By Deon Brown
No Birkenstocks. No mullet. No flannel. But a whole lotta funny!
Long before Gay was “fashionable,” the lovely Suzanne Westenhoefer was entertaining audiences with her out, proud comedy. Suzanne claims the unique distinction of being the first openly Gay comic to appear on television, appearing on Late Night with David Letterman as well as Comedy Central, Logo TV and HBO where her appearance earned her a Cable Ace Award nomination in 1994.
In an already tough business, back then nobody could successfully crack the stand-up comedy circuit and be “out.” Not even Ellen.
“I’m a piece of Gay history!” she kids. “I was on Sally Jessy Raphael in 1991 and the topic was, ‘Lesbians Who Don’t Look Like Lesbians’ which is so offensive now. I know what you’re trying to say. But these jokes don’t work anymore. These are things that even sound stupid to a hip, Straight audience. It’s like ‘The Nightmares of Being Gay.’ You better have a way to say it funnier now,” Suzanne theorizes about the changing times.
When comics like Paula Poundstone, Wanda Sykes and Ellen DeGeneres were still in the closet, the stage was very small for out comedians.
“Yes. It’s extraordinary,” Suzanne remembers about her early days on the comedy circuit working as an out comic. “When I started there was only a handful of openly Gay comics. We all knew each other. And that’s in the whole country. It exploded in the late 90s and now they have Gay comedy night all over. It’s awesome! If you would’ve told me that 15 years ago I would’ve said, ‘Uhh … hmmm … you think?” Scottsdale’s Comedy Spot features a popular Gay Comedy Night about four times yearly with budding amateur and national GLBT comedians.
Society’s opinions, values and morés have affected stand-up comedy. WIth these changes Suzanne’s act is embraced by Straight audiences wherever she performs.
“They love it! I have such a great time with that. See, I don’t apologize for being Gay. I don’t say things, like, ‘I was born Gay. This isn’t a choice.’ I don’t say stuff like that. I don’t believe in that. It’s my life. I don’t care. I get feedback all the time from Straight audiences — ‘You don’t care what you say!” They love it and I like that.”
Hecklers are always an occupational hazard in stand-up. Then there are the Straight hecklers. “Yes. A Straight male with alcohol who thinks I can be ‘changed’ is not my favorite thing, Suzanne grimaces. “It’s kind of rare, now. But I’ve definitely got yelled at that I just hadn’t met the right man. I’d turn it back and say, ‘You haven’t met the right man, either, sir. I’ve got a Marine for you, buddy! He’ll whip you into shape in no time!” which they don’t like.”
Suzanne’s brash, brassy, breezy, conversational style, observations and acerbic wit is unique; her stand-up is entirely unscripted.
“It’s true. It’s the only way I know how. It’s second nature. I understand that for some people speaking for 75 to 90 minutes is a terrifying thought. For me, it’s, like, ‘Bring it on!’” she laughs.
Of course, a great audience is every comics dream. Then there’s the joke that tanks. Suzanne’s spot on humor missed with one audience, she remembers.
“I was talking about how I’m no good out in the sun because I’m so German and White and blonde—this is to a New York audience. I said, ‘Oh, you know the Germans; they burn in the sun.’ I didn’t realize what that sounded like to an audience that was probably threequarters Jewish. I got some flack,” she recounted.
Finally, we asked the funny lady, “Do you love Lucy?”
“Who doesn’t? What? That shouldn’t even be a question! Hello? Absolutely!”
“Let’s get the Gay guys to come out and see me! I love my Gay boys! C’mon Gays! ! I’m Gay!”
Get your Gay giggle on with one and only Suzanne Westenhoefer on Saturday, July 20 at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. in Tucson. For tickets call 520-740- 1000 or visit RialtoTheatre.com. She then packs up her laffs and brings them to StandUp Live, 50 W. Jefferson in Phoenix on Sunday, July 21. For your tickets call 480-719-6100