Orlando Strong: A SAK Comedy Show

I lost a friend that night at Pulse.  His name was Luis Vielma.  I worked with him at Universal Studios.  I cannot say that we were besties and that we hung out and that we called each other on the phone.  He was not that kind of friend.  He was a work friend.  He was someone I saw nearly every day.  He was someone who commiserated with me about hot days and unruly guests.  He was someone who made me chuckle.  And he was someone I liked running into and saying, Hey, Man, what you been up to?  He was someone that, after a little catch-up like that at our workplace grill, I would walk away from, grinning, thinking, I love that kid.  He was a 22 year old boy who loved soccer, who loved his Mexican heritage, and who loved to laugh.  He would say that he loved my show at work, and in our final team-member only performance of the show, I picked him to be a volunteer.  And it was hilarious.  Luis was there at Pulse that night for the first time ever, as a straight ally, just to dance, have fun, and hang out with friends.

Last night, SAK Comedy Lab where I do improv gave a benefit to raise funds for OneOrlando.  It was a night jam packed with comedy with a max capacity audience filled with love and support and laughs.  I know Luis would have loved it.  We raised over $8000.

I was asked to give a speech towards the end of the evening.  Here is what I came up with:

When I was asked to do this speech tonight, I was a little nervous.  Because I thought, This needs to be good. This needs to be, like, SO GOOD! The perfect blend of poignant, angry, but funny. We’re all here to laugh, right? And original. I didn’t want to stand here and say what has been said over and over this week.

So I started to scroll through the social meeds to see what everyone else was saying. And as I read through the various responses, some heart-breaking, some inspiring, some downright vitriolic, I came to realize that that is actually what I wanted to talk about tonight. Our responses to this horrible horrible event.

The first major response to this shooting was the hundreds and hundreds of people who went out to donate blood. My partner and I tried ourselves to go out that first day and donate blood and the blood mobile actually had a sign on it saying WE’RE FULL! Please go find another location. Then, as my partner and I were on the way to a second location we heard the woman who runs OneBlood on the radio saying that they still were following the protocol of not accepting blood from openly gay men. This struck me as the weirdest irony that a couple of gay guys were not being allowed to help out a whole slew of gay people in need. And that pissed me off. Not my point here, but worth mentioning in case you’re not aware that this is still a thing.

But then I learned that a local Chick-Fil-A franchise opened their doors on that Sunday to cook and bring food out to the hundreds of folks waiting in line to donate blood. And that just floored me. I mean, this is what good people do. Just help out where they can.

The following week was jam packed with countless examples of people just stepping up and doing the right thing. Donating money, time, and services to help out those first responders, the wounded, and the friends and families of those who lost their lives that night.

These things were huge. But I’d also like to share some small things I observed from the social media. First, people messaging friends for the first time in years to check in, telling each other how important they are and how much they are loved.

I read as two of my Facebook friends discussed gun control…and it was civil!

I heard of a proud red neck Dad who deliberately and sensitively changed his language to say “those people were just in the right place at the wrong time” because he wanted his gay son to know he didn’t think that Pulse was the wrong place for those people to be.

And sure, it wasn’t all hearts and flowers and dolphins and unicorns. There was a lot of anger. A lot of anger directed at the wrong people. A lot of blame. Because we need to blame, right? We gotta know who is responsible so that we can…what? Give them a dirty look? Wag a finger? Expel them from our country? There is so much fear. I get that.

I have a friend who got on Facebook and asked, How do we move forward? How do we prepare for the next incident? Are we looking for our exits? Are we being vigilant? Are we paying attention to our surroundings?

So here’s what I have to say on that topic. Yes, pay attention. Absolutely. My partner says to me on occasion, “When someone reveals to you who they are, pay attention.”

So I implore you…Pay attention to how people are responding. Pay attention to who is being kind. Pay attention to who is being unkind. Pay attention to who is spreading joy and love. Pay attention to who is spreading fear and hatred. Pay attention to who might need someone to talk to. Pay attention to who might need a non-judgmental ear. Pay attention to who is in the room with you. Pay attention to why they are there in the room with you.

Let’s try that now. Look around the room. Look up on this stage. We say at the beginning of each SAK show that we have a mixed crowd and that we want our comedy to be intelligent. That we want everyone who comes here regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, age, regardless of our differences, we want everyone who walks through that door to have the same shared experience of a safe and good time.

We must meet people who are different from us with respect and dignity and love. I ask you this: What is the harm of being respectful? What is the harm of being open? What is the harm of being inclusive?

We can only guess why the killer at Pulse did what he did. Why he hated so lethally. What we know is that his hatred took out himself and 49 people, our friends, our family.

Hatred is poison.  Hatred is lethal. Love, Joy, & Laughter is the antidote.

Thank you for being here with us tonight. For this shared experience of the healing power of laughter.

We are Orlando. And we are strong.

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