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Comedy Preview: Gay comic shunned by Carlow keeps it pretty clean

Friday, March 16, 2001

By Scott Mervis, Weekend Editor, Post-Gazette

Anyone going to the Katz Auditorium Sunday night expecting Suzanne Westenhoefer to deliver a lesbian sex clinic is bound to come away disappointed.

Yes, it's true, Westenhoefer sleeps with women, but so does Jerry Seinfeld and we don't see him getting up on stage and regaling us with the details.

 
 
Suzanne Westenhoefer

WHERE: Katz Auditorium, Jewish Community Center, Squirrel Hill.

WHEN: Sunday at 7 p.m.

TICKETS: 412-795-5141.

   
 

Westenhoefer, 38, isn't ashamed to say that she does a typical comedy set, focusing on relationships and on those everyday things we all can relate to, like dealing with Mom, pet problems, traveling woes and finding your way through Home Depot.

Still, it didn't fly with the president of Carlow College, Sister Grace Ann Geibel, who canceled the comic's appearance there deeming the material to be "improper" for its stage. The show was switched to the Jewish Community Center.

It was the first time anything like that has happened to Westenhoefer, a Lancaster County native and 11-year veteran of the comedy clubs. Westenhoefer made her first big coming-out on a Sally Jessy Raphael show titled "Lesbians Who Don't Look Like Lesbians." Since then, she has released two CDs, "Nothing in My Closet but My Clothes" and "I'm Not Cindy Brady," and has appeared on HBO, Comedy Central, "Politically Incorrect" and all the other top forums for comics.

Recently, she has been pursuing her acting career, with roles in an independent film called "Family Affair" and an appearance on HBO's "Arliss."

The bubbly comic talked to us earlier this week about what to expect on Sunday.

You have quite the publicity machine going here in Pittsburgh. There are daily updates on Suzanne Westenhoefer.

Probably no good pictures, though, huh? They need to put a picture of me so they know that I'm cute. Not some pig, some screaming, horrible vicious monster ... OK, I'm not cute. But I'm not a monster.

No, no, you look cute. See, now I'm hitting on you, that'll get me far ...

Oh, stop it!

All right, anyway, has anything like this happened before?

This is the very first time and it's extremely unusual. I'm freaked out about it a little bit. It's a little scary and a little weird. I'm trying to take it as a one-shot thing. You and I know if it was George Carlin, Robin Williams or Whoopi Goldberg, all of whom use profanity, Carlow College would be thrilled. You couldn't stop them from licking their feet. I'm way less profane than any of them, but I'm openly gay. I'm proud to be gay. That's the problem.

So you're not coming here to do a sex workshop, right? But do you talk much about sex in your act?

Toward the end, if the audience feels like they trust me and know me -- I've talked about my mom, my dog, my bad driving habits, maybe a little about my politics -- I will talk about my girlfriend in the same way you might hear Elaine Boozler talk about her boyfriend or Brett Butler talk about her husband.

From my standpoint, I think that it's sexy and maybe a little titillating. But I never use the type of words that would make it dirty. I talk about things like how having sex in the shower never works. ... Or, you know, how people talk about the kinky stuff they've done, like tying each other up. Then I do an impression of my girlfriend getting a call and leaving me there and I'm trying to get the cat off the bed and I have to itch my nose and I have to pee. It makes fun of it, how it doesn't work out like it does in the movies.

I think I talk about sex the way middle Americans do, boys and girls, gay and straight. I'm actually pretty conservative. I'm a white-bread girl from way back. Very vanilla. Same girlfriend nine years. I had one other one, that lasted 10.

What if they had told you that you can come to Carlow but you can't do any sexual material?

You can't do that. You can't tell me that, then I'm not going to come. I'm going to do my show. I do 100 shows a year, about a fourth of them I don't talk about sex. Another fourth, for some reason, it's a lot about sex, maybe I'm thinking about it. It depends where I am in my life.

How much do you get into the political stuff?

I'm not a political comic, even though in my personal life, I'm very political, very up on what's going on, always ready to march. It only comes in little drips here and everywhere. I'm much more likely to tell you about cats vomiting on carpet.

I've never made a conscious choice not to be political. When I first started doing comedy in the end of '90, I was what I call "really gay." But the times just demanded it. I couldn't just talk about my animals. Once you let it out of the bag that you were gay, you couldn't talk about anything else. Nowadays, straight people are so much more savvy.

How did you feel about doing a show called "Lesbians Who Don't Look Like Lesbians." Are you offended by those kinds of stereotypes at all?

It was tacky, but it was like 1991. Ten years ago, just having them talk about gayness on television, it was impossible. And for them to do something that was this close to being positive was unusual. Prior to that, even Donahue, who was a great guy, and Oprah, who's a great woman, when they did shows on it, they showed gay men who were like screaming queens and lesbians who were angry, bitter, like almost men. It was very negative and confrontational. This was like, for lack of a better phrase, pretty girls being fun. That was a big deal that they were taking a step in that direction. I had more people say they were so happy I went on there to represent us.

I tell people this all the time. You know how at the gay pride parade on television they always pick out the men in leather with their cheeks hanging out and women with no shirts on wearing dog collars? That would be like if they went to a Steelers game and went to those men who when it's 10 degrees out have their shirts off and their chests painted and they're so drunk they can hardly stand up, and said, "This is the straight community."

Well, they like the sensational shot.

But it's never saying, "This is who we are." And the rest of television, movies, songs, books represent straight America in all its glory, every possible variation of the theme. Whereas for a long time, until recently, the representation of gay America was as the freaks, the fringe element, the angry people, people who made sex their whole lives. I live in Los Angeles, a handful of blocks from Sunset Boulevard, where everyone who lives there is either taking crack, [having sex with] someone or paying someone to. It's unbelievable. That's there 24 hours a day. Is that heterosexual? Of course not. There are people who make sex their top priority in every group. It doesn't define heterosexuals any more than it defines homosexuals.

You moved out to L.A. to get into television and movies. Has that worked out?

When I moved out I was too busy, then I started taking acting classes. Now things are moving on. I'm starting to get auditions. I just finished an indie movie called "Family Affair," where I play a wealthy Jewish housewife, mother of two. I was saying to a friend of mine, "The Catholics tossed me out, but the Jews picked me. Maybe they heard I represented them well."

So you're none of the three. You're not a housewife, you're not a mother and you're not Jewish. I guess that's acting.

That's exactly right.

The cancellation of "Ellen" -- is that still a big deal out there?

I think it may have hindered lesbians getting back on TV. But it really opened the door for gay men. Welcome to the patriarchy. The Ellen show really helped "Will & Grace" get on the air, because it was the exact opposite -- oh, funny gay men! And they're not really gay -- the actors. That was really palatable.



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