By Hal Boedeker
Comic Suzanne Westenhoefer is best known for her frank, fearless style as an openly lesbian comic.
“I talk about everything,” said the comic, who plays Orlando’s Parliament House April 14 and 15. On stage, “I have no filter. I talked about having an abortion.”
But Westenhoefer confides that she is struggling with writing a memoir and says too-high standards are holding her back.
“I need to get a place where I write and let other people judge it,” she said. She describes the book as “a handful of tablets” and “definitely in the first stages.”
Westenhoefer, 56, cites young people in the LGBTQ community as a reason to write.
“I’m concerned that the next group, the next generation in their 20s and 30s now, don’t know about what happened for us as a gay community in the ’80s,” she said, noting the AIDS crisis. “They don’t know a lot about it, and they certainly don’t know the lesbian side of it, about all the festivals that used to happen and now they’re gone. I do feel I need to tell it to get it out there so they know where they come from and why we’ve gotten some of the rights we’ve gotten.”
Westenhoefer’s bio touts that she was the first openly lesbian comedian with an HBO special. In 1991, she appeared on Sally Jessy Raphael’s daytime talk show; the topic: “Breaking the Lesbian Stereotype … Lesbians Who Don’t Look Like Lesbians.”
“I had a friend say, ‘If you never did anything after those first years, you did so much because you broke open walls and kicked down some doors and got some things started for everyone else.’ I have to be proud of that, that’s what she told me,” Westenhoefer said. “I think that’s probably right. I have to be proud of it.”
Most of the time, however, she forgets those feats. “Usually I’m going, ‘I need more work,’” she said.
How many dates does she play a year? “As many as I can, man, as many as I can,” she said.
She appears in Orlando a lot for Gay Days but her first time at Parliament House was after last June’s Pulse shooting.
“We did a fundraiser for some of the drag queens who didn’t have a place to work,” she said. “It was tough. The audience really wanted to laugh, but it was a struggle.”
Westenhoefer said she loved Parliament House’s Footlight Theatre, where she again will perform. “It’s a big complex. I realized immediately if I was a gay guy, I would have enjoyed it way more,” she said.
She tends to do personal material in her act and keep her political views to Twitter, where she is prolific and pointed. She says those firsts in her career present no pressure in performing.
“Every time I go out, my only thought is me and the audience, let’s rock, let’s do this,” she said. “I always have sneaky messages. I’ve been doing that forever, like back when it was ‘come out’ or work for AIDS awareness. I sneak in political stuff, messages. But the ultimate thing is to get people to laugh. I like it when I do jokes, and they look at each other and go, ‘That’s you.’”
She feels pressure about the book, which she has been working on for years.
“If I tell a story, it’s just in me, in my DNA,” she said. “I won’t judge it. But if I start writing it, I’m looking at it, I start judging it.”
What if she approached the book as a long tweet? “That’s good,” she said. “I’m very confident in my tweets.”
What: The comedian performs
When: 8 p.m. Friday, April 14, and Saturday, April 15
Where: Parliament House Footlight Theatre, 410 N. Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando
Tickets: $25 and up