Lesbian Comic Kristin Key Is Out and Proud on NBC's Bring the Funny
Lesbian Comic Kristin Key Is Out and Proud on NBC's 'Bring the Funny'
"I'm so proud of my material, not because it’s better than what anybody else is doing, but because this is mine," the Texas-born comedian tells PRIDE.
If you haven't caught up on NBC's new comedy show Bring the Funny, tonight would be a good time to tune in. Comedian and singer/songwriter Kristin Key is taking the stage, and her musical-comedy act will be relatable AF for any queer person who grew up in conservative America.
Hosted by celebrity comedians Amanda Seales, Kenan Thompson, Jeff Foxworthy, and Chrissy Teigen, Bring the Funny is basically America's Got Talent for standup comedy. Forty undiscovered stand-up, variety, and sketch comedy acts compete for the biggest laughs and a chance to take home a $250,000 grand prize, plus an invitation to perform at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal.
Kristin Key grew up as the daughter of a conservative Christian minister in Amarillo, Texas. She got into comedy at age 19 when she signed up for Open Mic Night at a local comedy club. In 2006 she auditioned for Last Comic Standing in Austin, and went on to make it into the final six out of thousands of contestants. She now lives in Los Angeles with her wife and gets a lot of inspiration from being a Texas native working in liberal Hollywood.
PRIDE got a chance to see her perform at a Bring the Funny press event last month, and talked to her ahead of tonight's episode about how coming out of the closet has changed her comedy career.
PRIDE: You've mentioned in some of your standup routines that you came out of the closet at age 15, but then changed your mind and went back in. What’s the story behind that?
Kristin Key: I came out when I was in high school, and my dad's a conservative Christian minister. To put it mildly, it did not go well. I lost a lot of friends, my church kicked me out, I dropped out of high school and moved out of my house. And that seemed like too much, so I took it back, and went back in the closet for the next 15-20 years, and then I came out again when I was about 35. It’s been a lot better this time around.
When you went back in the closet, were you trying to convince yourself that you weren't gay, or were you just hiding it from other people?
I went through stages of denial. In the beginning I was just trying not to be gay. Because I was raised so Christian, I tried to pray it away, because that’s what I’d been taught. I thought if I asked God enough it would be taken away. That didn’t work, and then I just tried hiding it. I was gay in private, and all my best friends always knew. In my inner circle I was always out, but in my larger life I wasn’t. There were people who were like ‘Oh, I always knew,’ and I’m like ‘That’s not being out.’ I wasn’t out on stage for sixteen of the nineteen years I’ve been a standup comedian.
Is it hard to create comedy in that situation?
It shut down my entire personal life. The things that make me me, I thought were all off limits. When I censored that big part of my life, I put everything else in the closet with it. If I wasn't valuable enough to be honest with myself, I didn’t think any of those things were worth talking about either. It’s stunning how much self-censoring I did because of being in the closet.
When I finally did come out of the closet, I talked about my life as a gay woman—I don’t come out on stage because I don’t have to, I just talk about me. I talked about crocheting and I talked about how much I like cats. It opened up so many other doors.
Now that you’ve moved from Texas to Los Angeles and gotten married, what’s your relationship to the gay scene in Hollywood?
I don’t know. What’s funny is my wife and I have been together for thirteen years, married for six, and we went to our first Pride together in Philadelphia last year. I’ve been to Pride a couple times when I was a teenager, and then I just stopped going when I was in the closet, because I had gay shame. It’s interesting that now both of us have so much more gay Pride now that we understand what it means, having come out again.
Our gay community is small, it’s just our intimate friends. I’m in touch with the bigger gay community because I talk about who I am on stage. Honestly, I don’t know how I plug into the LA gay scene. I know a few other gay comics, and I’ll get together with them, but I don’t know what that means.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions that people in LA have about Texas, and vice versa?
The misconception that goes both ways is that everybody is the way that you see one person in that place. Texas is made up of a variety of mindsets and people, and some of the people that I met and encountered weren’t gay friendly, but a lot of people in Texas are. And a lot of people that stay in Texas are fighting really hard for the gay community. With California, people ask me when I go back to Texas, 'Are people in California weird?' I don’t know what that means, but not everybody is that one person that you have in your head. It’s such a mixed bag.
Which comedians have inspired you throughout your life?
When I was a teenager, I had a TV Guide magazine and a People magazine, and one had Rosie [O’Donnell] on it and one had Ellen [DeGeneres] on it. I had them on a cork board in my closet, because I couldn’t show my parents. Both of them represented what I thought you could be as a woman. And any female standup, like Wanda Sykes, Rosie, Ellen, Paula Poundstone, these are women that got up there and talked not like women talked back in those days.
Most people who grew up watching comedy in Middle America are well acquainted with Jeff Foxworthy and his "you might be a redneck" jokes. What’s it like being on a show with him?
Jeff Foxworthy was a staple in my house. I got a Jeff Foxworthy cassette tape from a roadside truck stop in my twenties and played it in my car. He’s hilarious, he’s a great joke writer. I think he’s the top selling comedian of all time, as far as albums.
I grew up on Foxworthy, and I remember watching Kenan Thompson in The Mighty Ducks, and Chrissy Teigen I got turned on to because my wife follows her on Instagram. She would always tell me, ‘You’ve got to hear what she’s saying online, she’s incredible and funny and a good mom.’
How does being on Bring the Funny compare to competing in Last Comic Standing, and other experiences early in your career?
I think this is the first time I’ve actually gotten to be proud of the material I’m putting out. When I was on Last Comic Standing I got a lucky break, [but] I was still in the closet. I feel like I was kind of a sad clown, I drank a lot, and I was never really thrilled about comedy because I saw people doing these amazing bits that I felt like wasn’t allowed to do, because I couldn’t talk about me.
This time around, I’m so proud of my material, not because it’s better than what anybody else is doing, but because this is mine. I can finally talk about myself, I can talk about my wife, I can talk about my whole life. I’m happy that I get to be proud of what I’m putting out there because it’s mine, and be comfortable in my skin on TV, not worried the entire time that someone might think I’m gay.
Do you think comedy has come a long way in being inclusive for queer women?
I’ve seen more women that are comfortable enough in their own skin to have short haircuts, despite how many people are going to say ‘You look masculine,’ and not care. It means a lot to me, a thirtysomething woman, and I know how much it means to little girls. Because when I was a little girl I didn’t see hardly anyone with short hair. I didn’t know what I could grow up to be, I didn’t know that I could have a wife. Little girls today can see women who are proud of their hair and proud to have wives, and know you can have that someday and it’s okay, you’re not broken. That means a lot to me.
Bring the Funny airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on NBC!