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Seriously Though, Folks

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Straight talk—more or less—from comedian Kate Clinton.

By Nancy Ford
Photo by David Rodgers

July08cover“There’s a lot to talk about.”

That’s how author, performer, and dynamic 27-year veteran of queer stand-up comedy, Kate Clinton, explains her apparently unceasing flow of material. Accordingly, the Queen Mum of gay comedy has just released her eighth CD, this one called Climate Control, which she is promoting between appearances with Cyndi Lauper’s second True Colors tour.

“We used to call them albums, you may remember,” the sexy sexagenarian quips.

With barely a moment to catch her breath, she’s already on to the next tour, bittersweetly titled Hilarity Clinton ’08.

“You can tell people are not careful readers,” this former teacher says, an educator’s scrutiny still popping through. “They see my button and they’re like, ‘Ewwww!’

Kateclinton
Kate Clinton

“Read carefully,” she implores. “Look beyond.”

Peppering her wisdom with her famed wit, Clinton recently chatted remarkably seriously with OutSmart from her home in New York City. Among the hot topics on her mind: presidential politics, the environment, how the recent experience of another Clinton re-lit a fire under her feminism, and why she believes the children are our future.

Nancy Ford: Interesting that your new CD is called Climate Control. As you know, I’m calling from Texas, and hurricane season is here. What’s in your hurricane evacuation kit?
Kate Clinton: Batteries.

[Long pause] That’s it?
[Both laugh] Actually, I do have a terrorist kit here in New York, but the problem is, we keep chipping from it. We had cash; I should really check on how much is left. [She improvises a domestic scene between herself and her partner, esteemed author/activist, Urvashi Vaid.] “The delivery guy’s here, do you have any cash?” “I don’t have any cash. Go to the thing.”

We changed the bottled water and batteries, of course. And for my dear girlfriend, sanitary products. She still needs them, poor thing!

Bless her heart!
I know. I try to have sympathy. She says, “I have cramps!’ and I say, “Yes, I remember that. Bwahahaha!”

So that’s in our kit. I’m ready. On the album before this, I have tips for people and their terrorist kits. Mostly to help them freshen up.

What are they saying about the hurricane season?

They seem to say every year that this year is going to be worse than the last one.
Whoever “they” are.

Exactly. The Royal They. I haven’t seen evidence of it yet, so we’ll see what happens. It’s not a pretty thing, trying to get five million Houstonians out of town in the same afternoon.
Yes, and the poor Midwest. Iowa is under water.

[Sarcastically] What global warming?
Oh my God. Get rid of him!

What are your recommendations on how to save the earth?
It starts at home. Stop taking long showers. Turn the lights off. Do we really need to run that air conditioner all the time? Do things like absolutely separating your trash. Although, when Giuliani was mayor, we’d do our careful separation and they just dumped it in one thing! [She laughs, but not sincerely.]

I’ve been reading a terrifying book. Wonderful and terrifying, but it’s so informative. It’s called The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. It is brilliant. It starts with a meal and works backwards. What I know now about corn-fed cattle! I haven’t eaten a burger since, let’s put it that way.

I’m sure we would be horrified.
I’m sure the younger generation is all over it. And rightfully so. We just have to each of us do our part, even though Dick Cheney said that wouldn’t make any difference.

Bless his heart. Or whatever is in his chest cavity now.
Exactly.

ClintonChangeWell, you’re certainly doing your part, in terms of comedically addressing the problem on your CD. We know the best way to get any idea across is to make people laugh while thinking.
Thank you! Well, I think people can do both—laugh and think. Actually, I mostly want to make people laugh. Absolutely. I don’t want to get away from that, because I find that pure pleasure. Pure pleasure. But if they walk away and they’re thinking and talking—or disagreeing—that’s even better.

Imagine this scenario: John McCain wins in November. What’s the first thing you do?
Resist the urge to go on a four-year cruise with Olivia? [Laughs] That just can’t happen. But then, we had Bush….

I really think that there are encouraging, exciting things happening at local and state levels where governors are really stepping up and making the changes. They’re doing things, environmental things that the federal level wouldn’t do. They’re doing things for gay rights that the federal level wouldn’t do. I can get discouraged and think, “Oh my God, four more years of Bush/McCain. McBush. Whatever.”

But you know, I travel and I see exciting things happening. You’ll be cheered by this: I was in Columbus, Ohio, and 450 ordinary people from all over the state took a morning session on how to lobby your representative [via the GLBT equal rights organization, Equality Ohio]. Then they walked across the street to the state house and spoke to their representatives on gay rights. And I thought, “Oh my God, this is so exciting.”

That’s wonderful, especially with Ohio being a swing state.
Yes, amazing, absolutely amazing. The work of organizations at the state level, like the ACLU, was critical in the Massachusetts legislature, fighting off the ban on gay marriage. I performed at a dinner there, and met this woman who was retiring after 20 years as their legislative representative. She was this diminutive, Jewish grandmother, and she had those guys by the nuts!

And Equality Massachusetts was incredibly important in flipping something like nine legislators to flip the ban. It can be done, and I think people don’t realize how worried legislators are about what we think. They’re worried about their jobs.

When I worked on the Rosie O’Donnell show and we’d get faxes from people, I always thought it was two guys with a fax machine just cranking out crap. But they really care about what people think. Legislators do care about what constituents think if they want to keep their jobs. I think we forget that.

It’s easy to lose sight of, when you see all the shenanigans going on in the legislative process. Speaking of which, I couldn’t help noticing on your CD that you noted “special thanks to George W. Bush, Larry Craig, Harriet Meiers, and the Cheney family.”
Yes, they have been an unending source of material. But I have a feeling I won’t be disappointed in the next administration.

[Both laugh] I have a feeling you’re right, regardless which way it goes. The liner notes also say you’ve been “blinded by the driving sleet of sexism.”
Isn’t that a great line? I’m just livid about the sexism. It was real during Hillary’s campaign. It actually kicked me back to my feminist roots. You find yourself saying things like, “Well, at least, he didn’t kill her.” And then you think, “What is that?”

I really find myself again, like in my on-fire, early feminist days, back with that lens again of looking at everything like Girls Gone Wild ads that we would never have let pass.

So that’s been great, and I’m recommitted to that. I really am committed to attacking the media. I think they were deplorable, and it just can’t go on. It’s like TASS. It’s like Pravda. They were a mouthpiece of the administration.

I was talking to someone at dinner last night about already this back-stepping by Obama, like [he’s saying] maybe we’re not going to get out [of Iraq] as fast [as he implied].

That didn’t take long, did it?
No. My darling girlfriend said, “Well, did you think he can fight against this really ingrained and warned-about-by-Eisenhower military industrial complex when a huge percentage of the media is owned by General Electric, which makes the on-and-off switches for war?”

So that’s the fight. I’m cheered by what is happening in the blogosphere. Although I’m finding that the sexism of the blog world is like raw sewage, there are outlets. People are going elsewhere for their information.

[Laughs] Ah, it’s a Pollyanna morning here! How’s it going there?

[Both laugh] Oh, it’s sunshine and lollipops! Hey, you’re supposed to be a comedian. Now I’m thinking too much!
Yes, but you did laugh!

Well, I think that what we’re really witnessing is the triumph of capitalism and all its horrible works masked as democracy. George says he wants to bring democracy: “I’m speaking to the Iraqi people.” Well, they can’t hear ya, honey—they don’t have electricity. The rapacious maul of capitalism is what he’s brought. And I think that’s also our struggle. And it is a struggle, with food shortages, and oil prices where they are. Perhaps it will activate people. But CEOs can’t make 141 percent times what the ordinary worker makes, thank you very much.

They think we’re stupid. Maybe we are.
Well, it was pretty shocking, with his mid-term election. Try being in Europe or overseas, trying to explain to people. You have that awkward moment, trying to explain his election. I don’t call it his re-election because he wasn’t elected in the first place.

[Pauses] And how are you, dear?

[Both laugh] I’m just fine, thank you for asking. You know, [June was] Pride month —
busybusybusy. We just had our youth prom. There’s nothing more uplifting than the kids.
Isn’t it fabulous? You can’t hold them down. You can’t. I went to the Creating Change conference in Detroit and it was like 50 percent young people! I was so charged. I thought, “Well, it’s OK, I can retire. They’ve got it.”

The thing that I loved about it was that so many of them are employed at gay organizations. And they have this darling sense of entitlement! Why didn’t I have that?

Because we gave it to them.
Oh, all right.

Nancy Ford interviewed Andy Bell in the June issue of OutSmart magazine.

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