The 'unapologetic' comedian and activist makes her mark

Many comedians in the making dream of leaving their Midwestern towns behind for a shot at stardom in California or New York. But Brooke Cartus is not like many comedians. She left the East Coast and built a burgeoning comedy career in Ohio.

“I was not funny in New York, though,” said Cartus, who grew up in Buffalo and moved to Columbus in 2011 to attend law school. “I was in the closet when I started doing comedy, [but] I was out as queer on the street. And I would get up onstage and I was like, ‘People are not gonna like me.'”

Cartus credits a fellow Columbus comedian with encouraging her to be herself. “She pulled me aside one night after an open mic in my first couple months and she's like, ‘We all know. … You mess up your pronouns onstage. You talk about dating men and then you use “she.”'”

Over the years, Cartus built her confidence and achieved what she considers a series of small breaks, performing throughout Columbus as part of shows such as the Whiskey Bear Comedy Festival, and booking out-of-town gigs at the Limestone Comedy Festival and the Out of Bounds Comedy Festival.

She will release her second album, I Have Straight Friends & Other Confessions, on April 11. And you can catch her at the Funny Bone as part of the Queer Queens Tour on April 22.

“Comedy has helped me discover I can still be queer and unapologetic and have my beliefs, but also meet people where they are,” Cartus said. Her standup covers everything from her experiences in Catholic school to her pet peeves with women's underwear. “So if I'm doing a VFW in rural Ohio, I don't want to lose the crowd. And sometimes you do. You lose the crowd because you're a woman or because you're queer. … But I don't want to lose them because of my material.”

“Comedy isn't about educating,” she continued. “It's not a TED Talk.”

That is not to say Cartus is averse to TED Talks. She participated in TEDxColumbusWomen in 2016, speaking openly about being a survivor of rape, which she said she regrets not reporting to police.

“#MeToo and #TimesUp and all of these movements are important because even if you didn't report, telling your story … moves the needle,” she said.

Cartus also created a line of T-Shirts that read “Stop Booking Rapists” to bring awareness to the issue in the Columbus arts community, and to raise funds for the Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio and Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization.

Following the 2016 election, Cartus said she considered leaving the Swing State, but decided to stay and make a difference. And she's excited by the growing comedy scene in Columbus.

“We are supportive of one another,” she said. “And if you care and if you work hard at it and if you lift each other up, then you'll succeed.”