When Andrew Dow isn’t making crowds of people laugh as the host of Pitt Tonight or performing onstage with the improv group Ruckus, he can be found spending his summer in his hometown of Abington, just 15 miles outside of Philadelphia. As he cozied up to his dog on a mid-May evening, he and his mother teared up at an episode of the Netflix show “Queer Eye.”
“I’m really lucky, my parents have always been supportive of me being gay,” the junior sociology and communications student said.
Though he believes he is privileged to have come from an accepting family, Dow thinks coming to Pitt was a great opportunity to be a part of two thriving, but not-always-noticed groups on campus — the LGBTQ+ community and the comedy scene.
Dow earned the opportunity to host Pitt Tonight for the beginning of the 2017-18 school year after an open audition, surprising himself with this success. Dow said he was not involved with Pitt Tonight before getting the role as the host. Since auditioning for the part on Pitt Tonight, Dow has pursued comedy outside of Pitt at his favorite venues, like Hambone’s in Lawrenceville and Papa D’s in South Oakland.
Standing at 6-foot-3, Dow takes pride in defying stereotypes and uses his position as a stand-up comic to satirize social issues like masculinity.
“I never want people to watch me and think ‘oh look at the cute gay boy,’” Dow said. “I am masculine, forward and a bit bro-y with my performances.”
Common ways he approaches this “bro-y” method of comedy include being direct about romantic or sexual interests.
“It’s so common for straight comedians to say something like, ‘Oh look at her chest!’ but I like to mess with my male audience. They’re not used to a 6-foot-3 man calling them out and ironically saying they have a nice ass,” he said.
One of Dow’s peers, Simone Norden, commends Dow for this strong, but socially and comically effective approach. Norden, a junior environmental studies major who identifies as pansexual, is the president of Pitt’s improvisational comedy group, Ruckus.
“I think using irony — and I know Andrew uses a lot of irony in his comedy — is just so powerful because it hits you in such a visceral way,” she said.
Norden said the socially aware side of Dow’s take on stand-up can cause self-reflection.
“It causes so much cognitive dissonance. If Andrew says ‘I’m gay,’ but then in his jokes start going into this bro-y, kind of misogynistic tone, these straight men look and him and they’re so confused,” Norden said. “You just freak them out and then they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, maybe I do need to chill.’”
Dow said that some of his inspiration for this style of comedy rooted in LGBTQ+ awareness comes from his experience with Ruckus, which he has performed with for two years now. Ruckus features about 25 students of all genders and performs shows on campus, mostly in G-24 of the Cathedral of Learning, as well as in comedy clubs all over Pittsburgh.
“Ruckus is always going to hold a special place in my heart. It introduced me to so many queer people and so many funny people who inspire me everyday,” Dow said. “In high school, I did theater and was able to meet some gay friends through that and at Pitt, I’ve been able to make so many new queer friends through being involved with Ruckus.”
Dow met his closest friend, Dominic Hendrickson, who also identifies as a gay man, through Ruckus when he joined as a first year. The two cite Ruckus as an integral part of their college experience and have been inseparable since they started performing together.
“I think that being gay and in comedy has really boosted my confidence since coming to college,” Hendrickson said. “I think, more importantly, being a gay voice in comedy and having so many queer people in Ruckus creates an diverse open environment for to experience different outlets of comedy because, let’s face it, comedy in mass media is run by straight men,” he added.
For Hendrickson, Dow and Norden, being involved in comedy helped them add friends to their support system, which Hendrickson said is a vital part of coming to college as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
“I think the most important thing for me being gay at college is my support system. Yes, we live in a progressive city, but there is always going to a ton of hate toward the LGBT community so having people who love you regardless is so important,” he said.
Luckily for Dow, he was able to find his support system within his passion.
“I love to make people laugh, that’s all I want to do,” he said. “The feeling of making people laugh is absolutely euphoric.”