Humorist Kim Ficera considers Sex, Lies and Stereotypes
by Gregg Shapiro
Kim Ficera’s outrageously entertaining and amusing collection of essays, Sex, Lies and Stereotypes (Kensington Books), is subtitled “An unconventional life uncensored.” If you believe what you read, unconventional is the right word. Ficera, who is one of Out’s 2003 Out 100, pushes all the right buttons and is sure to have you laughing out loud and repeating some of her most humorous observations to your lesbian, gay, and straight friends.
Gregg Shapiro: One stereotype that you dispel with your book Sex, Lies and Stereotypes is the one about humorless lesbians. When did you discover that you were funny?
Kim Ficera: When Joanne Conetta wrote in my autograph book, “Your [sic] the funnies [sic] girl I know,” I think we were in the third grade. Joann couldn’t spell, but she had a great laugh. I loved making her laugh. My family tells me that I’ve always been “entertaining.” What they really mean is that I’ve always been sarcastic. My point is people will tell you when you’re funny. Your job is to figure out how you’re funny and what best to do with that information. I think delivery is the key to a successful joke and a witty phrase. If you want proof of this, just think of a time when you heard someone with no personality and bad timing screw up a really good joke or story. So it helps to be an extrovert with rhythm.
G.S.: Emerson College in Boston, where you received your undergraduate degree, has a reputation for being something of a comedy factory, with Denis Leary and Anthony Clark being among some of the other alumnus. Did being at Emerson make you want to pursue humor writing?
K.F.: Actually, when I was at Emerson, I wrote short stories and poetry—some pretty dark poetry, in fact. I was there to study—something I hadn’t bothered to do in high school, the place where I learned to do drugs and touch my nose with my tongue. I’d dropped out in ’76. So when I decided to finish school and then go on to college, I was very serious about getting my shit together. Very serious. At Emerson I read Jerzy Kosinski early on and loved his work, namely The Painted Bird. Powerful stuff! It was a Holocaust story—sad, moving, violent, and sexual. Nothing funny about it at all. I soon noticed that my own short stories took on dark and death-filled topics. I laugh at it now, because I honestly don’t remember what was going through my head at the time. I can’t blame drugs, because I’d stopped taking them. I don’t even know if I was a good or bad poet and short-story writer. But if this humor thing doesn’t work out, I might try writing horror scripts. Why not? Sounds like fun.
G.S.: Like fellow lesbian journalist Deb Price, you are a queer voice in mainstream newspapers. What has that experience been like for you?
K.F.: It was one of the best experiences of my life. Too often, gay journalists at gay publications aren’t taken seriously, not even by other gay journalists in similar positions. So they use their positions at gay pubs as stepping stones to better jobs at nongay pubs, where they hope to gain respect and learn more. By the way, in my opinion, lack of respect, coupled with the fact that gay publications don’t pay writers well, might explain why there are too few really great GLBT journalists at GLBT publications.
Anyway, being an out lesbian at an alternative weekly helped me to win respect and favor with readers and peers. My agenda wasn’t assumed because my job was clear. I was an opinionated columnist with a sense of humor. I made people think while also making them laugh. Everyone knew that I was a liberal queer with very strong opinions on organized religion and the Republican Party. I often called Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson morons. And I wasn’t easy on the current administration. But more often I made fun of myself and other queers. “Homo Depot,” my very first published essay, is a great example of that.
G.S.: Very early in Sex, Lies and Stereotypes, on the acknowledgements page in fact, you make reference to God. God and religion surface again in the essays “The Immaculate Deception,” “Surgeon on the Mound,” “God Is a Boy’s Name,” “The Visit,” and others. What part do you think being Catholic and having a religious upbringing played in developing your sense of humor?
K.F.: A huge part. Without a sense of humor, I’d be writing love letters to the pope from a poorly decorated house I’d share with a husband, five kids, and nine bibles, instead of writing essays. The behavior of very religious people fascinates me. I couldn’t make up the insane and funny things people say and do to convince each other that their beliefs are true and right.
I love my parents, and I know that they were trying to do the right thing by dragging me to church, sending me to catechism, and hanging extra-large crucifixes in our house, but there were days, Sundays specifically, when my mother just acted crazy. When I was seven and about to receive communion for the first time, I asked my mother what the body of Christ tastes like. As I wrote in the book, with a straight face she told me it tastes like baloney, my favorite lunchmeat at the time. Huh? The body of Christ tastes nothing like baloney! Why not tell me it tastes like a really thin, bland cracker? I think Jesus would have approved of that simple, honest answer. I mean, c’mon! It’s not as if she needed to protect me from Christ’s flesh, a vile snack disguised as a wafer and distributed by the cannibal priests at our church. What the hell was she thinking?
G.S.: You also touch on some very sacred topics in the lesbian community including the mullet (“Mullet Head”), the meeting of the partner’s family (“All in the Family”), faking orgasms (“Liar, Liar Pants on Fire”), breasts (“The Tit Parade”), common lesbian names (“Name that Lesbian”), and, of course, the holy of holies, Home Depot (“Homo Depot”). How do you decide that a subject is worth writing about?
K.F.: Nothing’s taboo, but some things, like the mullet, are overdone. Unless a writer can come up with a new angle on an old topic, he shouldn’t touch it. Unless the mullet makes a serious comeback, I’m done with it.
When I’m still laughing about an experience a week later, I do my best to put it on paper effectively. For example, this past weekend my partner and I went to South Carolina to visit her Irish family and celebrate an early Thanksgiving. We stayed at the beach house of a family friend who also happens to be a high-ranking Republican in that state. As the only Democrat and full-fledged Italian in the bunch, it was my job to make antipasto. So I, a lesbian with a sincere hatred of George W., borrowed a Jeep covered with Bush/Cheney in 04 bumper stickers and headed to the Bi-Lo—the name in itself begs for an essay, don’t you think?—supermarket in search of imported prosciutto and sharp provolone. Try finding that stuff in South Carolina. Try explaining to the 80-plus-year-old man bagging groceries—food he’d clearly never before laid eyes on—that antipasto is not the same thing as a salad, nor is it Italian (pronounced Eye-talian) for artichoke.
G.S.: What has the reception for the book been like in the lesbian community?
K.F.: Overall, the response has been great. I have a stack of letters from lesbian readers who insist that I am their twin, separated from them at birth. They get what I’m writing. A few lesbians have had a hard time with my essay on common lesbian names, though. I don’t get that. How is the observation that many lesbians are named Linda, Donna, and Sue offensive? Maybe one of your readers can explain that one to me. Others have taken issue with my comments on Lesbian Bed Death. Dare I say those women need to get laid?
G.S.: Have you begun assembling essays for your next book?
K.F.: Yes. The new book will be slightly different in the sense that the essays will be connected, more like chapters. I’m not going to call it a novel, though, because I can’t decide if that word bores me or scares me to death.
Gregg Shapiro writes regularly for OutSmart on music and culture.