Sam Killermann stood in the dimly lit Packard Auditorium and announced to his audience, “So, I’m not gay.”
The social justice comedian performed at Lehigh in partnership with the Office of Gender Violence Education and Support on Tuesday. After Killermann broke the ice with his blunt opening statement, the audience was already roaring with laughter.
Brooke DeSipio, the director of Gender Violence Education and Support, brought Killermann to the university to talk about gender, sexuality inclusion and identity.
“I think Sam’s down-to-earth and humorous approach to gender and sexuality is effective because it helps to disarm a very sensitive and taboo topic,” DeSipio said. “We know that attitudes and beliefs about gender are directly correlated with gender violence, so it is important to talk about gender and sexuality, especially gender stereotypes, discrimination, oppression and internalized oppression, in order to prevent gender violence.”
Killermann used his own personal anecdotes to get the conversation started. He pulled from endearing childhood memories, like having an imaginary friend who turned out to not be imaginary or his friend. He then went on to talk about his college years, during which he was first called gay. Thinking he was in a relationship with a girl, Killermann asked her to be “Facebook official” but was turned down when she revealed she thought he was gay. This seemed to cause an identity crisis for Killermann.
“I’m not straight enough to be straight, but not gay enough to be gay,” said Killermann.
It wasn’t until he was performing a comedy show in college that he found a way to identify himself.
“It was a standard comedy show: dark room, big crowd,” Killermann said. “Out of nowhere, this guy stands up on the other side of the room and yells out, ‘Hey dude, are you gay?’ in the middle of my comedy show! Then out of nowhere on the other side of the crowd, this lady stands up, and she goes, ‘It’s pronounced ‘metrosexual.””
This was the first time Killermann had heard the word “metrosexual.” He went home to Google the term right away, only to find that it was exactly what he identified himself as.
“It’s Pronounced Metrosexual” went on to be the name of Killermann’s comedy show and online resource, both of which promote the ideas of never making someone feel ashamed of who they are, as well as the “Platinum Rule” of treating others how they want to be treated.
Killermann’s hour-long performance flew by as the comedian mixed education with entertainment. His anecdotes and awkward deliveries left some members of the audience laughing until they cried.
At the end of his set, he challenged the audience to do one thing: “If you do nothing else, do whatever is in your power to make the people in your life, who you have influence over, to feel completely unashamed of who they are,” he said.
Students at the show received Killermann well, and the show seemed to get good reviews.
“His energy and personality were awesome,” Audrey Baer, ’17, said. “He did a great job using his life stories to make us all laugh, but then used it to make a point.”
One specific thing that students seemed to particularly enjoy about the show was the way in which Killermann discussed serious issues and topics.
“I think his method of using a comedy show to address such serious issues was effective,” Jamie Campisi, ’17, said. “Unfortunately, I think after a while, people grow numb and aren’t very responsive when hearing messages about certain things that are wrong. With Killermann’s use of comedy, it didn’t feel like the audience was getting talked at, and I think that helped the audience stay very engaged.”
Killermann does comedy shows all around the country and is the author of the book “A Guide to Gender.” In addition to his comedy show on Tuesday night, he will also be leading a professional development workshop with Dean of Students staff members and a workshop with Break the Silence Gender Violence Prevention Peer Educators while on campus.