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For those unfamiliar with Kate (What? Do we need to check your Gay Card?), she is an out, proud, funny, very funny, smart political humorist and overachieving activist. She has been performing for nearly 30 years, all of them out. She supports a myriad of gay rights groups and other progressive causes. Have I mentioned I got to talk with her on Friday? What transpired:
DS: So you’re not at The Dinah this weekend will all the sweaty, board-shorted lesbians?
KC: I am not, I chose a more quiet family event. (The Dinah) scares me a little. I remember one time I felt like I was at Thunderdome.
DS: How did the idea for the benefit arise?
KC: (Lily and I) have done events and fundraisers together over the years. About two years ago I was MCing a dinner in Boston where she was also getting an award. I was supposed to auction off lunch with me in Provincetown. It was at $1,000, which I find astounding that people want to eat with you. (Lily) came up and said, “I will dress as Ernestine and come to lunch with you,” and the price went up. (We were improvising onstage), she was Ernestine and I was her lesbian bodyguard Vito. There was a moment when you can see me (on the video) go, “Oh my God, I am working with Lily Tomlin!” We ended up auctioning the lunch for like $7,000.
DS: What is it like working with Lily?
KC: It’s just heaven. I can’t get over myself.
DS: The event is a benefit for breast cancer research and you are very involved in activism of all sorts. Where did the seeds of your activism come from?
KC: I hate to admit it on this Good Friday, but from my Catholic upbringing. You volunteered to do things – visit nursing homes, collect money for pagan babies.
DS: How do you think the levels and kinds of activism in the LGBT movement have evolved over the years since you started as a performer?
KC: I came up, and will always be grateful for it, at the end of a really incredibly active lesbian movement. I benefited from the activism of women who thought we needed space, space we could perform in. If we can’t find a bar, we’ll make a bar. It was very grassroots. Then there was the response to the AIDS crisis. That was a period when gay men and lesbians really worked together. It seems we’ve drifted apart since….
One of the most wonderful things about this generation is they are breaking the silos. This generation is far more interested in homelessness, in bullying, in violence. They’re much more committed to the issues of gender and transformation. They’re about environmental issues, war, peace. It’s more blended.
DS: People sometimes think it’s hard for progressive humorists to have things to joke about when our side is finally in charge. Have you found it harder since President Obama took office or does the gift that keeps on giving, Sarah Palin, make up for that?
KC: People ask me, “What are you going to do without George W. Bush?” and I used to say, “We’ll always have the Pope.” Little did I know. You know at the end of was it only 8 years, it was really boring. “Yep, he’s evil. Yep, he’s still evil.” …. It’s much more exciting and interesting now.
DS: How would you grade Obama so far?
KC: He reminds me of the kid who is trying to be good in a study hall class that is completely out of its mind. The kids are completely out of hand and not listening, and then one kid is in the corner doing his homework. I feel like he is just getting going. As a performer, I’ve never felt more schizophrenic in my life. It’s like, “We elected our first black president!” “Oh, Prop. 8 passed.” “We’re going to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell!” “Oh, no we’re not.”(Obama) is probably a victim of expectations.
DS: What do you make of a show like “Glee,” which besides having the wonderful Jane Lynch has such a strong gay sensibility and is wildly popular right now?
KC: The stories about my generation were about coming out. The narratives of the “Glee” generation are about being out. I think that’s wonderful. That said it’s still very difficult to come out. When the last person thinks about coming out and his or her last though is not about suicide then our job is done. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.
DS: Now you’re all over the series of tubes – with your own website, on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube. Do you enjoy all the new ways to connect with your audience?
KC: I do, it’s been great. Sometimes it’s very funny. It’s a voracious medium, though. You have to keep feeding and feeding the beast. The greatness is that it forces me to produce something on a regular basic. You always have to generate new material. The world has changed. Before if something gay happened you could talk about it for five years.
DS: Now you’re also old, dead-tree media friendly. You released your third book, “I Told You So,” last year. What do you get from writing that you don’t from performing?
KC: I am a paper and pencil gal and I always love the experience. There is immediacy to feeding the daily beast on blogs and Twitter. But I also like having a longer period. I love the experience of being able to really craft a sentence and have time to discover things.
DS: You also have a new solo tour, Lady Haha. By the way, you have the best tour names: Lady Haha, Yes on K8, Hilarity Clinton. What can people expect from the Lady Haha shows?
KC: Well, of course, incredible outfits. It’s sort of like a newspaper. My routines are a lot of stuff in the daily news and things that have always been fascinating to me – religion, race, government. I remember standing in line at the post office in Provincetown and someone asked me what I was up to. I said I’m writing and working on a new routine. He asked, “What about?” and I said, “Genocide in Bosnia.” He said, “Sounds like fun.” I think the process of taking that information and transforming it into funny is certainly challenging. But that is what I love. And that is what I want. I want people to be rolling with hilarious laughter. I think it’s great to laugh.