Interview with Suzanne Westenhoefer (March 2003)

 
 

AE:
You have always been very up-front about your sexual orientation
in your act; have you found this to be a strength or a liability
in terms of gaining broader national exposure?
SW:
I
think my being upfront and open since the beginning has been excellent
for me, and good and bad for my career. I have been told so many
times for years: " If you just didn’t have to mention it….we
could put you on the show…cast you….make a show about you…etc.
etc. etc." Whatever. I couldn’t care less. I made the decision
right from the beginning to be open. I am very frank about the fact
that I had an "agenda." I wanted to make things better
for gays. Simple. Can’t do that in the closet. Simple.

AE:
Do you think it’s getting easier for comedians to include
explicit references to lesbianism in their performances in front
of general audiences? How has that changed from when you first started
out?
SW:
It
is way easier to talk about lesbian stuff in front of hetero audiences
now — they know stuff. Used to be I had to take 2 minutes to explain
butch and femme or top and bottom or a women’s festival, or P-town.
Now they are savvy, mostly because people are more out and so most
heteros know gay people. And TV and movies, etc., more gay images.
I mean, come on, we always said that’s what we need! As usual, we
were right.

AE:
Only a small percentage of comedians ever get the kind of opportunities
you’ve received (the HBO Comedy Special, the appearance on
Letterman, your sold-out tours, etc.); to what do you attribute
your success?
SW:
I
can’t even begin to tell you why I’ve had the success I’ve had….My
girlfriend says it’s because I am the funniest (she is very succinct).
I think it’s because I love doing it. And because I am
funny. I could love doing it I guess, but without the laughs, it
would only go so far. But I am very aware of my fortune (and as
a long time Buddhist I will also say, it’s part of my Karma).

AE:
How has your routine changed or evolved over time?
SW:
My
act has changed in that I can say almost anything now. In the beginning
I had to be so gay, because you couldn’t very well say "I’m
a lesbian and don’t you hate traffic??" You had to talk about
it, because no one was. There were so many questions in the audiences’
mind. And for all-gay audiences, you had to make it a big deal because
we had so few voices. I really understood that.

I
used to hate it when you would go see a lesbian performer who was
closeted and she would toss some little bone of a clue to the audience
and all the dykes would yell, and I would be like "Whatever…are
you or aren’t you? Just shut up if you aren’t coming out."

AE:
What inspired you to become a comedian? Which comedians do you really
admire?
SW:
I
was not "inspired" to become a comedian — I was forced,
by my ex girl and my friends, and the regulars at the bar I tended
in New Jersey. Everyone kept saying I should, so I did. Who knew?

I love comics, so I enjoy most of them. Recently watching all of
Eddie Izzard (amazing), love Chris Rock, Carlin is a god, Wanda
Sykes, she kills me. I admire all comics, even if they suck. It’s
a really odd and hard job, anyone who can make a living at it deserves
a hand. (Which they will probably bite…we are comics!)

AE:
What’s the best and worst part of doing this for a living?
SW:
Best: being on stage. Hands down. Doing the show…..it’s
the reason for all the rest of it. Worst: the travel! And that
just keeps getting worse with all the security and airlines going
bankrupt. I wish I had my own jet….then all would be right with
the world.

AE:
You have a role in the new movie A
Family Affair
, in which you play a brunette straight woman.
Which was more difficult — pretending to be straight, or to be a
brunette?
SW:
Pretending
to be Jewish and a brunette. I mean at least I have experience pretending
to be straight before….hello, high school anyone?

AE: What made you decide to take this role?
SW:
I’m an actor. I audition all the time…I auditioned and they gave me
the part. I love doing that work. I’ve been studying for over 7
years, I was happy for the opportunity as all struggling actors
are.

AE:
Are you interested in doing more acting, or do you prefer to stick
primarily to stand-up?
SW:
I
don’t think I could ever stop stand-up. You will notice that they
all return: Seinfield, Rosie, Ellen, Leno….the list goes on and
on….no success, no acting job, nothing can take the place of being
on stage by yourself and working a room. I work very hard in acting
class…and I really hope to get work, but stand up is my love.

AE:
What are you currently working on? Any new projects in the pipeline?
SW:
The
only new projects I have are to continue touring ( I don’t ever
actually stop). I usually tour Aug-June, take off July, and start
all over again. And I am pitching ideas for television shows — but
you can’t talk about it or someone will steal your idea….so you
know, I am in LA, doing the "lunch meeting " thing. Oh
and I have a new CD, Guaranteed Fresh. I just got the
first shipment today so they should be out and about by now.

AE:
Any advice for aspiring lesbian comedians?
SW:
The advice I give to aspiring lesbo comics: be out…you aren’t fooling
anyone. We all always knew about Rosie and Ellen. It’s SO boring.
And make your own work. By that I mean, don’t just hang out in a
comedy club in your home town hoping to get up — host AIDS fundraisers,
and Breast Cancer Auctions, and drag queen contests, and drag KING
contests. Get up and do comedy wherever you can!

Do
you know why? Cause you cannot practice at home. You wanna play
piano? You can practice all by yourself. Study psychology? Get the
books, read them. Comedy must have an audience…so go find people
and work hard.

And
be nice. That being an obnoxious brat is so last decade. We are
tired of it.

Find out more about Suzanne at suzannew.com

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