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She done her right.

Kathy Najimy, the famously gay-friendly comic, talks about her own bisexuality, the closet, and her Broadway star turn as gay icon Mae West in Dirty Blonde

Kathy Najimy wants gays and lesbians to come up and see her sometime. On Broadway, that is, where she's taken over Claudia Shear's dual role as Mae West and an adoring West fan in Shear's Tony award--nominated play, Dirty Blonde. Known for her hilarious burns in films such as The Wedding Planner and both Sister Act movies as well as television's Veronica's Closet--not to mention the voice of Peggy in Fox's cartoon King of the Hill--Najimy is also an outspoken feminist and gay rights activist. she describes her current gig as challenging but rewarding. "It's beautifully written," says the actress, "and it deals with sexuality, tolerance, and Mae West. What more could you want?"

Were you intimidated by playing a show business icon?

I never played somebody who was a real person before. The characters I've played were closer to myself. The great thing was, [director] James Lapine said, "Look, I don't want an impersonation. If I wanted an impersonation, I could get a drag queen who could do it better than anybody. We just want the spirit of the woman and her story."

Mae West seemed to have a lot of gay men in her life. She even wrote a play about them, Drag.

She was a very creative, varied person, so she surrounded herself with the most colorful people she could find. She was also very self-absorbed. At the time, these men just loved her because she was tree to herself, she was creative, and she took chances. And she was attracted to them for their candor, courage, flair, and drama.

You also have a large gay following. Do you see any parallels between yourself and her?

A lot of what I've written for The Kathy and Mo Show [Najimy and Mo Gaffney's provocative theater piece, which launched both their careers], is peppered with themes of freedom, choice, and tolerance, to which the gay community responded. Also, for 20 years I've been a vocal supporter of women's fights, gay rights, and AIDS awareness, so that would put me in the eyeline of the community. Although I would never compare myself to Mae West, one common thing would be our sense of daring, taking risks, not being afraid to be who we are.

It's amazing to think that Mae West didn't appear in her first film until she was 40.

A great lesson about who she was is to never underestimate the power of self. confidence. That's another thing about my career. I don't think of myself as a certain-size actress--that's not the way I present myself, personally or professionally. I mean, let's face it, it's a hell of a business, and the pressures on women and Its unhealthy effects can be seen with many television stars. I think it's done on purpose, because if women are always second-guessing themselves and have low self-confidence, there is a certain amount of power they can't claim.

You've been with your husband, musician Dan Finnerty, for over five years. He must be very comfortable around gay men and women.

Yes, well, he grew up in the theater. He was an actor. And I guess I really lucked out. We are both really open people. We both have gay friends. Personally, I have a strong philosophy that everyone is capable of loving everybody, no matter who you choose to love.

In other words, everyone is basically bisexual?

[Sighs] I hesitate to say that, because I'll get 4 billion letters from people on both ends. But it is my belief, yes, that everyone has the potential, but it is fueled or repressed by different things in your life. I feel the capacity is there.

Have you ever had a lesbian relationship?

You know, this is what I say when people ask me that: I'm proud of the ability I have to fall in love with both men and women. I'm also proud of the fact that I'm in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship with my soul mate, who happens to be in the form of a man.

So you've fallen in love with a woman?

Absolutely. I love women. I think women are fabulous. It just so happens my soul mate came in the form of a man, but that doesn't mean I want to label myself any other way than "Kathy, who loves human beings." It's so funny; I have been a lesbian and gay community spokesperson for years. I have been a grand marshal of gay parades in San Francisco, San Diego, and New York. And I was marshaling the Los Angeles parade when this woman yelled, "Kathy, we love you. But come out of the closet!" And I thought, God bless her soul. If I was a woman who was in the closet, do you think I would choose to be the grand marshal of the gay and lesbian pride parade? I think I have proven my track record of supporting gay and lesbian rights and that I am a part of the community, whoever I have chosen to finally love, whether it's a man or a woman.

So you see yourself as part of the gay community?

Oh, absolutely.

So how do you feel about the Bush presidency?

Because I was busy rehearsing in this play when the presidency was finally settled, I went into a kind of denial that's unusual for me. But I am happy that one of the first things Bush did was stop funding for overseas health services that provide abortions, because it showed his true colors. What he did that first day sent out a message that we cannot turn our heads and think it's going to be OK, because it's not. He's provided us with a wake-up call. So I'm appalled, scared, and nauseous, but I'm energized.

Dirty Blonde involves a heterosexual cross-dresser. Have you ever seen your husband dressed in drag?

[Laughs] No, I haven't. My husband does have a rock and roll band, and he only sings songs written by women. But otherwise, he's pretty straitlaced. But I do make over a lot of my male friends. I make them up and have them go out with me. I love it.

Find more on Kathy Najimy and Dirty Blonde at

Bahr writes for The New York Times, Time Out New York, and New York magazine.
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Article Details
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Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Interview
Date:Mar 13, 2001
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