D’Lo Da Shape Shifter

Labels are something performer D’Lo cannot quite escape from.

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Labels are something performer D’Lo cannot quite escape from. His website describes him as a queer Tamil Sri Lankan-American, political theatre performer – just broad type for a more defined personal, and therefore political, identity. Audiences will glimpse his hyphenated experiences at an upcoming feature at West Hollywood’s LGBT Center. As a transgender person who had a Hindu upbringing in LA, and as a subversive hip hop performer, D’Lo allows as many descriptors as people may want to attach to his name.

On tour, D’Lo presents himself uncompromisingly to audiences, vulnerable but revelling in the freedom of being who he is. He said, “I don’t thrive off a sense of alienation. Frankly, everything scares me. But I figure I gotta fake it till I make it,” He added, “I do this for a sense of finally feeling like I belong. Even if it is only for an hour on certain nights of the month.”

This acknowledgment comes after years of encountering the intolerance queer people regularly face, but it is interesting how comedy flows quite naturally even from more bitter experiences. D’Lo said, “After all the painful writing is done, and you’ve drunk your bottles and cleaned yourself up, you re-tell the stories and absurdly, they are funny.” This levity allows him to bring in very intimate narratives into a public arena. His parents’ quirks are easy fodder, and his transition allows him to mock his own Mickey Mouse voice.

While several south Asian stand-ups rely on stereotypes, D’Lo knows just how far to push an accent. “I speak about Sri Lankan immigrants, and these folks have accents, of course,” he said. “But the joke isn’t in the accent, it is in the story, how they think. I don’t believe that it’s right to make your material based on jokes about immigrants or people of colour, or anyone really. I joke about myself mostly. My life.”

D’Lo’s work is typically informed by urban angst with that distinct character of inner-city sidewalks and graffiti-strewn walls –a tribute to the hip hop subculture that has shaped him as significantly as being raised a Tamil Sri Lankan. In India, D’Lo has performed to varied audiences. However, he is quite the shapeshifter. At Chennai in 2004, he didn’t want anyone to write off the power of hip hop because they couldn’t keep up with his quick-paced delivery. So he toned it down, took out the beats, and performed it clearly, like poetry. “I wasn’t downplaying my art, I was shifting it. The goal is to be heard and loved,” he said. Even as he prepares to tweak his act, D’Lo lays down the gauntlet as he signed off, “I take it on as my duty to never isolate. But of course, if there are hecklers, I’ll have to kill them.” It may well be a confrontation to remember.

This article was originally featured in Timeout magazine.

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About the guest author

Vikram Phukan

Vikram Phukan is a playwright and stage critic, who runs the theatre appreciation website Stage Impressions. http://www.filmimpressions.com/stage/