Before they launch into an improv show, with games, audience participation and general free-flowing playfulness, comedians Jennie McNulty and Diana Yanez start with stand-up. They each do individual routines that give some insight into their lives and personalities.
McNulty might talk about her relationships, or her women's football team, and bemoan the fact that she waited until age 39 to start playing football. Yanez might tell stories from her Cuban-American family or from her touring days with comedian Margaret Cho.
By the time the improv starts, audience members may be particularly primed to participate, because they feel like they know the comedians better, McNulty says. "The audience is a little more invested."
It's a fitting format for a program that Yanez calls an "ambassador show." Besides getting people to laugh, the two lesbian comedians want to get across a simple message. McNulty puts it this way: "We're all just people."
"People have a stereotype in their heads, a limited view of what gays and lesbians and transgender people are," Yanez says. "One of the best parts of Jennie and me is that we're not offensive and we're very real. ... We both give the impression of being the girl next door. I think people feel very comfortable talking with us."
She adds with a laugh, "Our jokes are funny regardless of whether we're talking about boyfriends or girlfriends."
The two brought the "Queer on Their Feet" show to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto two years ago, and got such a good reception that they're performing there again on May 14, McNulty said.
McNulty started the show in 2007 with a few other comedians. The format has stayed the same as the faces have changed, and Yanez was recruited for her sketch-comedy and improv skills, she said.
It was McNulty who encouraged Yanez to also give stand-up a try. Yanez was scared — until she started performing. "I had never just stood on stage myself and just spoke my comedy. It was a real exciting step for me," she says. "It was magical."
Yanez also found that she and McNulty complement each other on stage. "We have a great energy together. We kind of bounce off each other," she says. "We're also opposites physically. She's very athletic; I'm curvy. I'm Latin; she's Irish." Consequently, their characters on stage don't "cross over that much," she says.
Besides having performed in Margaret Cho's "Sensuous Woman Show," Yanez has a theater background and a resume that includes numerous comedy videos and a one-woman show at the New York International Fringe Festival last year.
McNulty, a veteran at stand-up, has appeared on the Logo network's "One Night Stand Up" and has performed for U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. She also has a web series on Afterellen.com called "Walking Funny With ..." In the casual interview show, she chats with athletes, writers, filmmakers and many others as they stroll along together.
"My main goal is to get people out moving. I love exercise," she says.
McNulty and Yanez take "Queer on Their Feet" to churches and bars in Arizona and California. While the show is a bit less family-friendly in the bars, both say they're pretty clean performers wherever they go.
And why do they perform at churches in particular? "Not your usual venues for big gay shows and they don't care," reads the "Queer on Their Feet" press release.
"One (church) approached us once and wanted us to do a show there," McNulty says. Mostly, the pair perform at institutions that are traditionally more gay-friendly, such as Unitarian or Metropolitan Community churches, McNulty adds.
"I like working in clubs and it's fun to have a liquored-up crowd, but churchgoing crowds can be more cerebral," she adds.
The improv portion of the show incorporates audience suggestions and participation. A popular game simply involves having the audience suggest sentences that McNulty and Yanez then build scenes around.
Offstage, the two are continually building their stand-up, blending in jokes and observations.
"I make myself notes when I think of something funny. When I'm in a good mood, things just pop out of me," Yanez says. Then she works on writing a routine, editing it down and finding a good rhythm for the stage. "I'm more of a storyteller comedian rather than 'set up joke,' 'set up joke,'" she says.
Her stories sometimes have a bittersweet feel. Yanez has talked on stage many times about being bullied while growing up in Miami as a girl who didn't fit in, who didn't want to talk about boys and makeup, and yet was so sheltered that she didn't know what the word "homosexual" meant.
"I was super-shy and couldn't speak. Drama helped me break through," she says. "Continuing to do theater to this day is still my medicine for having been bullied."
What: "Queer on Their Feet," a comedy show by Jennie McNulty and Diana Yanez that benefits the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center in San Jose
Where: Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, 505 E. Charleston Road, Palo Alto
When: Saturday, May 14, at 8 p.m.
Cost: Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.
Info: Go to http://queerontheirfeet.com or call the church at 650-494-0541.