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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 21, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 42
Comedian Kate Clinton in Seattle October 28
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Comedian Kate Clinton in Seattle October 28

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Benaroya Hall will be the place to be on Friday, October 28, when Kate Clinton takes to the largest stage she's ever performed on in Seattle. For almost thirty years, America's Grande Lesbian Dame of Comedy has caused beverage-leaking snorts from noses all across this country. She has, of course, stood up many times here in Seattle, but this will be her largest forum for stand-up yet.

(Kate reminds that she did perform at Benaroya with Seattle Men's Chorus some time back, but she called it 'Benihana Hall.')

Her p.r. for the Benaroya show dubs it the '2011 Glee Party Tour' and a celebration of her career. It exhorts: 'Get some PTSG: Post-Traumatic Stress Glee. If the whole world's going down, we might as well be gleeful and gay.'

In case you have missed her nine comedy CDs, her three books, and her multiple appearances as commentator on The Rachel Maddow Show, CNN, Good Morning America, and many others (for all the information on her career, go to kateclinton.com), SGN spoke with her to get an update prior to the show.

To be sure, there is apparently nothing that Kate thinks is off the table. 'I think once I get the right angle and anger on it and I'm comfortable and have the confidence to deliver it I'm fine,' Kate explains. '[Especially] when my girlfriend says 'don't do that joke,' it's the only one I really want to do. If I'm told not to do something it's exactly what I want to do.

'I have my mother's Black-Irish humor. I remember her talking to a friend of hers and they would get laughing so hard and I'd ask what they were laughing about and someone has died. It could be discomfort with something horrible. Things like that surprise me into laughter.'

Kate has excelled at making some very serious political stuff funny, but the genesis for the comedy comes from anger. 'I think that has been for me the way through it. It's a great outlet for me to do comedy about it.

'In the last 10 years, there have been difficult things: stolen elections, the 9/11 attack, the war, those are really difficult moments. I found that I could talk about it with an audience by personalizing it: 'It turns out George Bush and I have a lot in common. We both have a slim grasp on geography. We both like to work out.'

'There was a way that I could talk about him to make it personal. A really well-crafted routine goes between the personal and political. You asked earlier about material I won't do. The eight years of the Bush administration were quite chilling. And I fought against self-censorship. Bill Maher loses his show and [the Dixie Chicks lose their career].

'I think Gay people have a certain advantage because we know how to say difficult things, because we come out. And we know we are stronger after people have major meltdowns. We have personal and intimate practice with speaking the truth. We need to build on that and keep saying the truth.'

Speaking of coming out, Kate describes her life prior to coming out and also simultaneously performing as a comic. 'I remember having a conversation with my dad when I was about five, 'I really love my girlfriend,' and he said, 'We all love our friends,' and I said, 'no, I really love my girlfriend.' There was no language in our [Catholic] church, but I knew I was different in that way.

'I did what so many of us did, which was conceal. I dated (boys, of course). I was busy in a lot of things, really didn't deal with it, wouldn't deal with it, until I was in my late 20s. I slept with a Quaker girl and talked to her the next day and she said, 'I told my sister all about it.' 'Why?' And she said, 'Why not?' And I count that 'why not' as the beginning of my coming out. I was ready, but it was a wonderfully powerful and simple question.

'I was lucky enough to find a really old time feminist Lesbian network [in New York] where there were coffeehouses and concerts. That's where I really did the material and became comfortable talking about being a Lesbian. That early rich and safe place to do that made me have confidence to talk to the wider world about being a Lesbian. I'm grateful for those early years of training and feel bad for new LGBT comics whose only place is comedy clubs, and those are killers.

'When I started, there weren't other Lesbian comediennes. Robin Tyler had been doing it and been out, but not a lot. So the good news was no one stole my material. Being a Lesbian is a universal experience, I believe everyone is a Lesbian until proven otherwise. I felt the category 'Lesbian,' the category 'feminism' is a wide-open category and if I kept at it long enough my audience would reflect that.'

Kate coined a term for herself: fumorist, combining humorist and feminist. It's clear that the early feminist struggle is getting backlashed, since one of the language fights was over the word 'girl' applied to females over age 18. Didn't feminists demand to be called women? 'It's the woeful backsliding. I look at ads (with rail thin models and 6-inch high heels) and think, 'Didn't we say no to that a long time ago?' You can't take anything for granted. Once you get it, you just have to keep doing it. They don't give up, and it's our own peril to think that we won that and go on a Gay cruise, but they do not let go.

'Latent hostility? It's not latent at all. Sometimes I think there is a finite amount of individual freedom and it sloshes over to women - not very often - and it sloshes toward the men's side. Right now, it's totally on the men's side. And that's why I think the LGBT folks who are challenging gender and challenging sexuality are just critical in the culture.

'It's a constant energy of exertion and requires constant vigilance. That's what's interesting about the Trans community. What we see a lot is the old binary between Gay men and Lesbians, but the younger people are much more fluid and completely befuddled by the old farts.'

Segueing into current politics, Kate lives in New York and could now choose to get married to her long-time partner, Urvashi Vaid (contributor to It Gets Better with Dan Savage and Terry Miller). 'We're happy that we do have the right to do it and still at this point don't wanna do it. I really have never, ever, ever, wanted to get married. That was one of the nice things about being Gay is you didn't have to get married or have children, but I have fully supported the drive to gain legal marriage. (Then again) we could elope tomorrow.'

Repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell has left a lot of partners of military in limbo due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on the federal level, defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and disallowing domestic partners access to military facilities, health care, etc. 'I think that it's a process and I think it's really wonderful when you get to the bureaucratic moments of legislative victory. 'Ok, you can serve openly, except you can't get married in our chapel.' It's a process of again and again making the implications of the law fit the law. It's a slow process.

'I have been working against DADT since it has been around. And I think it's great that straight women can serve [also] openly and not be baited. It will take time to accomplish, but at least there is the language for that now.

'Like how do you reconcile DADT with certain parts of DOMA; it will take a while to work out. One of the wonderful things that has been accomplished with the marriage equality fight is that it's been a deep part of the national conversation, and if you're talking about that, it's a good thing. But it's hard when you get down to the triplicate and the forms. Tax time and Social Security.

'I think we will have federal marriage equality in my lifetime. [But] in my heart of hearts, I would much prefer to be talking about anti-violence. I would prefer violence, bullying, classroom bullying, no more war - you want to save some money? Cancel two wars.'

Kate is cheered by discussions of 'Obama disappointment' because 'I think it's a pleasure to have ordinary presidential disappointment after eight years of despair in the Bush years. To have ordinary disappointment is a lovely thing. And I do cut him slack because he's up against it, up against a Republican Party that thinks that any Democratic president is an aberration.

'They don't like government. If you don't like government, go golfing. I think President Obama has done wonderful things despite the opposition, but I'd like more drama from Obama. I'd like some Tyler Perry Big Mama drama from Obama.

'You wonder if he ever plays chess or any kind of strategy game. The problem is that he is Hawaiian. (She laughs as she draws out the word 'Hawaaaaaaaaiiiiiiaaaannnn.') It's like, 'Ok, we'll win them over.' But we won't. You'll reach your arm out and they will bite it off at the shoulder.

'I think that he is trying to win over the hearts and minds of people who have neither. And he would be better served by turning to his progressive base that got him there. Too often the Democratic Party does not incorporate and involve the progressive wing of its own party. It completely baffles me. Stupider than homemade sin.'

Kate knows Seattle well enough to look forward to certain restaurants and appreciate local culture and politics. 'I love your new library. I love the women running the WNBA team. Washington state has a nice tradition of women in power. [I'm a] big WNBA fan. And Seattle has some of the best restaurants, it has some of the best food. I love Flying Fish and Wild Ginger.

'There's a great personality of Seattle [audiences]. They're very hip, very politically active and aware, a smart audience. Sometimes I realize in a show that I don't need to give a lot of background, that people are with me. I feel that in Seattle.'

To get tickets, go to www.seattlesymphony.org.

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