Comedian Kristen Becker is no stranger to hard work. Her do-it-yourself approach to performing, producing shows, and teaching stand-up courses has helped the city of Buffalo become a contender in the comedy scene.
Upon the release of her first live comedy album titled, How Could She, Becker chats with SheWired about the importance of being out as a performer and winning over the approval of fellow Buffalo legend, Ani DiFranco.
SheWired: You were born in the Rust Belt of Buffalo and raised in the Bible Belt of Louisiana. How did that shape your career as a lesbian comedian?
Kristen Becker: They are two completely different cultures, that’s for sure. And I love them both equally. I’ve always said if I could find the place with the equality of the North with the hospitality of the South that would be where I would live. The northern culture can be very rude and aggressive at times, but I can legally marry my fiancé. Down south, your neighbors will bring over a pie, but they’re not sure if you should raise children. I keep my old Louisiana drivers license in my wallet, just in case I get pulled over down south. I think I believe it will let them know that I’m one of them.
Was it difficult to talk about your sexuality onstage in the early days?
I was absolutely determined to not be gay onstage. I probably said, “What does being gay have to do with wanting to be a comedian?” about a hundred times. Looking back, I realize that I had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. The most important thing (other than being funny) is to know who you are and be OK with it. Audiences can smell fear on you, and ultimately, there has to be some trust between you and the audience for the whole thing to work. Once I was a bit more experienced in life and onstage, I realized that I look super gay. I wasn’t fooling anyone. It seemed like everyone got weird because they’d spent the first five minutes of my set trying to figure out if I knew I was gay. Once I started the Dykes of Hazard show, it just made sense. I got to try the real me out on a welcoming audience first. What started as a “gay thing” has become pretty mainstream, and I have grown as a performer.
You’re giving Ani DiFranco a run for her money on putting Buffalo on the map for lesbians. Tell me about the Dykes of Hazard variety show that you host at her establishment, Babeville.
Wow. That’s quite the compliment. I have always admired Ani’s approach to her industry, and I think there is no denying that I absorbed a bit of her DIY attitude and am trying to apply it to comedy. The Dykes of Hazard Variety Hour was just a natural progression for me as an entertainer and as a producer. When I started the tour in 2006, it was just me and two other lesbian comics. At the time, there were no other gay tours that I could find. It made sense to me to put a tour together to bring to these small bars. Anywhere that had a drag show usually had a microphone and that was all we needed. Not long after that, queer themed tours started popping up everywhere, and in an effort to stay ahead of the curve, we tried to mix it up. We added a burlesque dancer for a few legs of the tour. Today, the show consists of dance, stand up, sketch comedy, burlesque and live music. I have a blast hosting it, and we are starting to take it on the road here and there.
Is Ani a fan?
I honestly don’t know. I would like to think Ani is a fan, but who wouldn’t, right? I’ve had the awesome opportunity of opening a couple of her shows, and I have seen her laughing in the wings. If you’re a little DIY dyke comic and you look left and Ani is fucking laughing — you pee a little.
If Buffalo is becoming a training ground for new talent, then you’re the coach. You produce several local shows and teach comedy courses. How has the city progressed in your opinion?
I’m really proud of what is happening in Buffalo. There is a younger generation staying here, not moving away. I’ve always believed that the people of Buffalo, who have been the butt of jokes for so long, are just naturally funny. You have to have a decent sense of humor to live through decades of economic depression. The city itself is rising, and the comics now have had a stage for almost six years, and it is really starting to show. There are some great comics finding their voice in this city.
What prompted you to take such an active role to develop other comedians?
When I came back to Buffalo after living in New Orleans, I thought I would only be here a year and then be off to NYC. But then I saw a need here. I started an open mike because I needed a room to work out material in. At the time, there were so few “comics” or even people interested that I used to import some of my Toronto buddies every week, Then, the interest spread and I realized we were on to something. As far as the classes go, I don’t believe I can make someone funny, but I do believe that some people just need a little extra preparation, and that is what the class offers. I also felt like a class would be a way to fast track building a real “scene” here. As of right now the Tuesday night open mike is six years old, and there are three other weekly open mikes plus showcases in Buffalo. My Doin’ Time comedy show is usually booked three to four weeks in advance. No more importing people to fill time (though the stage is a favorite of a lot of Toronto and NYC comics that are passing through), and that makes me very happy!
You just released your very first comedy album. What can we expect to hear? Can you give us a sample?
Because it’s my first CD, I thought I should go back through the last 10 years and pick out some of the best bits, those that were timeless and not dated and throw them all together with some newer stuff. As soon as it was recorded, I felt really good inside. Like, “there.” I now have a record of the last 10 years of my life and can move on to lots of writing and new jokes!
You’re also getting hitched. Congratulations. Any tips keeping the romance alive?
Thanks! I’m super excited; my lady is quite the gal. As far as advice, I would say don’t be boring. I think that is really it. Don’t cheat, don’t lie and bring her flowers.