Laughter where the sun don’t shine

Chris Azzopardi
By | 2006-05-11T09:00:00-04:00 May 11th, 2006|Entertainment|

When someone’s been a professional comedian as long as Kate Clinton, memories become fuzzy – sometimes on purpose. But, then, there are memories that find a niche in one’s mind, like mistaking a woman for a man or, in Clinton’s case, being harassed by a wannabe-comedian who’s giving her a colonscopy.
“Never ever tell the guy who’s doing the colonoscopy you’re a comic,” she says, “Oh my God … there I am getting a colonoscopy, and he’s, like, doing jokes, he won’t even put me under so I had to hear the joke. I’m sure they were all jokes he would do at a colonoscopy convention.”
But while Clinton has no regrets, besides telling her colonoscopic her profession, she believes she’s had an “organic” career. “It wasn’t like I burst on the scene and became a flameout,” she says. Of course her career wouldn’t have been possible without a test audience: 11th and 12th grade students.
For eight years, Clinton taught English at a high school where she learned to deal with falling flat on her face when she delivered a crummy punch line. “That was a tough crowd,” she says. “I would just look at their dead faces or very questioning faces and just think, ‘Uh-oh.’ It really helped me, though, for those moments when you deliver a line that you think will be killer and they’re like ‘what?’ to fight the urge to go into a blind murderous panic and walk off stage.”
But it’s not always the structure of the joke, sometimes it’s the nature of it, Clinton says. “I was doing something on S & M and they [the audience] were quiet,” she says. “It was just ’cause I wasn’t confident in it. You’ve got to sell it.”
Six months later, Clinton worked out the joke’s kinks, solidifying it into something more personal, which usually garners a better response. Now, if an event or a person has been talked about as much as, say, President Bush, Clinton will steer clear of taking cheap jabs at him. “I personally am getting bored talking about how idiotic Bush is. I’ve been saying how it’s affected my relationship,” she says.
Dana Goldberg, a performer at this year’s Comedy Fest in Dearborn, admires Clinton and has called her from time to time for advice. After telling Clinton how much Goldberg gushed about her – a mild exaggeration – she quickly retorts, “I’m sorry.”
But in all truth Clinton accepts it as an honor and is excited that while she’s reaching a pinnacle in her career many other lesbian comedians are stepping up to the plate. “There’s so much to talk about,” she says. “I really think in a lot of ways comedy is sort of the way people can hear the things they might not want to ordinarily hear … I think the more the merrier.”
Now in her 25th year of performing, Clinton remembers always wanting to be a stand-up comedian and when her best friend finally booked her at a local club, she told Clinton, “You’re on in a month.” But Clinton isn’t the only one recalling the history of her life-in-show; her dedicated fans have often used her performances to mark special occasions. “I’m meeting people [now who say], ‘We met at your show,’ ‘It was our first date,'” she says, and then jokingly adds, “‘We broke up at your show.'”
Clinton, though, doesn’t just perform stand-up. She’s also a sex therapist. Well, at least she was one during a recent episode of “The L Word.” Although she had minimal time to prepare for the stint – the show’s producer called and wanted her to fly out the next day to film the part – she practiced the script on a flight in-transit from her hometown New York to Vancouver, even with passengers staring at her like a sex-crazed mess. “It’s [‘The L Word’] a great work environment. I always say that and then I think, how hard is it for guys to watch naked women? Of course they love it,” she says.
Clinton offers more than humor, sex advice and a regular column in The Advocate; she’s a politically charged LGBT advocate and volunteers for gay and lesbian affairs. “I’m also honored that I’ve been part of building gay and lesbian history,” she says. “You can probably judge how well we’ve done by the forces raised against us. They’re really upset. I always think we must be doing something right.”

About the Author:

Chris Azzopardi
As editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBTQ wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in GQ, Vanity Fair and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.