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September 15, 2010

Comedy: The radical Kate Clinton

Legendary comedian is keynote speaker for U of L Pride Week

Kate Clinton is a workhorse. After nearly 30 years on the comedy circuit, you think she’d take a break — at least long enough to drum up some new material. But Clinton admits she never has a shortage of things to say — as long as there are newspapers for her to pore over, her sharp wit will continue to cut through the bullshit. Clinton has written books, maintains a blog that features weekly videos, Tweets, Facebooks, writes for the Huffington Post, The Progressive and The Advocate, and appears regularly as a political panelist on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span and more. She’s long been the voice for lesbian activism and comedy, and she believes that the more the LGBT community inserts itself into public discussion, the more our voices will be acknowledged. “The basic thing for all the states that haven’t gotten marriage equality — it’s all about people coming out. The more visible we are, the harder it is to deny how fabulous we are,” she said recently at a fundraiser in New Mexico.

Clinton will be here Thursday, Sept. 23, as the keynote speaker for U of L’s Pride Week. Her show is billed “Lady Ha Ha Does Louisville,” so expect a little envelope pushing from the feminist comedian.

LEO: You’ve never shied away from political issues. What keeps you at it?
Kate Clinton: I guess it’s the morning ritual of reading The New York Times with my girlfriend. Originally it was about coffee for me, I cannot tell a lie. Then it became kind of a contact sport — either one of us pounding on the paper. My partner is wonderfully political and has always said to me, “Your show is too long, and you need more politics.” So, it’s not just to please her, but it certainly is an interest of mine, and I’d love to change the world. Everybody has to do what they can do.

LEO: What’s your take on this backlash against Obama?
KC: I think it’s a problem of expectations — they were raised so high that no one human could possibly meet them. I think a lot of that vote was certainly for Obama, but it was also against Bush and the eight years we had — although it doesn’t seem like people remember that. I think we have to keep in mind the incredible constant blockade of the Republicans. They don’t want him to succeed. In other days, people who were against the government and wanted it to fail, we used to call them seditious traitors, but now they’re somehow patriots.

LEO: You’re speaking at U of L’s Pride Week — what’s your advice for a young person coming out?
KC: I think that it’s probably the healthiest thing I’ve ever done. It isn’t like when I came out and there was no language and there was no acceptance — certainly not in the Catholic church. I think younger and younger people are coming out. I don’t think the actual moment of coming out is that easy still. I think we’re all working toward that moment when a middle school kid thinks he or she is gay, and their next thought is not suicide. I think we’re a wonderful, viable, sexy community.

LEO: What was the environment like when you first started performing as a lesbian comedian in the early ’80s?
KC: From ’81 to about ’85, I was playing for mostly a lesbian audience. And then in ’85, with the epidemic of AIDS, it became more of lesbians and gay men working together. And then when Clinton came along in the ’90s, he seemed like he had gay friends, he could say “gay and lesbian” without spitting up — so more and more people came out. I guess this is the way it goes in a movement — the radicals are the people who kick the door open, and the conservatives walk through and yell at the people for kicking doors. We’re pretty much on track as far as a civil rights movement goes.

LEO: Did you ever receive backlash for being an out comedian?
KC: I didn’t really, because I pretty much chose my venues. I had some standards — I didn’t ever play in a room with a mechanical bull, for example. It just didn’t seem like a recipe for success.

LEO: If you could grant one wish for the LGBT community, what would it be?
KC: Free drugs! No, full moral equality, how’s that?

LEO: Gay marriage in Kentucky — a long shot?
KC: Well, probably. Iowa — hello. Iowa shows that it can be done. That was a targeted, three-year state plan that had wonderful on-the-ground organizers who knew who was against gay marriage in the legislature and who knew who had to be talked do. I don’t think it’s at all impossible in Kentucky — I think it just takes a real group of people who are organizers and will not give up. And there are people in Kentucky like that.

LEO: Are you looking forward to your stop in Kentucky?
KC: I got one of my biggest compliments in Kentucky. I did a show in Lexington and went out afterward to grab a bite to eat, and there was a woman who had been at the show — she walked out of the restaurant, clapped me on the back and said, “Kate Clinton, you made me want to fuck again.” I said, “Well, that is the best compliment I’ve ever gotten, but I can’t print it anywhere … but thank you.”

Kate Clinton
Thursday, Sept. 23
Comstock Hall
U of L School of Music
2301 S. Third St. • 852-0696
$5; 7 p.m.