Comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer says she has played Tucson and Phoenix within the last year with material that appeals to a wide audience—lesbians, gays, straights and beyond. But that doesn't mean that when she performs here Saturday night at the Rialto, her act is a repeat.
"The way my show goes is the way my life goes, so it's not like if you saw me six months ago you're going to see the same show. Whatever happens to me, that becomes part of the show. It makes me a bad interview because people will say, 'So what's happening in your life, what's going on?' I'm like, 'Can't tell you. It's part of the show.'"
Oh. "You can ask philosophical questions," she suggests.
Hmm. Maybe some historical ones, I think. After all, Westenhoefer has been doing this for a couple of decades.
"Yeah, um, 22 years. Twenty-two! Wow, I just freaked my own self out. Holy crap!"
Westenhoefer's path to becoming a comedian was one with some twists and curves.
"I didn't want to be (a comedian). I had never considered it. I had gone to New York to be an actor, and I was bartending, and all of a sudden, eight years go by—bam! And people were saying, 'Oh, you should do stand-up; you're so funny.' And I say, 'I'm funny 'cause I'm gay in this straight restaurant.' I'm completely open and it's the late '80s, early '90s. Yeah, I'm controversial; I'm crazy—in my restaurant. But people really supported my trying. So I said I'd do it one time. That's what I say to anybody who thinks they want to do stand-up: You've got to do it one time and say, all right, I did it. I won an open mic amateur contest my first time up and I was like, all right! I won $25."
She was off.
"It was such a big deal. Within three or four months there were these producers coming around looking for gay people to be on Sally Jesse Raphael. No one would do it because they didn't want to out themselves. But I said, well, that's what I'm doing, so I'll go on. So, I'd go on all these shows, and it just exploded. It was like, an openly gay comic—whaatt? There were a handful of openly gay comics, but they weren't doing it in the straight clubs, like I was trying to do. I mean, now, every comedy club has a gay comedian night. But then—it sounds funny because you're thinking it was only 20 years ago—but then, it was super-controversial."
A lot has changed for lesbians and gays in those two decades, including the attitudes of the communities in which they live, and "I've been right in the thick of it," she says.
"I mean, marriage? I didn't give a shit about marriage 20 years ago. I didn't even know that gay people wanted it. Then, it was more trying to keep the children you already had, or being able to adopt children. Or about keeping your job. Not getting beat up."
In spite of her openness, even 20 years ago, Westenhoefer says she was received well by straight audiences.
"I rarely, rarely, rarely got heckled. Because I was sort of girly looking, you know what I mean? The big blond hair and all the makeup and stuff. I got heckled more from lesbians. 'Take your shirt off.' And I would be like, what? This is a comedy show. But if you're performing where there's alcohol involved, in either gay or straight clubs, you're gonna have a little bit of that."
Obviously, being sidetracked into stand-up has worked out pretty well for Westenhoefer. But she says she still would like to act.
"Ever since I was 4 or 5 years old I thought I was going to go to New York, become a great Broadway star, and have an awesome penthouse apartment and take a series of young lovers."
At age 4 or 5, you were thinking about a series of young lovers?
"Yeah, probably. Sadly."
Westenhoefer did do an Internet television series called We Have to Stop Now, which she says was "awesome." She says "it sucks" that the show is not continuing for a third season.
So how about a lesbian sitcom?
"Straight audiences are much more savvy now. More gay people are out. They know people. They've watched Will and Grace. I do think there's going to be a lesbian sitcom, but it's gonna take somebody who is savvy enough and clever enough to write the stuff about lesbians that's kind of mean and a little bit dark. That's what happened in Will and Grace.
"The scripts I see for lesbian sitcoms are trying to make us look good. That's not going to work. The next-door neighbor on a lesbian show is not going to be a wacky neighbor. It's gonna be two chubby lesbians who dress alike and wear dream-catcher earrings and have dogs that they treat like kids. Those women are the core of our world. These are my people.
"It would work if someone's willing to do that kind of truth, where they're not so worried about what we look like but are more worried about showing who the fuck we really are. For straight people it'll be funny not only from the regular sitcom standpoint, but because they don't know us like that."
There is a current event Westenhoefer is willing to mention—a relationship with "Tall Girl," as Westenhoefer calls her on her Facebook page. But she's unusually reticent about details. She's being more self-protective these days, after she went through a horrible divorce about three years ago.
"I don't know what I've learned yet. It's still very fresh. 'Don't marry a sociopath.' How about that? Yeah, I'm gonna go with that."