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San Francisco’s hilarious comic Marga Gomez is back with an all-new one-woman show

Marga Gomez, a longtime San Francisco comic, has a new one-woman show called "Swimming With Lesbians" at Brava Theater. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Between Covid outbreaks on the high seas and smashing into San Francisco’s Pier 27—to say nothing of the deadly incident where one hit a rock off the coast of Italy and flopped on its side—cruise ships have gotten a bad rep in recent years. So the task falls to veteran comic Marga Gomez to resuscitate the image of the cruise industry in her new one-woman show, Swimming With Lesbians, at Brava Theater for the Arts in the city’s Mission District.

Like most of her work, it’s both humorous and partly autobiographical, a 65-minute burst of storytelling based on Gomez’s stints as a cruise ship comedian during the 1990s. With characters like DJ Jackie Dyke from “No Ham,” it opens Friday for a two-week run at the same venue where Gomez has been the artist-in-residence since 2015. 

“The thing about cruise ships is when you’re an entertainer, you’re also staff, and you have to be of service to every passenger,” she told The Standard at Limoncello on 24th Street. “You’ve gotta put up with all their shit. You gotta keep a smile on your face and act like you’re their friend.”

Marga Gomez's show will open at Brava Theater in San Francisco's Mission District on Friday. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

A native of Manhattan, she moved to San Francisco decades ago with an ex-girlfriend who drove her cross-country in silence. She’s a standup comic, writer and actor with 14 one-woman shows to her credit, often at local theaters like Brava or the Marsh—where she workshopped Swimming With Lesbians and where her career largely began—as well as long-gone venues like the Valencia Rose and Josie’s Cabaret, which closed on Dec. 31, 1999, after Gomez performed there. 

A local icon, her career is essentially one long tightrope walk between the underground and the mainstream, having worked with Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams and future San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano. 

Gomez was on the much-missed Netflix show about telepathy, Sense8, which was partially shot in the city. She auditioned for the role in Speed that went to Sandra Bullock. 

A lesbian of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent, Gomez grew tired of being offered roles as confidante-maids, but threw on an apron when an opportunity to work with Kathleen Turner arose. Her “biggest ego trip” was performing on the pitchers’ mound of Yankee Stadium. She once drove around Los Angeles in Lily Tomlin’s Rolls-Royce, hoping she might get lucky. (They ate Cuban food instead.)

Gomez is part of the same generation of San Francisco comics as Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams and Supervisor Tom Ammiano. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard
"Swimming With Lesbians" is Gomez's first one-woman show for which she directed herself. | Source: Brava Theater Center

Ever since her first show, Memory Tricks at The Marsh on Valencia Street, Gomez has mined her life history for content, often focusing on her family and identity. 

“It was a huge success and sell-out. It was wonderful,” The Marsh’s artistic director Stephanie Weisman said of that production. “Marga is part of a strain of solo performers who come from the comedy genre. Because of their background, their relationship to the audience was so good, and we’re just so thrilled we’ve been able to grow together.”

While she’s known as a comic, she thinks of herself first as a storyteller, if one who deals primarily with making people laugh. As the nightlife world was imploding onto Zoom in early-to-mid-2020, she created a personally meaningful show about a young woman dealing with a world full of predators—a piece she said had some funny things and some sexy stuff but also a painful core.

“People would have masks on, and during the funny parts, it sounded like I had hostages,” she recalled. “I still stand by that show. But what I learned is that I'm not going to do any more poignant shows—because people are going to still be sad for quite a few years. And the best thing I can do for the world, for audiences, for the Bay Area, is to get stupid.”

For Swimming With Lesbians, she watched The Love Boat and concocted a somewhat downmarket ocean liner called the Celesbian, complete with a bingo caller, a lacrosse player hoping to forget her past with her first lesbian affair and an intense ship captain named Debbie who wants to enliven the ship’s Lezzo Deck with activities. The whole project developed out of a Shonda Rhimes-esque habit: saying yes to opportunities, even if it initially requires throwing something together quickly. 

“I wanted to put ‘lesbians’ in the title because, for better or worse, I want people to know exactly what we’re going to do in this show,” Gomez said. “And it turned out to be a title that, as basic as it is, it’s good—because people want to laugh, and they want things basic.”

Marga Gomez smiles during an interview in San Francisco on Tuesday. Gomez, a longtime SF comic, has a new one-woman show called "Swimming With Lesbians" at Brava Theater, running from Friday to Oct. 22. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Professing to be an introvert and a wallflower, Gomez is playfully sheepish about discussions of her age, even if it makes her longevity look impressive. Threatening to pick up every copy of a story that makes her feel old until she’s reminded that The Standard is a digital publication, she then threatens to break the entire internet. In nearly the next breath, she asks for the audience to show up in nautical attire if they can.

She writes all her material, but after having someone challenge and push her on all 13 of her previous solo shows, this marks the first time Gomez has been her own director. She was initially reluctant to give herself a directing credit, preferring instead language like “helmed by Marga Gomez.” It might be distaste for performers’ egotism, or it might be a streak of self-deprecation.

“When I see that, I go, ‘I don’t know,’” she said. “On a lot of publicity, I just think, ‘Oh, that can’t be very good.’”

Astrid Kane can be reached at