Gay Life: How do you jump from teaching high school English to becoming a comedian, especially in a time when being out wasn’t as widely accepted as today?
Kate Clinton: My friends thought it was a sophisticated career death wish. I had left teaching, was coming out, and I had to say I was going to school to get a leave of absence. I started to write and was in a writers group. We’d read and I was the cleanup reader. I wanted to try to write more directly for a laugh and decided to try standup. My best friend went and booked me at a club and said, “You’re on in a month!” At first it was a slow build; I was substitute teaching and my friend and I were in the window cleaning business. That didn’t last long; we were both afraid of heights.
You have made a 30+ year career out of finding hilarity in lesbianism, Catholicism, and politics. Looking back, what would you say have been some of the most pivotal events that have inspired some of your favorite material?
Great question! Umm, I think that in the beginning in the first five or six years, definitely I was in the good embrace and in the end of a lesbian separatist movement and performed in a number of Unitarian churches. In the late ‘80s it was working with gay men and fighting AIDS. It was a horrible scourge that wasn’t dealt with by the government. It was really formative. The ‘90s and Bill Clinton were able to say gay and lesbian without spitting up. Lots of people were coming out and it was a huge change. We became more mainstream, my audience changed. The Bush years and trying to do comedy after 9/11. Everyone knew Bush was bad and I had to try not to make it boring. Oh then the Obama years—it has been like the wildest ride ever of crashing banks, institutional racism, he’s a friend of the gay community, he’s a foe of the gay community.
You blog, vlog, Tweet, Facebook, work with social justice and nonprofit organizations, host fundraising events, have written three books, appear all over television and movies, in addition to numerous comedy tours. Do you sleep?! How do you fit it all in?
[Laughing] Yes, I sleep, surprisingly. It’s all pretty organic, which is a lovely thing. I always felt that I was in it for the marathon, not a sprint. I’ve been able to manage it in a way that enables to give me longevity. Got to feed that internet beast! It’s voracious. To make people laugh, I couldn’t have a better job. I decided I’m going to take the world seriously, but not myself.
Tell me about your 2011 Glee Party Tour. What can fans expect from your upcoming shows?
It’s been totally fun. I find I’m singing more in my shows, it kind of frightened everyone, but it’s the Glee influence. With the economy and everything else going on in the world it’s my responsibility as a comedian to give a little Glee.
You’ll be visiting us here in Baltimore at the Patterson. This is a much smaller venue than your other tour dates. Will that affect your show in any way?
You know, I perform in a small club in Provincetown in the summer. It’s a very intimate setting, it reminds me of teaching. I see and hear everything.
Any other big plans while you’re here in Baltimore?
My sister lives in Baltimore so I get to hang out with her! She just moved here and she loves it. She loves that it’s so walking friendly. She’ll probably walk my legs off! ■
Kate Clinton performs for The Creative Alliance
at the Patterson’s Fall/Winter LGBT series “OUT in Highlandtown!”
Friday, November 18
7pm and 9:30pm • $25-$30
The Patterson • 3134 Eastern Ave. • CreativeAlliance.org