by Cameron Kude
Suzanne Westenhoefer is the first openly gay comedian to appear on television. I got the opportunity to chat with her recently and I am so excited about her upcoming show at Mississippi Studios in North Portland next Sunday, February 9th at 8 PM. Suzanne will be doing a free meet and greet down the street at Q Center before her show between 5:30-7 PM.
Read my interview with Suzanne below.
Cameron Kude: We’re thrilled you are doing a meet and greet at Q Center. In this new world of things getting better, how important do you think LGBTQ community centers are?
Suzanne Westenhoefer: Oh I think still extremely important. I think things are definitely much better but we have a long way to go.
Kude: Have you been to Portland before?
Westenhoefer: Oh yes – many, many, many times. I’ve been performing in Portland since I started. I’ve performed at the Aladdin Theater and some other places. I’ve probably performed there once every other year since the mid to late 90s. I actually recorded my first CD there.
Kude: Have you been to Mississippi Studios where you’ll be performing?
Westenhoefer: I have not, it’s a brand new venue which is typical for me. I come into a town and I go and do a show. You know, singers and musicians and actors rehearse on site but for comedians all of our rehearsals are done at the hotel prior to the show.
Kude: You’re known as a lesbian comedian and more notably for the first gay comic to make a televised appearance. Is this a form of type-casting?
Westenhoefer: You know, I knew what I was doing when I started out in the 90′s… to be openly gay I knew what my point was, which, I don’t want to say bust down the door but maybe take down the screen door. How about that? *laughs* I didn’t care, it wasn’t important to me. Being type-casted wasn’t the point of it so it didn’t matter.
Kude: I’ve been watching a lot of your performances on YouTube from the 90′s. You made a joke about how there were now [then] lesbians on TV and brought up how there was a lesbian on the show Roseanne, but your joke was that it was Darlene. Sarah Gilbert who plays Darlene of course is gay now but she was just a kid at the time. Are you psychic or do you just have impeccable gaydar?
Westenhoefer: You know the whole story line for her of course was that she was a tomboy but she fell in love with the character of David who was the sensitive artist kid and we all loved that story line but it’s like, lesbians were totally watching that little actress and we all thought ‘hmm’. We could just tell somehow. Now what’s interesting is, we don’t do that anymore. We didn’t have any voices 20 or 15 years ago and now there are so many openly gay voices and I don’t think we sit and watch television now and say “Oh, is that person gay? Is that person gay?”
Kude: Who are some of your hero’s or influences?
Westenhoefer: Anyone who’s ever been out. I mean, when I came out it was the early 80′s. Anyone who was openly gay, even if they weren’t on TV -and they probably weren’t- that was such a big deal. It just wasn’t done, so any friends I knew, any of the out lesbian folk singers, it was so incredible going to a concert, it sounds so funny now, but to go to a concert and hear a woman sing songs about another woman, it was SO subversive- oh my god! And now that just seems so silly. But I guess that’s the point, that it’s something that isn’t terrifying and hidden.
Kude: We’ve come a long way. Thanks to pioneers like you, of course. Do you have any favorite out actresses or musicians?
Westenhoefer: This is going to sound stupid but I was excited that Daft Punk had a hit song last year and got nominated for a Grammy. Never in a million years did I think they would become “mainstream” on regular TV; it’s extraordinary to me. And then you’ve got Sarah Bareilles who was nominated for a Grammy. She’s so awesome and gay friendly and has been around for a while now. Then there’s the whole Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis thing – the guy is singing about gay people with an openly gay singer with him. The whole experience is so different now that I just get excited about all of it. There’s a white rapper who is talking about gay rights who is winning Grammys… I promise you if anyone would have told me that even 10 years ago I would’ve said ‘not going to happen, never going to happen.’
Kude: I feel like that’s something that is really important for young people to hear.
Westenhoefer: Oh my god its’ changing their lives, it is the whole “its getting better” thing I mean, absolutely it is not done. Absolutely people are still suffering. There’s still a tremendous amount of bigotry. But I think those people are going to be problematic for us forever because they just don’t get it. You know what I mean? It’s the average person who isn’t looking at being homosexual as some sort of sin, they understand that its being like left handed its just who you are more and more those people are seeing the ridiculousness of homophobia.
Kude: Its awesome how that whole far right religious extreme thing is becoming less and less relevant and it’s showing through so much in our culture.
Westenhoefer: And you know, that’s what we wanted. That’s whats important. You know it may not be easy for me or you, but maybe easier for say my mom to remember when a black person was brought up as different from a white person. It’s so hard for us to imagine and yet we’re only separated from it by a couple generations. Ultimately that’s the way people will think about the homosexual thing, they’ll say it’s ridiculous.
Kude: One of my favorite protest signs was a male/female couple, he was black she was white and the protest sign says “Our marriage was illegal once, too.”
Westenhoefer: Exactly. Done and done. You know this is just the activist in me but I’m embarrassed for people who are still having problems with it. In the 80′s and early 90′s I could kind of understand where they were coming from. I could help them see what might not have been so obvious as it is now. It was so new they didn’t understand that its always been and it always will. Twenty years ago people could say I don’t know any gay people, I’m afraid of it. I definitely could see, well, alright they just don’t know, they’re ignorant. Nowadays when people are freaking out I’m like Jesus! Open your eyes, its all around you! Turn on a television! read a book! Its not hidden so because of that, for people to still have a problem with it, it’s crazy. Look, we’ve proven that gay marriage isn’t going to change anything. Heterosexuals aren’t dropping dead, the world didn’t end, its been like 8 years in Massachusetts , its been a long time we’ve proven that gays can get married. I have friends here in LA whose children are now in their 20′s in college, living their own lives, no more gayer than anyone else and its all good, you know? We know now. There’s no excuse when people are like “these horrible things are going to happen if gays can get married…” well guess what? Gays can get married and guess what? It didn’t happen. YOU WERE WRONG.
Kude: And the more normal it becomes, the more shocking it is to see that the opposite is happening in other parts of the world. I’m wondering if you would perform in Russia under the new anti-gay laws? How do you feel about the US participating in the Olympics?
Westenhoefer: I am scared. Because I don’t think that the average Russian citizen is any different than the average American citizen. If they know gay people they’re probably not even worried about it – they get it. What happens is ideology becomes a part of the government. That’s why we love the U.S., we try to keep the religion out of government.
Kude: We try…
Westenhoefer: We try. And I think I’m actually worried about the Olympics. Because its such a great opportunity for every fucking kook in the world now, because they’ve made such a big deal about it, between gays, between terrorism, all these different things, I’m like geez! They’re just trying to play games people. And you cant take gays out of figure skating! There is no figure skating without gay guys.
Westenhoefer: It’s idiotic. Even somebody living and working and creating their life in Siberia knows that the majority of guys figure skating are homosexual. Its all good. You want a gold metal? Be nice to your homos.
Kude: And what’s a better place to attract figure skaters than ice cold Russia.
Westenhoefer: It’s a really interesting thing because I’ve always thought homosexuality was an absolute necessary thing in culture to create the difference. Black doesn’t look like anything without white. You have to have both ends in all the spectrum’s. And now that were becoming, slowly, more accepted, civil rights are being passed, people are getting it, and I’m so excited about it but there’s a little teeny tiny part of me going “I don’t want us to just be normal. I hope it doesn’t mean we lose our exciting crazy artistic left of center way” that is sort of the flavor but I hope because there has always been such an intense influence, in sports especially and arts especially of gay people that you know I hope that that doesn’t matter if we are completely accepted that it wont have any effect on it. I don’t want to see gays stop doing drag.
Kude: Well I think drag is safe for now. And I think the radical queer underground will always be a little bit too much for your average normal person to totally embrace.
Westenhoefer: I don’t think it has anything as much to do with gay as it does to queer. I think I would be very sad if that went away. I think that’s what creates art. I don’t want everyone to be so homogenized and mainstream – yawn!
Kude: I totally agree with you there. Do you have any good stories about being recognized in public?
Westenhoefer: I get recognized and it was the most useful to me was a handful of years ago I got recognized at the airport in New York checking in to fly to Rome to go on a cruise I was performing on and the guy who was checking me in had just seen me on television so he bumped me to first class. THAT is how I wish it was all the time – when fame is so useful. I get recognized really randomly. I’m not Madonna, you know? I’ll just be on a plane which is the biggest one because I’m on them so often.
Kude: You’ve been doing comedy for a long time. Do you plan on continuing with it?
Westenhoefer: I think I have to! I think I’ve ruined my chance at doing anything different and I don’t have any other skills now. It’s what I do.
Kude: We are really excited to have you at Q Center and to see you perform at Mississippi Studios.
Westenhoefer: Tell all the gay guys that they need to come out to the show. They think it’s lesbian comedy and they wont enjoy it but I promise I’m way more of a fag than I am a dyke.
Buy Tickets to Suzanne’s show in Portland on Sunday, February 9th HERE and come to Q Center before the show at 5:30 for a free meet and greet with Suzanne Westenhoefer!