When I was just starting out in comedy in the 80′s I was hitchhiking in San Francisco one night, yup – me and Aileen Wournos – the last lesbian hitchhikers on the planet. I very luckily got a ride from Lupe De Leon the manager for Etta James, Kenny Rankin and Tania Maria. I made him laugh and he signed me as an opening act for his clients. Maybe one of the most random events in my career.
I got to open for Etta James once at the Full Moon Saloon on Haight Street. A very small but respected music venue. Of course she was beyond compare vocally. Rocking the blonde wig. She had a very interesting move during music riffs. She would lean down on a stool and move her fabulous ass in a slow sensuous ‘O’ for however long the band riffed. She was in no hurry to pick up the vocals. The crowd was in heaven.
Unfortunately I was not a good fit as an opener. I don’t think any comic would be. You want to see Etta James—anything else is an annoyance. And I was very green. I thought that me and Etta were now going to be friends. Even though she probably hadn’t set eyes on me, spending all her time in her dressing room. At intermission I thought I would introduce myself. I knocked on her door. I heard lots of people laughing but nobody was letting me in. So I knocked louder and I actually said this. “Miss James? It’s me Marga Gomez, your opening act. Miss James? I’m your opening act”
The room got quiet no more laughing. No movement. All I heard was a deep smokey voice say. “LOCK THE DOOR”
It was Friday the 13th but I couldn’t blame luck. I learned that an opening act and the headliner will never meet. Still I got a little bit of money and I got to watch an Etta James show with 100 people in an 80 seat room. In today’s paper I saw a quote from Lupe De Leon who was her manager until the end. I will always be grateful to him and his assistant Sidney Kafker for giving me a glimpse of the big leagues when I was just a rookie.
Marga Gomez is a native New Yorker who makes San Francisco her home and identifies as a bicoastal Gemini. As the daughter of a Cuban comedian and Puerto Rican dancer Marga made her stage debut in New York at age 7 and was hooked ever since. Her long and colorful career includes achievements in comedy, theater, film and television and was profiled in the 2005 documentary “Laughing Matters.”
Marga’s talents have brought her to audiences all over the planet. She has had the fortune to work with some of her heroes including Rita Moreno, Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin and Whoopi Goldberg. Robin Williams was so impressed with Marga’s response to a heckler at a benefit that he booked her on HBO’s Comic Relief VI on the spot.