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Comedian Kate Clinton Tells Us So!

Comedian Kate Clinton Tells Us So!

For the past eight years, the Bush administration provided iconic lesbian comedian Kate Clinton with more than ample material, but she is far from being in short supply. Clinton has been sharing her own brand of political and life experience humor since 1981. She has reflected the gay movement in her comedic mirror, using events and people to make her points.

For the past eight years, the Bush administration provided iconic lesbian comedian Kate Clinton with more than ample material. Was she worried that the change in administration would make her job entertaining audiences more difficult?

“It did cross my mind,” she says. “Bush was such an easy target and I always said that what was bad for us was good for me, but there has been plenty to talk about... I will always have the Pope and he has not disappointed... he just keeps on giving, that Pope. I have plenty of material... when in doubt you can always talk about the media's coverage of the Obama administration and the Democrats and Republicans never disappoint... I'm busy...”

In fact, Clinton was so happy to see the Bush administration end that she had a saging at the White House to remove the negative energy. “It was wonderful,” she says. “It was the night before the inauguration when the white house was still a crime scene and we met at DuPont Circle because we couldn‘t get anywhere near the White House.

“After the Rick Warren debacle [the Saddleback Church minister who supported Prop 8] it seemed like a good thing to meet in the gay heart of Washington, DC. It was a freezing cold night but 2,000 people were there and many of the lesbians, of course, brought their own sage but we handed out lots of sage sticks. We had an invocation from a rabbi… I did a version of the Catholic litany and everyone’s response was ‘hey, hey, hey, good bye’ and then we had a shaman who did a very lovely ritual and we closed it out with a great song -- We Shall not be Moved -- from a great African American friend of mine. And just at the right moment the wind shifted and all of the smoke from the sage sticks went right down to the White House… it was perfect,” Clinton adds.

A lot has changed since Clinton attended a small college in upstate New York in 1969. “I met a lot of gay activists and they weren't gay activating but were in the anti-war movement and they had great parties,” she recalls.

“From 1969 until I came out in 1978, I was in a gay resistance movement... I was resisting being gay... I actually had this series of two watercolors and a very elaborate and beautiful paper creation that I made. People said to me, 'I didn't know you did that kind of thing’ and I said, 'Yes, I call it my trying not come out series...’ I wasn't anti-gay but I was trying not to be gay in that period... before the moment you come out you are so terrified of it...

“That was my experience in that early time after Stonewall… I guess that’s a signal of how important it was because …they were doing a great job of becoming more and more visible …I remember being in a bookstore once and seeing the Lesbian Reader… I had to go to the self help section to calm down… finally, thank God, I did come out. I remember I slept with this wonderful woman and I talked to her the next day and she said, ‘Well, I told my sister…’ and I was like, you what… she said well, why not… and I was like really, why not? So in 1978 I came out into the flowering of the lesbian separatist movement…”

Clinton has been sharing her own brand of political and life experience humor since 1981 when a friend pushed her to stop talking about stand up and do it. Over the years she has reflected the gay movement in her comedic mirror, using events and people to make her points.

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“From 1978 to 1985… that is where I got my chops… I performed in coffee houses, at women’s music festivals and that’s where I got my base, which was fabulous. Then in 1985 with the AIDS crisis I joined the co-gendered gay and lesbian movement to fight AIDS.”

Clinton has appeared in films, on TV and in the theater. She has had eight comedy collections, three books, 10 national tours and four DVDs. And today she is busier than ever. Her latest book was recently published by Beacon Press in both paper and audio.

“And a lovely book it is,” Clinton says. “It’s called, I Told You So…” She is not bashful about soliciting promotional help. “I’ve told people that if the book was not there to make a big stink in their bookstore and buy it at an independent book store and then go to the larger chains and demand that they get it. And then just put it in different creative places … there are a lot of opportunities for very good creative repositioning.” 

Clinton has embraced the digital age and communicates with fans through her website. “I am absolutely stunned at just how much information spins around so fast,” she adds.

Her weekly video blog is popular with fans and Clinton herself. “It suddenly becomes show and tell around here. I’m finding hats and cutting up things to put on my glasses… it’s really fun.”

Clinton’s standup shows and hosting events continue to attract a wide age range of audiences. “I have young people in my life who keep me honest and I pick up things from them and I am old, so I think I know the audience. I also think we are really doing a lot to have a web presence and being on Logo on a regular basis really brings in a different audience as well. Years and years ago, [actress, comedian] Lily Tomlin said to me, ‘Just keep bringing everybody along… do all kinds of different things.’ I do a lot of emceeing of dinners. I do shows. I am on the radio. I get on television as much as I can and you just keep bringing along new audiences.”

The flurry of gay marriage-related initiatives across the county has provided ample material for Clinton, although she was not surprised by the Prop 8 outcome. “A couple of my friends are plaintiffs in the case and they were in the court when Shannon Minter [Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights]tried to represent our side and was constantly interrupted. And then Ken Starr, on the other side, got up and he lectured and was condescending for an hour and they were just like… it’s lost… so I wasn’t surprised but I was surprised at how angry I still was even after knowing it was going to happen… I was in San Francisco for the National Center for Lesbian Rights dinner and the difference between seeing it last year, which was just happy mayhem when it opened that little window when 18,000 couples could get married, and now was stunning… I felt like my job was buck them up and get ready for another fight.”

Clinton takes heart in the actions of some of the smaller states. “Iowa has a long tradition of proudly progressive -- they gave women the right to vote as a state before federal did. They battled and fought and argued and they abolished slavery in their state… it was a  great choice and it was a three-year campaign… very brilliantly targeted change.”

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Clinton says there are a number of powerful lesbians who are influential in today’s fight for equal rights. “I happen to live with one… my girlfriend, Urvashi Vaid, is really doing some wonderful work at the Arcus Foundation, which she runs, which gives away money to help LGBT civil rights nationally and internationally. Another powerful lesbian is definitely Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin … she has so much integrity… just so outspoken in the House of Representatives. I think Rachel Maddow just being a lesbian on television and people are in love with her… men love her and women love her… it’s fabulous.”

Despite her really busy schedule, Clinton does find time to relax and one of her favorite things to do is to take a walk in Provincetown, Mass., with her long-time girlfriend. “I do make her laugh and that’s a good thing… 21 years later that’s not a bad thing.”

What makes Clinton laugh? “Wanda Sykes at the White House correspondent’s dinner makes me really laugh… she was courageous and funny …  she was wonderful… and Obama made me laugh … they were wonderful jokes and he delivers them beautifully, proving there is nothing he can’t do. And Jon Stewart got me through the election and the primary season and also the three-year-old girl across the hall makes me cry. We went over for dessert to their apartment and she got whacked out on sugar and we just started laughing and it was heaven… That’s a tough audience… without tickling them, if you can make them laugh you’re doing good.”

And if she got stuck in the center seat on a cross country flight, she would like to be flanked by Sykes and activist and Ms. Magazine founder Gloria Steinem. “That would be fun. Gloria is very, very funny… When she first moved to New York she was actually a writer on a show called That Was the Week That Was.”

Clinton has no plans to hang up her comedy career. “I did retire when I retired from high school English teaching after eight years, so this has been my freelance retirement. I just hope to keep doing it as long as I can. The key is planning your energy… I think of it as a marathon and not a sprint. I hope to be 90 and be like the George Burns of comedy… the cranky old lesbian.

“I like what I do… I am very grateful that I have this job. I could have been a CPA… not really… but I love making people laugh. I think enjoying that is contagious. I mean that in a good way… we are in such a spin with the economy… people turn to comedians, so I am in a great place. I love what I do. I am honored to have been a part of the gay movement and I’m just happy that I can make people think and laugh at the same time.

Check Clinton’s appearance schedule on her website. 
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