Annie Lowe has the perfect icebreaker when she’s doing a comedy show in a room full of strangers.
She will often say, “I have something to tell you. This may be a little controversial. It may blow your minds, but I am, in fact, transgender.”
Then she waits for the typical silence followed by claps from allies.
“Then I will say, ‘That’s the response that I always get. I’ve never told anyone that I was transgender,’” Lowe said. “And they are like, “Oh, shut up. What is that? Computer graphics?’ Like it’s fine.”
Lowe, 40, is a native of Winston-Salem who now lives in Pittsboro.
She is a graduate of Reynolds High School and attended Guilford College. She has worked as a bartender, run her own art gallery, been an art handler at SECCA in Winston-Salem and worked at Elsewhere, a living museum, in Greensboro.
She got into stand-up comedy in 2014 after going to a comedy open mic with a friend in Chicago.
“We went out and did open mics every night for a whole week for the entire time I was in Chicago,” Lowe said.
“The moment I came back to Winston, I started an open mic at Hoots brewery. That’s how I started to meet all the comics around here.”
She came out for the first time as a transgender woman not long ago while doing stand-up comedy.
Four years ago, Lowe was instrumental in starting the Open Mic Comedy Night at Monstercade in Winston-Salem.
She said there’s nothing that compares to doing stand-up comedy and having it go well.
“As a transgender woman, I have an unusual experience in a lot of ways,” Lowe said. “If I can get people to relate enough to that experience, to laugh with me, it makes me feel closer to people. It has made me feel more like a whole person because I can share this with people – random people, people that have never met anyone like me before – and have them kind of get some of the stuff, like explore some of the weirder things about it with me.”
Her dream is to make a living by talking, and that’s beginning to happen. This year, she registered herself as a business.
In addition, she is the focus of a project with the working title “One Ma’am Show” that was filmed at Monstercade. Greensboro-based Eric Trundy, a stand-up comedian, and Neil Hoover, an actor and stand-up comedian, are the co-directors, and their business partner the Creative Businessmen Studios is the executive producer.
“Basically, what we’re trying to do is just create content and amplify voices that deserve amplification,” Trundy said. “We are really focused on conversations and introducing people to people who aren’t like them.”
Trundy said the current plan is to present “One Ma’am Show,” which could also be called “A Bee in a Birdsuit” or another title, as a special on YouTube.
“A Bee in a Birdsuit” is a play on a punchline in one of Lowe’s jokes.
“We really just want people to know who Annie is,” Trundy said. “We think she’s special, and we think what she does is special.”
Lowe is excited about being in the special.
“It’s like the biggest thing of my career,” she said.
She said she got goosebumps when she saw herself in some of the film footage for the special.
“I look the way I imagine I look in my head,” she said.
Q: How would you describe your art?
Answer: I love stand-up comedy. There is a connection between artist and audience that is different from any other I have experienced. To make somebody laugh, one has to gain trust first so that they will lower their guard and allow themselves to be fooled for a moment. It’s super intimate. I try to write jokes that respect that trust by not being unnecessarily cruel or hurtful to anyone. A good portion of my material is autobiographical. I’m a 6-foot-3-inch transgender woman in the South, among other things, so it’s pretty fertile soil. I like to think that by making some good natured fun of some of the unusual aspects of my life I am doing some small part to normalize the trans experience to audience members who may not have had any first-hand contact with any of us yet. If I can get somebody to laugh with me about those topics, I’ve at least been able to humanize the struggle enough to be relatable and that feels “bug” to me.
Q: How have you evolved as an artist?
Answer: It takes an incredibly long time to get any good at stand up. There is so much to learn, and a lot of it is very nuanced, like how to get someone’s attention and keep it, how to bury a lead, and how to establish trust. What’s more, the learning process happens largely on stage through trial and error –mostly error. When I started about seven years ago, I wasn’t very steady on my feet. I hadn’t transitioned yet and was feeling a lot of distress from the depression the gender dysphoria caused me. As I leveled up as a person and stepped in to “the real me,” I became so much more confident, and I’d like to think I also built some character along the way. In a way, accepting my truth as a sort of unusual person made me more relatable than anything else.
Q: Who has influenced your art?
Answer: My biggest influences are family and friends. I am blessed with a pretty hilarious family. My brother, who is a VA doctor in Richmond, is the funniest person I know (myself included). But I’ve also been really lucky to come up in a very talented and supportive comedy scene here in North Carolina. Most notably, Jennie Stencel and Eric Trundy, who I have seen almost weekly at The Idiot Box Comedy Club in Greensboro since I started stand up.
Q: What is your biggest challenge?
Answer: I think the biggest challenge is patience. This is very difficult thing to do. Over the years, one has to be a terrible comedian working hard to be at least a mediocre comedian. There is not a ton of validation. There are a lot of moments that felt pointless and embarrassing and a lot of long drives back from a bar or club, where one can’t help but question why they put themselves through all this in the first place. It’s part of the process, though. It’s like my friend Eric (Trundy) says : “If you don’t think about quitting comedy at least three times a year, you’re doing it wrong….”
Q: What does art do for you?
Answer: Art has always been a really important part of my life. I’ve been a musician and a visual artist ever since I was little. Art has given me a safe place to express myself and has shown me different communities of like-minded people. It also connects me with other people – a lot of which I will never meet and may be long dead. The experience of being born, growing old and dying is such a natural, yet bizarre thing that it takes something expressive like art to convey some of the bigger feelings associated with it.
Q: Any advice for other artists?
Answer: Trust yourself. You know when you are working hard and growing in ways that may be difficult for others to see and you have to believe in that. Don’t just look outward for the appreciation of others to validate you. That will come in time. Just keep writing, and do it every day.
Fran Daniel writes about artists — visual, musical, literary and more — weekly in Relish. Send your story ideas to email@example.com or call 336-727-7366.