Cincy Fringe festival: Republican-raised comedian talks about coming out as a Democrat


At the Cincy Fringe Festival, New York-based comedian/writer/actor David Lee Nelson is presenting his hilarious take on the touchy subject of political differences between father and son.

His 75-minute one-man play, "The Elephant in My Closet," is the story of how Nelson worked up the courage to tell his staunchly conservative father that his only son had become a Democrat. 

"The Elephant in My Closet" (named "Best of the Fest" at the 2013 Out of the Loop Festival in Dallas) opens Friday, May 31 at 7:15 p.m. at the Art Academy Auditorium.

Four other performances are scheduled:

  • Sunday, June 2 at 3 p.m.
  • Tuesday, June 4 at 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, June 6 at 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, June 8 at 7 p.m. 

We asked Nelson to tell us more about the show and why he chose to bring it to the Cincy Fringe Festival.

Q. Will this be your first time performing at the Cincy Fringe Festival? 

A. Yes. I applied for a few reasons: First of all, because I had heard so many great things about the festival. Also, I have performed in Cincinnati before. A few years ago I did a week of stand-up at Go Bananas Comedy Club and had a blast. The audiences were really smart and awesome. And finally, I like Skyline Chili.  And Graeters ice cream.  A lot. 

Q. Did you apply for the Cincy Fringe Festival because the greater Cincinnati area has historically leaned Republican? I bet many young Democrats in Cincinnati have staunchly conservative fathers.

A. I think that's what makes Cincinnati a perfect place for the show.  My favorite crowds are the ones that are split down the middle. We ran the show in my hometown, Greenville, SC and it went great! 

And no disrespect to Cincinnati, but Greenville is way more Republican. I mean, we voted for Strom Thurmond. Eight-hundred times. In the 2012 primary they voted Newt Gingrich! Greenville is the San Francisco of the right!

This is a show for all political persuasions. It's important to note that this show is not about bashing Republicans. It's about the history of the party, and my relationship with my dad: a relationship that was based on our shared passion for politics -- politics and Virginia Tech Football.  

And my dad is not a rich, ignorant hayseed like so many people on the left like to portray Republicans. He has a PhD. He recycles. He has been supportive of all my artistic endeavors. But he does hate Democrats. And as I got older and started to become a Democrat, I was afraid of how it would change my relationship with my dad, a man I'm very close to. That, to me, is interesting. That, to me, is dramatic.  So I wrote a play about it and here we are. 

Q. Where else have you performed "The Elephant in My Closet?" Do you tweak it based on audience feedback?

A. I have performed The Elephant in My Closet at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C., and The Out of the Loop Festival in Dallas. After Cincinnati, we are going to The Capital Fringe in Washington, DC. We have also done runs in Greenville, SC and New York City. 

As far as tweaking the show based on the audience, I'll adjust little things here and there from show to show, but this piece is different from stand-up. There is a set script that we stick to. 

Q.  Does each Fringe Festival seem to have its own distinctive culture?

A. I've been doing a couple of festivals a year for the past few years and they each have their own vibe for sure. Some, like the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, are anything goes. Some, like Piccolo Spoleto or The Out of the Loop  are more structured. The Cincy Fringe seems to be a little of both which is very exciting. 

Q. What are some of your professional and personal goals as a performer? 

A.  My main goal for any run is to do a great show. I know that sounds cliché, but that's the only thing I have control over. And I've found that if the show is great, other things seem to fall into place. Other than that, I just am excited about the chance to have my work seen by new people. That's what is so great about Fringe Festivals: audiences and artists get a chance to discover one another. 

Q.  Do you consider yourself more a writer or a comedian?

A. That depends on what day you ask me. For this show I was more of a writer. What's been amazing about having a chance to perform this piece over an extended period of time is that the comedian side of me gets to influence the work, and that is when the show gets really exciting. 

Q. As a performer, do enjoy the community spirit and immediate feedback you get at Fringe Festivals?

A. Yes! The community spirit really is an amazing thing. There were these people I met in Edinburgh, and they were also from New York, and now we go see everything each other does. It's great. 

Plus as an artist to get to see so many different shows and so many different ways of performing, it's inspiring. I'll go back to Adam Knight (co-creator/director) or Kristin Vieira (my dramaturg) and try to find ways to incorporate new things or push ourselves to tell our stories in more dramatic or theatrical or simpler ways. And so much of that is from watching how other artists tell their stories. 

Q. What advice would you give to someone coming to the Cincy Fringe Festival for the first time?

A. Buy tickets to see "The Elephant in My Closet!" But seriously, I think the best thing someone coming to the Fringe can do is take a chance on something that looks a little weird. Or is not your usual cup of tea. The Know Theatre did a lot of work selecting all of us. So roll the dice, see something different -- and then go see "The Elephant in My Closet."

The CIncy Fringe Festival runs through Saturday, June 8. Advance tickets for all performances can be purchased online at or by calling Know Theatre, 513-300-5669 before 4 pm on the day of the performance. After 4 p.m., you can buy tickets at the venue 30 minutes prior to the performance time.

The complete guide to the Festival can be found at

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