripe of the pride flag — Life, Healing, Sunlight, Nature, Harmony, and Spirit. 

From stories about coming out, finding love, awkward adolescent moments and unfiltered dispatches from a Berlin sex club, “Welcome to Kweendom” features essays that Hankinson describes as “chicken soup for the queer soul.”

“I hope it provides a lens for people to see themselves, their experiences and feel like they are not alone,” Hankinson told Brooklyn Paper. “This is a chance for folks to understand the community and the diversity in it.”

In keeping with Kweendom tradition of supporting an LGBTQ group, proceeds from the book will be donated to Immigration Equality, the nation’s leading LGBTQ and HIV-positive immigrant rights organization.

“Every month at Kweendom, we work with an organization, primarily local, that centers transgender and diverse people in their work,” Hankinson said.

While he is adamant about keeping the comedy show free, Hankinson said that they pass the bucket to various charity organizations, matching the first $50 in donations. Since the show was established in 2015, it has raised thousands of dollars for various LGBTQ organizations.

“Kweendom is in service to the community — it is free and available and to showcase people,” he said.

Launched in 2015, Hankinson founded the monthly comedy show to display the diverse talent within the queer community. Drawn to performing himself, he began doing open mics in 2014, but was disappointed by the lack of representation in the queer comedy community.

“As a queer person doing shows with LGBT performers, I was hearing the same hacky gay jokes,” Hankinson said. “There was a number of LGBTQ shows in the city, but it was very often stockpiled with cool straight girls or all cisgender, white, gay men.”

Wanting to create a show that featured all queer and diverse members of the community, Hankinson started Kweendom — and more than 100 performers have taken the stage since, ranging from up-and-comers to names recognized from television.

Kweendom has been a featured showcase at LGBTQ Comic Con FlameCon, Story Fest at the People’s Improv Theater and the Speak Up, Rise Up Festival.

With in-person shows coming back, along with the release of his book, Hankinson described this time as an exhausting, but exciting moment for him and for the community.

“The past year has been hard, but now there is so much to celebrate,” he said.

“Welcome to Kweendom: LGBTQ Comedians Make Pride Personal with Stories of Love, Loss, Sex, and Everything Under the Rainbow” is available now on Amazon, bookshop.org, from Wheatfield Press and from select retailers.

Kweendom comedy shows are held at Pete’s Candy Store in Williamsburg and the next show is scheduled for Friday, July 16.