Albert Sanchez is restless.
A relative newcomer to Austin’s comedy scene — he began performing at open-mics just over a year ago — Sanchez had spent nearly every night perfecting his craft in dimly lit comedy clubs and coffee shops — and yet, he wanted more.
A month ago, he embarked on a search for nonprofit organizations in Austin that could benefit from a comedy fundraiser. A casual suggestion from a friend led him to Out Youth Austin, a nonprofit that provides a community and resources, such as counseling and HIV testing, for LGBT youth. Sanchez, whose younger sister is a lesbian, began furiously organizing and promoting a comedy showcase to raise money for a cause that hit close to home.
“I was raised in Fort Worth, Texas, and at the time, there wasn’t quite the acceptance that there is today with the gay community,” Sanchez said. “So when she came out, that’s when it really began for her. She was very depressed a lot, and that’s something that helped me shape my acceptance and my view of it. I went from a down-South, homophobic 14-year-old to a complete LGBT activist within the year of my sister coming out. That helped me make my decision to do something about it, even if it’s just a little bit.”
Sanchez’s efforts culminated Tuesday night in the Out Youth Comedy Showcase at the North Door, where Austin comedy mainstays such as Carina Magyar and UT alumnus M.K. Paulsen performed sets. Donations collected at the door went toward helping Out Youth Austin maintain its mission of providing a safe, inclusive community for LGBT youth.
Out Youth was founded in 1990 by two UT graduate students, and has since grown from a support group to a full-fledged nonprofit with a house in North Austin. Gonzales said raising awareness is especially important given the nonprofit’s history. Out Youth employees did not begin publishing the organization’s physical address until the early 2000s for fear of acts of violence against the group, instead passing along its location through word of mouth.
“They’ve been facing that for 26 years, and they haven’t stopped,” Sanchez said. “And it’s an amazing thing. We need more people like that — that are walking into this dark dungeon of a cause and then traveling through it until some light starts to emerge. It’s pretty brave, if you ask me. And all I’m doing is putting on a freaking comedy show.”
Kathryn Gonzales, operations and program director for Out Youth Austin, said that the current crop of Out Youth employees aim to provide youth with opportunities for acceptance that previous generations did not have.
“What we often hear from adults is ‘I wish I had something like Out Youth growing up,’ and we take that to heart,” Gonzales said. “It is fun, and it is hard and challenging, but at the end of the day I believe I do speak for everyone here when I say that it is the greatest honor of our lives.”
Sanchez said he chose to put on a comedy benefit show because of the honesty that is inherent to comedy. Paulsen, a graduate of the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said he aims to highlight important social issues while also connecting with the audience through his comedy.
“[Being gay] is one facet of who I am, and I talk about it onstage to an extent,” Paulsen said. “The beauty really becomes then: How do you relate to everybody, even though I’m a little different in this way. What’s the common ground that we all share?”