Sarah Franken (the artist formerly known as Will) comes out as transgender

The last time I saw Will Franken, he and I enjoyed a lovely chat years ago in the balcony of the Cabaret Juste Pour Rire during one of Andy Kindler’s “Alternative Comedy” showcases for Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival.

Well, the Cabaret long since closed up shop, and so has Will. Now I’m speaking with Sarah Franken. He is a she. And she finally became comfortable enough with her transgender identity to come out this summer in the United Kingdom, where she now lives. A profile in The Guardian last week took stock of how far she has come already. An Indiegogo campaign seeks to fund her upcoming trip to the Edinburgh Fringe.

None of this had come up back in 2008 when I sat down with Franken in a Williamsburg cafe for a lengthy interview and profile.

As she explains now in her Indiegogo campaign (which had raised close to 1,200 of the 1,500 British Pounds she’s seeking to fund her Fringe trip in August):

I had lived as a woman briefly in San Francisco nearly fifteen years earlier for a span of about four to five months, only putting that side of me back in the closet when I began to get a name as the comedian Will Franken. I was more obsessed with my career at that point and felt being out as a transgender would limit me, especially in the leftist climate of San Francisco. Instead, I remained a blank slate of blazer, T-shirt, and blue jeans in order to give my manifold characters room to roam. In Edinburgh of 2013, I spent nearly every evening dressed as Sarah after my show had finished. But this marks the first time where I have consistently lived as Sarah. Until a month ago, I had maintained the rule I had set for myself where I would live as Sarah and only perform as Will. But I’ve since had a few shows as Sarah which have received fairly positive reactions and I am now attempting my first Edinburgh as her. I have been largely happier during this time in ways I sometimes can’t quite comprehend. I seem to have garnered deeper and more significant relationships with females, both platonic and intimate, and have somehow managed to stay funny in the process, incorporating my humour into my female personality. Thus defying my two major fears when it came to outing myself – a) that I would be alone for the rest of my life and b) by being happy, I wouldn’t be funny anymore.

For all of the chatter here in the United States about Caitlyn Jenner, what Sarah is doing now is just as courageous if not more, without all of the tabloid headlines and attention.

She explains: “This is my chance to do something groundbreaking. Something very, very different. I want to show the world I can be just as funny and critically acclaimed as Sarah as I was as Will. I want to break the stereotype that an artist must be miserable in order to create.

“Yes, there are transgender comedians. From what I know of other transgender performers’ career trajectories, mine is different in three distinct ways. Firstly, because I’m known for high-speed character comedy, there is an assumption among many in my fan base that Sarah is simply another character in my portfolio. If I was doing regular stand-up comedy (or any regular job, for that matter) the transition might be easier because there wouldn’t be an assumption that Sarah was simply another layer in an already multi-layered performance. Secondly, I don’t believe there are many comedians who are attempting to transition while their career is currently happening. For instance, I know some post-op transsexuals who either began performing after they transitioned or used to perform as a male, took time off to transition, and then started performing again after the transition. There are transvestite performers (that is to say, cross-dressers) like Eddie Izzard.  But to go from character comedian Will Franken to character comedienne Sarah Franken in mid-career has so far proven interesting, exciting and challenging; particularly when it comes to questions of publicity photos and compere introductions. Thirdly, defying expectations most punters might have of a transgender in the performing arts, my politics don’t always veer toward the expected.”

Will Franken received a five-star review from The Scotsman (and four stars from The Guardian) at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe, and won a “Barry Award.” Let’s see what Sarah Franken can accomplish this summer.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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