Thursday, March 23, 2006

Interview: Comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer

(Link) Suzanne was out a long time before Ellen and Rosie, and unlike those two, her act still includes queer humor -- even for straight audiences.

1 comment:

LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:

Press & Sun-Bulletin

Before Suzanne Westenhoefer got her own HBO special; before she was a guest on Letterman and Politically Incorrect; before she appeared on Comedy Central and Bravo, she performed her stand-up act in Binghamton in 1991.

"Binghamton was one of my first shows away from home when I first started stand up," she said in a phone interview from her home in Los Angeles. "I got a gig for $40 in a gay bar in Binghamton, Squiggy's."

On Saturday, Westenhoefer will be back in Broome, appearing at 8 p.m. at the newly reopened Magic City Music Hall in a fundraiser for the annual Rude and Bold Women arts festival. And she's worried ... about the weather.

"I have to drive from Rochester to Binghamton the day of the show, and I just checked the weather. I haven't driven in snow for, like, four years," she said. "When we get rain in Los Angeles, everything shuts down. There can be a highway shooting and everybody drives right by it - 'Oh, yeah, highway shooting' - but it starts to sprinkle, and everybody pulls over like 'My god! What happened!' That's not made up. It's just horribly true, because comedy is horribly true."

Westenhoefer got her start as a lesbian comic delivering gay material - to straight audiences.

"They say I am the lesbian comic, but these days that's not saying anything," she said. Westenhoefer was, in fact, "out" before many of the more high-profile lesbian comedians such as Rosie O'Donnell and Ellen DeGeneres.

"They have never done gay material. They were huge stars and they came out as people, but you never heard any of them do material about being gay," she said. "Back then (the early 1990s), there was such an 'us and them' feel. It was so 'Wow, a gay person!' and 'Wow, she doesn't look gay,' and there was so much comedy to mine from that. I would do jokes about what it was like to be a lesbian at a bridal shower. There were jokes about things that, at that time, were so unusual."

But with gay culture becoming more mainstream in recent years, Westenhoefer said her act has changed somewhat.

"I don't have to do the 'us versus them' humor anymore," she said. "I don't have to do a joke about Provincetown and explain Provincetown, or explain a women's music festival. There's less work for me to do to bridge the gap."

Westenhoefer said that turnout for her show varies depending on what she's been doing recently.

"When I haven't been on TV recently, I see mostly queer people in the audience," she said. "Or if my special has been on Bravo or HBO, I get a huge straight crowd."

Westenhoefer makes it very clear that her show is not a "lesbian event" and that everyone who goes to the show will laugh. And that is what she lives for. Despite the rigors of being on the road, Westenhoefer loves stand-up.

"It's all your responsibility, and it's an incredible rush. It's 90 minutes, and it's working without a net," she said. "I must entertain. Keeping an audience laughing is my job. That's what I am supposed to be doing on the planet."

Tickets for Suzanne Westenhoefer are $15 in advance and $20 day of show.

You can get tickets at the Magic City Music Hall box office, 365 Harry L Drive, Johnson City, or by calling 729-2323.