Updated February 20, 2008
Suzanne Westenhoefer has been making her living as an out lesbian stand-up comedian since 1992. At the time, there were a few other out gay comedians, but none were performing for straight audiences. When Suzanne decided to go pro, she decided she wanted to do gay comedy in regular straight clubs. That was considered completely taboo at the time. She’s gone on to be the only out gay comedian on David Letterman and to have her own HBO special.
She just released a new DVD, A Bottom on Top, a portion of which aired on Logo this summer. Suzanne took a few moments to talk to me while recovering from ankle surgery about her career, Dinah Shore and politics.
Lesbian Life: You’re calling me from your home in Hollywood. So, your life is exactly like The L Word…
Suzanne: Yes. (laughs). Actually the funny part about that is, if you watch the first season, Bette & Tina’s and Shane and Jenny and all them live on North Ogden. They live right where I live. Jenny gets a job at the Bristol Farms around the corner from my house. I recognize our neighborhood all the time, but once you open up a door and see inside you go, “There’s no house that big in our neighborhood.”
You’ve got a new DVD out.
Yes, I do. We taped the show in Indianapolis it aired on Logo.
I was wondering, why Indianapolis?
Why not? I have a really, really big group of fans there. There were over 1,000 queers there. So often when you see a comedy show it’s “Live from New York” or “Live from San Francisco.” There is never anything fun like that, “Live from Indianapolis.” We thought that would be a good time. It’s got the whole show, plus interviews and backstage stuff. Logo is just the 45 minutes that they edit down and put ads with.
There’s some fun extras on there.
Yes, including my girlfriend being interviewed, who is freaked out by the camera. She’s not shy or anything, she’s just not into that whole entertainment side of the world.
So, how did you get started in comedy?
I was bartending and people would come in and say, you’re funny. You should go into comedy. But I was already really out and an activist and a member of Act-UP and all that…it seems weird now to say that that wasn’t really an option, to get up in the straight clubs and say that you were gay wasn’t even an option. But people said, just try. And I went, “What the hell.” And it went really well.
Do you ever regret that you’ve taken this path?
Not really. Every once in a while I realize that by doing this I put a glass ceiling up there. It quote, unquote ghettoized my career. I don’t regret that. It’s just a drag that I couldn’t get more out of it because you get classified as the gay comic. It’s still going on, but I think pretty soon that will not be an issue. I just wanted to be an honest comedian and be able to do it in any venue I wanted to. I kept trying and trying and some of those doors got broken down.