[Comedy] No Secrets for Lesbian Comic | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

[Comedy] No Secrets for Lesbian Comic

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When stand-up comic Suzanne Westenhoefer performs at New Stage Theatre on Friday, it will be her first performance in Mississippi. As she talks to me on the phone from her Hollywood home, she explains how excited she is to be coming to Jackson for a show.

"I don't know what to expect," she says with a laugh. "I just hope that we all laugh for 90 minutes and have a good time."

Westenhoefer grew up in a small Pennsylvania river town. She loves being the center of attention so she decided to get her BFA in acting at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. After graduation, she moved to New York City and became a bartender.

On a dare, she entered a comedy contest in the West Village at a well-known cabaret. She won first prize and began to pursue stand up comedy.

Westenhoefer, who is a lesbian, never liked the idea of hiding who she was in her comedy. Fourteen years ago, she was the only openly gay comic doing stand-up in front of straight audiences. "I've always promoted myself as an openly gay comic—that's the whole point," she says.

Westenhoefer explains that being open about her sexuality is an attempt to help the culture move forward. "In an obnoxious hallmark kind of way, you want to change the world and I feel strongly about that," she says.

Times have changed for the better since her early shows in New York, when she was performing gay comedy to straight audiences in popular clubs. Some clubs banned her as soon as they heard she was a lesbian. In clubs that did let her perform, she felt she had to be "super-gay" all of the time, and she sometimes had to explain "homosexual" jokes to her audience.

However, with an increasing number of openly gay comics, along with television shows and movies, Westenhoefer says the atmosphere today is much more relaxed. She can rap about her girlfriend, day-to-day lesbian experiences and even politics without causing an uproar.

"It seemed like the gay community was in the same place for 1,500 years throughout the '80s and '90s. Now change has happened fast," she says.

The gay community is evolving everywhere—even right here in Jackson. Ten years ago, it would have been difficult for a lesbian comedian to do a show here. "In Southern states such as Mississippi, I think that there are more liberal people than people care to admit," she says. She explains that in areas where conservatives predominate, most people just fall in line with that "obnoxious" crowd and pretend to bat for their team.

Despite her candor about her sexual orientation, Westenhoefer stresses that her shows are not geared toward a homosexual audience. In fact, she finds it particularly satisfying when heterosexuals can see themselves in her stories.

For example, when a man observes that he isn't the only one to get mad at his girlfriend for leaving the top off the toothpaste, or a straight woman can relate to Westenhoefer's stories about her mother.

"Just because I'm a lesbian comedian doesn't make this a lesbian event," she says.

As Westenhoefer continues to tour the nation with her comedy, her career is advancing in other ways. This spring, she stars in a new version of the classic game show for the Game Show Network, "I've Got a Secret." Westenhoefer will be a permanent panelist on the game show, which will air every night at 11 p.m.

Suzanne Westenhoefer performs at New Stage Theatre on Friday, Feb. 24 at 8 p.m. $25. 601-948-3533.

Previous Comments

ID
84468
Comment

I *so* would like to see this comic Friday night -- but I have to talk to young girls in Forest. (!) But I do highly recommend that others head out to hear Suzanne. She's supposed to be great, and it's one more step forward for Jackson's cultural diversity. You know, I was having a conversation with someone tonight after the Reza Aslan lecture (simply *amazing*) about how Jackson is quickly becoming one of the more progressive and exciting cultural cities in the country. We are just exploding with ideas and enthusiasm for diverse ideas right now. I simply cannot imagine being any place else.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-02-23T01:05:13-06:00
ID
84469
Comment

I know what you mean! I was talking to someone in Boulder, CO today. He's from Kentucky & when I said I was in Jackson he was like, "too bad for you." I smiled and told him I LOVE LOVE LOVE it here. He's missing out. Cheers for New Stage and for diversity in JAckson. Love it.

Author
Izzy
Date
2006-02-24T15:38:57-06:00
ID
84470
Comment

just want to say Suzanne's show was HILARIOUS and a great crowd laughed a lot. thanks to the folks who brought her here...

Author
Izzy
Date
2006-02-25T10:26:41-06:00
ID
84471
Comment

Oh, I'm happy to hear she had a good crowd. My friend Jenni Smith (a JFP Young Influential) put it together, and I know she was biting her nails. Cheers! (The Forest event was great, too. I met lots of cool mothers and daughters. So I hated to miss Suzanne, but it was for a good reason!)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-02-25T10:44:36-06:00
ID
84472
Comment

that sounds fun (the Forest event, I mean). Suzanne was just so hilarious. The laughter was coming fast and furious. I just enjoyed it so much.

Author
Izzy
Date
2006-02-25T11:05:30-06:00
ID
84473
Comment

Thank You, Jenni Smith for making this show happen. Great job! When I told a few of my straight friends that I was going to see this show, they gave me strange looks. Those looks disturb me. It bothers me that most people are not open to any kind of alternative stuff. What are they scared of??? Suzanne was funny! I had not heard of her until I read the article in the JFP. Seemed like a great opportunity so my husband and I went. We laughed 80% of the time. Did we feel a little out of place in a mostly gay/lesbian crowd? Yea, for about five minutes and then we shrugged it off. So, yes, we are making progress with diversity and also, I look forward to the day when the audiences at alternative type events become diversified too. This will make life richer for all of us. Until then, my husband and I will keep going to any event that appeals to us, no matter who the target audience might be. We love a wide variety of entertainment. (On another note.....Last month we went to the Rhythm and Bold Showcase at 88 Keys in Metrocenter. There was one other white woman in the audience and African Americans made up the rest of the crowd. So, again, there was five minutes of feeling out of place and then, we got past it and remembered why were there. To have fun! If you want to hear some great readings of original poetry, check out this very classy, monthly event.) and Thank You, JFP, for spreading the word about these great opportunities! BKS

Author
BKS
Date
2006-02-26T09:38:18-06:00
ID
84474
Comment

Until then, my husband and I will keep going to any event that appeals to us, no matter who the target audience might be. We love a wide variety of entertainment. Good fo you, BKS! You definitely get it. I can't even imagine limiting my entertainment and cultural outings to things I am already used to, or people who are just like me. BOR-ING. There was one other white woman in the audience and African Americans made up the rest of the crowd. I am often in this situation, and it made me uncomfortable too in the beginning. But I realized that this is exactly what white people think that other people should be comfortable with -- being the minority -- but we never think we should be uncomfortable. That's just weird when you think about it. Get out there, and get past your discomfort level. What waits on the other side is a beautiful thing.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-02-26T10:47:23-06:00
ID
84475
Comment

BKS, it may seem odd but I, as a gay man, felt a little out of place at Suzanne... Not enough to bother me though... But the lesbian turnout was pretty impressive in a city/state that has a barely organized gay community. I also laughed for most of the show and think many straight and gay people would have enjoyed it. Her jabs at Tom Cruise, Scientology and even fundamentalists really cracked me up! Her stories about her fundamentalist sister always finding ways to work in "you're going to hell" really hit home in a state where that attitude is all to common. On a side note, I'm trying to bring the comedian ANT to town as a fundraiser for OUToberfest 2006. He's hilarious and on many shows like VH1's "Celebrity Fit Club" and NBC's "Last Comic Standing". This city/state could certainly use a little more comedy -- gay or straight! Laughter is a great tool for uniting communities and even healing old wounds. Too bad Margaret Cho charges $30,000 or we'd have had her here last year! BTW, I think my friend is part of the producers of the gig at 88 Keys. I've been meaning to go but have been too consumed with my painting to do much else lately... Somehow I did manage to pull myself away long enough to see Westenhoefer. Will have to do the same for 88 Keys!

Author
kaust
Date
2006-02-26T11:26:31-06:00
ID
84476
Comment

How crowded was it, Knol? Same with me. I really love going to an event where I'm in the minority. It really helps my perspective, I think. And it's a wonderful feeling of support.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-02-26T11:53:51-06:00
ID
84477
Comment

Probably a little over 200. To be honest with you, I don't think it was enough to cover all costs associated the performance and venue. After speaking with the primary backer, she was a little disheartened. Not only was turnout weak among "the gays" (considering a Saturday night at the gay bar has far more than 200 gay men), there was a surprisingly small amount of straight people at the performance. Too bad for them... It was exactly what I needed to unwind from the week and getting out of the winter duldrums. This city's too damn fickle if you ask me. This is why we barely have big bands/concerts and why festivals like Jubilee Jam are having to downsize. There's only so much money people are willing to risk as "investment" and explains why many people I've known move to develop productions/art/music/etc. I think if we had more of a comedy scene or more of an organized gay community, the show would have been a financial success. Still, kudos to the person willing to take the risk because I thoroughly enjoyed the show! She's one of my new favorite people in this city!

Author
kaust
Date
2006-02-26T12:31:48-06:00
ID
84478
Comment

P.S., if there are any LGBT comedians reading this, shoot me an email: knol.aust AT unityms.org

Author
kaust
Date
2006-02-26T12:33:21-06:00
ID
84479
Comment

Well, the truth is that 200 is a great number considering how new this kind of show is here. But I understand the financial side of things, too. Make sure that show organizers know in the future to approach us well in advance about sponsorships of this kind of show, so we can start getting the word out really early. We could also offer specials to the Lounge List, which is the most going-ist crowd of people in the city. And every gay man in town who did not turn out to support this ought to be spanked. ;-)

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-02-26T12:36:45-06:00
ID
84480
Comment

When I looked back to see how many seats were filled at this show, I was pleasantly surprised. I thought it was a good size crowd for an alternative event. (Also, I get the financial part too and I'm sorry that it was a disappointment to the organizer. ) It was also nice that we were allowed to bring our drinks into the seating area of the theatre...gosh, like real grown ups! (even though the sound of tipped over beer bottles got a little annoying toward the end of the show...) (Wouldn't it be great too see New Stage become a venue for all kinds of great acts?...) I'd love to see more comedy acts roll into Jackson. Maybe with more promotion and positive buzz about acts that do come in, things will pick up and become profitable in one way for another for everyone involved. Knol, best of luck to you with bringing in Ant. I checked out his website. Looks great! Definitely something to look forward to! BKS

Author
BKS
Date
2006-02-26T13:13:02-06:00
ID
84481
Comment

BKS, remember to come to the Monday night film series if you're not already. (You probably are.) We really need to support those, too. We already think that all of our (your, really) recent efforts' at indie film here (which, remember, great out of the F911 petition!) is getting the suburban theaters to bring more indie film. We have to show the market for them.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2006-02-26T13:19:23-06:00
ID
84482
Comment

From a financial perspective, the problem with venues such as New Stage: a) They charge around $1000 for the space, b) require special event insurance (anywhere from $400+ for a single event), and c) charge for manpower (in addition to the rental fee). So, a producer is looking at spending $1500 just to secure the facility. Then you must factor in artist costs... Most any comedian featured on television will charge $5000+. You may be able to work a deal but usually it's simply a discount not nearing 1/2 their normal cost. You must also consider room and board as well as transportation. So, in theory, you're looking at spending between $7000 and $10,000 to get the venue secured, the artist here, lodged and fed, and the performance... Math says you must get around 300 people at $25 to attend just to break even. We haven't even considered the cost of flyers and any advertising that may be done using area media outlets. And those figures are for someone willing to cut a deal and someone in the $5000 price range... Don't get me started on acts like Margaret Cho ($30,000), the B-52' ($125,000), and KD Lang ($75,000) -- all of which I've approached with non-profit credentials and charity in mind... You'd have to get over 5000 people to pay $25 just to pay for the B-52's performance cost. And I'm not talking about people like Madonna or Kanye or any of the other artists flashing on MTV. So, I can see why outsiders aren't making their way through Jackson and why promoters and producers aren't willing to take the risk these days on "big name" performances. The problem is the community is not predictable... Fickle, they are. It's like gambling with a slot machine... It's all chance and when you're talking $10,000 with no corporate sponsors, you're betting a good chunk of money when it's probably easier to drive to NOLA or Memphis to see the act. You know, I just find it sad that 200 people is considered successful for ANY type of event featuring an internationally-known artist. In a city of 170,000+ and a metro area nearing 500,000 and all the surrounding colleges within a 2hr drive, 200 is weak from a population perspective. Like I said, you can go to the gay bar on a Saturday night and bump into over 200 people. Hell, you can go somewhere like Headliners and rub elbows with what I'd guess to be 600-1000 people on some nights (for a cover band or a mediocre DJ that simply plays CDs with little or no mixing skills).

Author
kaust
Date
2006-02-26T13:54:07-06:00
ID
84483
Comment

"This city's too damn fickle if you ask me." I think this applies to many parts of Mississippi, as well. Many people would rather bitch and moan about stuff instead of actually supporting anything. And, the grass is greener everywhere else. Nobody's harder on Mississippi than Mississippians.

Author
millhouse
Date
2006-02-26T18:20:27-06:00
ID
84484
Comment

I am sure that everyone thought that Thalia Mara was insane when she started talking about bringing the IBC to Jackson but she held true to her vision and now the IBC is a successful event. Knol, I appreciate you pointing out the details on the $$ perspective and making it all more real...and also, I hate to see us throw up our hands and remain defeated because it has been a stuggle so far. Things can change! Yes, especially here. I have to believe that. BKS

Author
BKS
Date
2006-02-26T18:36:30-06:00
ID
84485
Comment

Millhouse, my colleague from Minnesota said the same exact thing... "Nobody's harder on Mississippi than Mississippians." Everyone sees it but Mississippians mostly. BKS, I'm not throwing my hands in the air! I'm all about seeing minority/alternative communities and the community at large grow and flourish in Mississippi -- for once. It's very possible and I think most know there will be some setbacks. Things are changing... Slowly. Still, they are changing.

Author
kaust
Date
2006-02-27T08:21:46-06:00

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