by Jessica Carreras
Comedian Rene Hicks has survived cancer – and she thinks it’s hilarious. The out San Franciscan calls her previous job as an accountant “way worse.” Hicks – who performed at the Triangle Foundation Comedy Fest three years ago – will be cracking jokes about the insanity of life at Affirmations community center in Ferndale on July 17 as the unofficial kickoff to Detroit’s 2009 Hotter Than July black gay pride celebration. Just don’t expect her to stick around for the half-naked parade.
You claim on your Web site that we need more laughter in the world. Why does Detroit need more laughter?
That’s like a no brainer. First of all, you’re under pressure, you’re under stress with the economy and especially in the Detroit area with people losing their jobs. I mean, you really need to have humor in that part because it’s free. You don’t have to pay for it. Yeah, you can go out to a comedy club or an event, but you can just do it at home.
Any time things are tight in the whole country – but especially a particular region – you have to have some laughs and find some things to bring back the reality of being a human being and all that entails. Having a good feeling inside yourself because, man, oh man, it’s either that or kill people. I tell people all the time that I’m a very intense person and God gave me this sense of humor because if not, I would kill people. I would kill them for the least little thing. I’m intense. I mean, I hate people who litter. So if there were people littering, I would just take ’em out, one by one. So you have to be able to find things to laugh at in this world in general because it’s so disconnected and so speeding by that you need find some time to laugh for yourself and share some laughter with some people.
You’ve run marathons, you’ve survived cancer and you’ve even worked as an accountant. What’s your advice to people who are downtrodden to stay positive and keep going?
As long as you’re in the game, you have a chance. But if you’re not in the game and you’re not engaged, you don’t have a chance. What else are you going to do? You can’t sit on the sidelines because nobody else is going to do it for you. You have to find those things in your life that help you to stay engaged and stay motivated to get things done. It’s always about trying to find balance, and I think as human beings, we are not good at finding balance. We’re good as escaping. And laughter can be an escape and sometimes we need it – but you’ve still gotta go to work and you still have to do the things you need to do. But you always know within yourself that you have that power of laughter and that can come along at any time.
Your show is something to laugh at – and it’s the unofficial kickoff to our black gay pride celebration. As a black lesbian, what are you most proud of?
I don’t really see my life like that – compartmentalized. I’m one of those people who doesn’t really like labels. I am what I am. People are always asking me, “What do you think of yourself as a woman? What do you think of yourself as a lesbian? What do you think of yourself as a black woman?” I’m just not like that. Sure, I talk about being black, I talk about being a lesbian – I talk about a lot of things, but it’s all NayNay. I am not all that big on Pride parades because I think they have lost the meaning of what they were meant to be in the beginning. They’re just one big party, which is fine. But for me, I’m much more into what it represents. Is it helping us to get someplace? Visibility is one thing, but often at San Francisco Pride, I tell people 50 million times, you want to show pride, you want to say that there’s a parallel between the gay movement and the civil rights movement, but you need to just look at the marches. There’s no similarity. I don’t think Martin Luther King was ever on a float in some black leather chaps with his member hanging out, swinging it and flinging it, saying, “Yeah I’m proud.” No. It’s not that way. Visibility is one thing, but how you’re visible and how you appear is another thing that I don’t think Pride parades have gotten a handle on. So that’s not my thing. I’m proud to be who I am and to do the things that I do. I’m much more proud about what is to come, what can come, what can be.
But some straight people really need to put some clothes on, too, right?
Oh no, I’m down for that too. I talk about that; I talk about these singers and actresses who come out without any clothes on. I mean, it’s crazy. I was watching the Michael Jackson memorial and Mariah Carey comes out in a black dress but it’s like, cleavaged out. It’s like, where’s the respect here? It’s like an inch and a half of cleavage and breast showing. My god, Michael Jackson wouldn’t have been interested so you can’t be doing it in his honor. I mean come on, is that the only black dress you have? It’s a funeral, Mariah! OK, we know you love your tits. I got that, I know that – but it’s a funeral! It’s disrespectful. And that’s what girls see and want to emulate. I’m about that all around. If you’re at home, fine. But I’m one of those people where I’d rather see a beautiful woman with clothes on and imagine myself taking them off as opposed to just oh, there it is and I don’t need to imagine what it might look like. It’s nice to have somebody you’re involved with and have people go, “Mm, she’s nice” but you don’t want people to go, “Oh, she’s nice” and get specific. There’s a certain place for certain things.
And a funeral’s not one of them?
No. A funeral – it’s Michael Jackson! Come on! That was just insane. She was like, the first singing act and she’s singing “I’ll Be There” and I’m thinking, “Damn, your tits are there. That’s for sure.”
(Laughs) Enough about Mariah’s boobs. Now, I know you have a book coming out about using laughter to help overcome cancer, as you did when you had lung cancer. How’s that coming along?
Well, I have this idea of contacting people and soliciting instances where people have dealt with cancer either as a patient, caregiver, family member, partner, friend – just in general, who have experienced laughter being uplifting and healing to them. I want people to know when they read it that it’s not just because I’m a comic. At the time (I had cancer), I was not operating as a comic. I was operating as a cancer patient when the writing started. So it was a coping mechanism for me because I could not perform. I want people to know that this happens to everybody. I don’t want them to think, “Oh it’s just Rene because she’s funny” and that’s why it works, but that it works across the board. I also want to show that laughter is universal. We all, no matter what differences we have or barriers – even language – we all laugh in the same language. I want people to know the universality of laughter as well as the universality of cancer. Those are two things that do not discriminate. So I want to get a good representation of people – men, women, black, white, straight, gay – whatever, and different cancers. So I have been soliciting those stories. What I’m doing now is sifting through those stories, but I always want to have more and more because I want to have a good solid representation of the real world; real people who have cancer who find humor in their own situations – whatever it is that brought some levity to the situation.
So what makes you laugh the most?
I tell people all the time it’s just real things that happen that are true. Watching comedy doesn’t necessarily make me laugh because I can see the machinery of how it came about. Really for me, it’s the things that happen every single day that are just funny. They just come up and my brain goes, “Oh, that’s funny.” And sometimes it’s not properly funny but –
But you laugh anyway?
Yes! My mind is a really weird mind. I didn’t even think I was funny until I got to college and then people go “That’s funny! I never thought of that before” but I think these things all the time. My dogs make me laugh, because I have two Chihuahuas. They’re hilarious. They also irritate me because they yap sometimes and they need to shut up. But I think it’s just real life things that happen in the moment. Regular people make me laugh as long as they’re just being themselves. Especially people who don’t know they’re funny. That’s even better. And I’ll tell you – everybody laughs at this and it’s not right – but the thing that will make you laugh no matter what is somebody falling down the stairs. I don’t know why that is, but I guarantee you that if you see somebody falling down the stairs, it’s funny. You want to make sure they’re OK, but as soon as you know they are, you start laughing. And if it’s a friend? Oh god, that’s the best, because then you can bring it up. There’s something about it from the time you’re a kid that people falling down stairs is funny. It’s so childish but it’s true.
It’s good to be able to laugh at childish things, though.
Oh, I’m very childish at times. But like I don’t laugh at farts and stuff. That doesn’t amuse me at all – people farting.
What about farting in an inappropriate situation. Would that be funny?
I think people laugh at that only because they’re uncomfortable. I think that’s what it is. I grew up in a Pentecostal church and when you’re younger, I think farts are funny. And guys, to this day, they die – they think farts are funny. But for me, if you’re in church and anything inappropriate happens in church, it’s funny. If somebody belches, if something farts. Private farts aren’t funny. Loud farts – they are funny if they’re in an inappropriate situation where you’re not supposed to laugh.
Or like, if your grandmother farts.
Oh, old people? Yeah, that’s funny. And especially if they make some crazy comment like “Uh oh! The chicken is out of the barn, y’all!” That’s hysterical for sure.
8 p.m. July 17
Affirmations, 290 W. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale