Interview: Talking with Kate Clinton as she ends her Lady HaHa Tour in Pittsfield

“If corporations are people, then gay people are non-profits”.
– Kate Clinton.

Talking with the award winning political humorist Kate Clinton about her upcoming appearance at Pittsfield’s Colonial Theatre was a battle of wits. Kate is like the internet: no matter the topic, she has answers. Always clever, funny and unpredictable. During our interview we wandered all over the place, but it is clear that the main purpose of her Lady HaHa tour is to bring laughter to the Berkshires. And coming as it does on the heels of the big rally in Washington to restore sanity, and an election that is only days away, she will deliver her own fresh take on these hot topic events.

Basics: Kate Clinton and The Lady HAHA Tour with Special Guest Roy Zimmerman will be coming to the Colonial on November 13, 2010 at 8PM. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased in person at the Colonial Ticket Office at 111 South Street, Pittsfield, MA Monday-Friday 10AM-5PM, performance Saturdays 10AM-2PM, by calling (413) 997-4444 or online at www.thecolonialtheatre.org. You can find our earlier announcement story here.

In thirty years of standup comedy, Clinton has written books, recorded cd’s and taped videos. She’s also created a complex website and boasts an enormous following on Facebook. Technology doesn’t scare her any more than the bloviating Fox cable blowhards or homophobic Tea Partiers. One lump or two? “Three please.”

Kate Clinton

Clinton grew up in Buffalo, lives mostly in New York City (and Provincetown during the summer) and keeps an eye on that state’s politics as do many of us here in the Berkshires. We compared notes on being recovering catholics. She had the full twelve years of parochial school plus a catholic college and seems to have escaped pretty unscarred, while my eight years of nunsense put me in therapy for years.

Larry Murray: So the Rally to Restore Sanity is a big deal. What do you think?”

Kate Clinton: With Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, it is going to be a good time, but I hope that it doesn’t dissipate the anger. It wouldn’t be good if people came away saying “I feel better now”. The Comedy Channel has been saying this is not a political rally.

LM: But that may be to avoid having to give equal time to those they skewer, which is probably anyone who doesn’t have a sense of humor. Were you invited to speak?

KC: I couldn’t, I have another gig.

LM: Oh, that’s right, the Olivia Cruise. You are a regular with them aren’t you.

KC: I love them, especially when I can actually go on them with my girlfriend, Urvashi Vaid. That only happens about once a year. (Urvashi was executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force from 1988-1992 and has been an activist and writer since that time. They’ve been together since 1988.)

I do both the boats, which draw an older crowd, and some land based Club Med type events which draw the younger crowd.

LM: Do you have trouble keeping up with the younger women?

Kate clinton interacts with her audience.

KC: Actually the problem is more of people not wanting to think about politics when they are on vacation.

LM: But humor defuses its sting. Where do you get your ideas from, friends, the internet, newspapers…

KC: Great question, I would say I am a big reader, like Time Magazine, certain blogs (she writes for The Huffington Post) but mainly I am not actually an instant jokester, I like some time to think about things. Part of the job of a comic is to digest the news and then to find the humor. Sometimes it is a matter of putting the news into context, and in others to de-contextualize it. And that takes longer.

Especially at my age. (General laughter.)

Other ideas come from having lots of friends. At a dinner party someone will say something both witty and wise, and I am the first to ask, “Can I have that?”

I also belong to a policy study group where we read these heavy documents, though I am usually the one at the kids table. Right now we are reading The Value of Nothing by Raj Patel. In it we get treated to a variety of economist theories and stuff like that, and it is both great fun and interesting. Of course I am the only one trying to get a joke out of it.

LM: You were an English teacher for the first eight years out of college. If you were to do that again, what would be required reading?

Kate Clinton at work.

KC: Hmmm. Lots of candidates but maybe just that darned Constitution. Put down your Bible, people, and pick up the Constitution.

Ultimately Ray Bradbury would be ideal, his books are so beautifully written, interesting and positive. I would start there.

LM: Do you ever feel pressure to tone things down, and are you your own “worst” editor.

KC: My “worst” editor is my girlfriend. (She laughs) For 23 years she has said to me: ‘That show’s too long.’ And then she says: ‘You need to do more politics.’ O.K. Great.

She’ll say to me “I hate that joke,” and of course that becomes the only one I want to do. So I said to her: “Why don’t you tell me instead that it’s a great joke and I would probably lose it.”

LM: Perfect reverse psychology.

KC: But she doesn’t remember to use it most of the time, though we are in transition. She is catching on.

One of the great things about getting older is that I don’t really care. Throughout my life I keep thinking I’ve toned it down, and it is still outrageous to people. So I think why start now, why not push it a little bit.

Age is not important.

LM: Since you brought it up, what is it like being the oldest living lesbian comic?

KC: (Laughs) Well don’t tell that to Robin Tyler since she will be on your case. (Activist Tyler was indeed one of the first ever to do standup).

But having done this a long time, it is, as Woody Allen says, a matter of “just showing up.”

It will be 30 years in 2011, from the day a friend said to me “I’m sick and tired of hearing you talk about it, I booked you into a club, you’re on.” And the nice thing about it is I do feel more competent, and confident. And it’s better on my stomach. Considering the nerves of my early days, I’m lucky I have a colon left.

LM: Are you working on a lesson plan for Pittsfield?

KC: I am. But it is on hold until after the election, so much will change between now and then. I am remaining optimistic, though who knows what will happen. I often wonder what my parents thought living through the depression or watching World War II break out. They must have felt like I do, that it was the end of the world, too, and yet, here we are.

LM: We have to hope that there will be a lot of straight allies in the audience, because if it just the lesbians and gays of the Berkshires, it could be less than a packed house.

KC: Perhaps they will come out of the hills, drive over from Northampton, Greenfield and from places like Hudson, NY and Bennington, VT.

LM: So do you go the extra mile to make the straight audiences comfortable?

Kate makes you think while tickling your sense of humor.

KC: You know that has changed a lot in thirty years. Back in the late 70’s and 80’s it wasn’t that people were homophobic, they were just homo-ignorant. They just didn’t know much about us. Now, unless they have been actually living under a rock, they know about our issues: gay marriage, gays in the military, employment non-discrimination laws and such. Best of all almost everyone knows some gay people these days.

LM: Of course I see you as an all-purpose commentator. You once said that your style is pretty much like a newspaper. It’s got news, politics, media, sports, family relations, you know all the sections you would expect, plus wonderful religion things.

KC: And obituaries.

LM: Do you ever go through those notices, sort of just hoping….

KC: (Laughing) I was thinking today that we haven’t heard from Dick Cheney in a long time, and maybe he’s living through that ‘long illness’ part of a future obituary. You know, heart failure, though I wonder if he ever even had one. It’s rumored they could never find a pulse, either. I have no idea how I could ever use that.

LM: Of course I think he had some sort of mini-stroke before becoming Vice President since his thinking was so deranged.

KC: Another funny thing about reading the obituaries in the New York Times is who gets eulogized. As I read them, sometimes I turn to Uvashi and say: “Well, thank goodness, no women died today.”

LM: (Laughing) So how do you manage to stay so positive when the world seems so combative, the people so snarky.

KC: I’m on a lot of drugs. (More laughter.) Seriously, it gets to be more of a challenge as time goes on, to turn this insane news into some sort of humor. And a positive attitude seems to have been built into me, a sense of the basic goodness of people. Don’t tell anyone, but there is a bit of Pollyanna in me that has not been completely squashed yet. Of course what has kept me alive is the humor, being able to perform. It gets out my agida. It’s very healthy.

LM: This is way off topic, but as a columnist at The Huffington Post have you ever met Arianna, and more importantly, can you understand her when she talks?

KC: Yaas Dahling. Actually we’ve met at fundraisers and even on one of the Olivia cruises, gave a speech. As time has gone on she’s become more relaxed. Once I asked her what caused her transformation – other than having been married to a gay guy – from being fairly right wing in her politics to this person she is now. And she said: “Al Franken”.

So, of course I asked her how so. She said she had debated him a couple of times, “and then we went out after, and he just showed me the facts.” She said he just simply transformed her. Isn’t that amazing? Like she had these notions that were handed down to her and Al just said “No, let me show you.”

Kate is not a Berkshires virgin.

LM: Do you remember if you have been in the Berkshires before? Didn’t you do a benefit for Berkshire Stonewall way back when?

KC: Years ago. And it’s going to be a treat to return again.

LM: We can’t wrap this up without asking about the other Clintons, have you seen Bill or Hilarity lately?

KC: I did catch up with Hillary recently and as we chatted I told her I was worried about her jet lag. I asked her how you fly a plane for hours and then get off and make sense in someplace like the Middle East. “Tell me about it,” she said. “If you see a plane up in the air over your head, I’m probably on it.”

LM: As a traveling comic, you must do a lot of flying too, just like her.

 

KC: Yes, but at least she doesn’t have to go through Atlanta.

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