Stand-up helps Trey Toler come out 

The openly gay comic explains why good comedy is more than masturbation, Taco Bell

"What's a cock ring for?" 26-year-old comedian Trey Toler asks the waitstaff at the Vortex Bar and Grill in Midtown. He's not trying to shock anyone, but genuinely wants to know. (The consensus holds that it helps with a gentleman's duration.) The servers take the question in stride. They know Toler as a frequent performer at the Laughing Skull Lounge, as well as the comedy club's marketing director. After making his stand-up debut two years ago, the openly gay comic has proved a rising star on Atlanta's comedy scene, whether providing "In the Closet with Trey Toler" segments on the Regular Guys' radio show on 100.5 (WNNX-FM), or hosting the Laughing Skull's open mic nights. Next week he anchors a Laughing Skull showcase of local comedians, "Trey Toler and Friends," from June 30 through July 3.

I understand that your comedy career got started when Facebook got you fired from Borders.

I worked at Borders Store 258, which is now closed. I used to take pictures of things that I thought were funny, like customers coming in wearing ridiculous outfits, or bending over with butt crack hanging out, and posted them on my Facebook. I took one picture of a large white lady of 500 pounds sitting at a table, unaware that she was blocking six black kids from getting off the sofa. They looked like kittens trying to get out of a box. That got red-flagged, so I got fired. But it was a blessing. I hated that job. I was always trying to find the humor in things, so I wouldn't want to gouge my eyes out. And two weeks later I was doing comedy. Comedy has saved my life, hands down.

How has it saved your life?

If I wasn't doing stand-up comedy, I'd still probably be horribly depressed and still in conflict with my sexuality. Prior to comedy, I thought I was too straight to be gay, and too gay to be straight. I grew up in Marietta, never around any people I knew were gay. I like exercising and running, but not sports. I like heavy metal, I don't listen to stereotypical gay music. If I'm a guy, I'm either supposed to go out and fuck tons of girls, or go out and fuck tons of guys. But I was always more attracted to personality. By doing comedy, I found a way to embrace who I am. I found the acceptance that I guess I'd been searching for 24 years.

Do you talk about being gay in your act?

I was scared of being branded as a gay comic, so initially I never addressed it. I've grown more confident, so I've grown more autobiographical. Now it's maybe 30 percent of my material. Being gay is part of who I am, but not 100 percent of the time.

As a gay comedian in Atlanta, do you ever encounter homophobia among other comedians, or jokes of the "That's so gay" variety?

I haven't experienced that at all, which is probably why it's been easy to come out. As far as the audience goes, I once did a show at another venue, and a guy yelled out "Faggot!" at the comedian before me. I came out and said, "Who said 'faggot?'" The guy spoke up and I said, "In my experience, guys like you are the real faggots." He picked up a bottle and threw it at me, and though he was 10 feet away, he missed. So I said, "See, I told you you were a faggot." And he stormed out.

How do you manage open mic nights?

We get 200 emails a day from people wanting to get on open mic night. I've gotten some weird emails. One guy asked if he could perform in a Hawaiian skirt and heels. I told him if he wears something underneath, OK. He said, "Oh, but I wanted my wiener to pop out." We hold everyone to a professional standard. While hosting, I support the person on stage, even if I don't think they're funny. Only two times I've had to grab someone off stage. You can do racial jokes, gay jokes or taboos, depending on how you approach it. But if you're going on like the Grand Dragon of the KKK, that's not appropriate.

What topics are you tired of hearing from fledgling comedians?

[Without hesitation] Masturbation. Taco Bell. How they like to get high. How big their penis is. I hate it when they ask the audience questions like "Who's drinking? Where are the pot-smokers at?"

What established comedians have you worked with or befriended?

In two years, I've opened for Greg Proops, Margaret Cho, Michael Ian Black, Maria Bamford and others. If I was in the music industry, there's no way I'd be opening for bands I love. In comedy, almost everyone is attainable. Ron White is someone I consider a friend. He told me I should use the word "fuck" sparingly. You don't want to use up all of your fucks. He won't let his opener use fuck. Then he won't use it for 20 minutes, so when he says something like "This fucking spoon!" that gives it power.

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