Pride After Pride

2017 Pittsburgh Pride parade. Photo by G Michael Beigay.

Picture it… Pittsburgh, 2017 (the year the Delta Foundation sold the name of Pride to EQT), mid-June; it was the first sunny day in the city in almost three weeks. The boys were donning their glitter and gold in preparation of the parade.

For all its faults then, Pittsburgh’s Pride was an annual event that kicked off summer. Every year, without fail, it rained throughout the entirety of the Three Rivers Arts Festival. Perhaps a disgruntled painter or bead maker couldn’t get a booth at the festival many moons ago and cursed the artisanal event. He or she may have boogied down to the world’s most potent rain dance. Or perhaps Pittsburgh in early June is just notoriously wet.

Pride may goeth before the fall, but it always came after the rain, and you can’t make rainbows without rain.

At nine o’clock on that Sunday morning, I gathered with a group of improvisers and comedians from the Arcade Comedy Theater, LGBTQ and allies, to march in the parade.

The year before, I marched with some friends from Starbucks. I was never a barista. I don’t even drink coffee, but a friend of mine who managed a Starbucks was wrangling marchers for the parade and I volunteered. The year before that, I marched with the Steel City Volleyball League. I did play volleyball…badly. I may be a serial marcher. I like being in the parade more than watching the parade, and making a firm commitment is enough to rouse me out of bed on a Sunday morning after partying Saturday night.

When the Arcade Comedy Theater opened, I met with Kristy Nolen and Abby Fudor on Banksville Road, at yet another Starbucks, where I sipped a large, black, unsweetened iced tea and we discussed LGBTQ comedy. Founders Nolen and Fudor, along with Nolen’s husband, Jeffrey, and Fudor’s now-husband Michael Rubino were new to Liberty Avenue, and they were excited to participate in Pittsburgh’s Pride. Kristy Nolen said, “We’re the new neighbors, and we want to show support. What can we do?”  

We developed a weekend of LGBTQ comedy for Pride, which has since grown exponentially since that first big gay weekend in 2017. In 2018, we formed LGBTQ*Bert, an improv team made up of entirely LGBTQ improvisers. There were four of us in the beginning: John Feightner, Connor McCanlus, Kayleigh Blanchette Kingsbury, and me. It has also grown exponentially, with more than a dozen LGBTQ performers weaving in and out of its ranks.  

But in 2017, a small group of us gathered on that warm Sunday morning on the Boulevard of the Allies when an actual ally, Missy Moreno, sashayed down the street in a pink feather boa, wearing every conceivable color underneath. She was a walking rainbow. Jared Pascoe flipped up his sunglasses, clutched his coffee close, and went in for a hug. The first year, Pascoe’s Gay for Good and the Arcade Comedy Theater marched together. The following year, both groups were too large to march together.

Side note: Pascoe’s Golden Girls reenactment shows with Billy Mason, Jason Shavers, Conor McCanlus, and Brian Edwards reached near-legendary status. They sold out every year.

I stood by and watched Missy and Jared embrace and a special tingle went up and down my spine. My comedy world and my gay world merged for the first time.  

That version of Pittsburgh Pride had a notorious reputation, but sometimes a flower pops up in the cracks of the cement. No matter what the circumstances, we must be grateful for those moments when we get a chance to celebrate our whole selves. That is what Pride is all about.

Michael Buzzelli is a stand-up comedian and sit-down author. As a comedian, he has performed all around the country, most notably, the Ice House, the Comedy Store and the Improv in Los Angeles. As a writer, Michael Buzzelli has been published in a variety of websites, magazines and newspapers. He is a theater and arts critic for 'Burgh Vivant,’ Pittsburgh's online cultural talk magazine. He is also a Moth Grand Slam storyteller and actor. His books, "Below Average Genius," a collection of essays culled from his weekly humor column in the Observer-Reporter, and his romantic comedy,  “All I Want for Christmas," are on sale at Amazon.com. He is working on a LGBTQ romantic comedy called, “Why I Hate My Friends.” You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. (He / Him / His)