Stand-up stands up for her convictions.
KATE CLINTON sees comedy as an exchange between audience and comedian.
"I may be hogging the microphone, but I feel that comedy is pretty much of a dialogue and people register by laughing or not laughing." Clinton said, speaking by phone from San Francisco.
`I always say to people, `If you have any questions for me, come up and see me after the show.' And invariably, somebody does.'
By keeping the communication lines open, Clinton is able to put a more personal spin on her show. Even though she's an openly gay political humorist with an admitted "agenda," she has a low-key, conversational style and a pleasant voice that easily could qualify her for a National Public Radio spot.
In the 21 years she's been doing comedy, she said, her audience has only broadened.
"When I first started this, the crowd was pretty lesbian. ... Well, they were mostly pretty lesbians," Clinton said jokingly.
"In 1985, it became more more gay and lesbian because of the movement - we were both fighting the AIDS crisis - and during the '90s, as gay and lesbian culture came into the mainstream, more people started coming to my shows."
Clinton continues to draw a mixed crowd that's reflected in the work she does outside her comedy shows. In addition to writing a monthly column for the gay publication the Advocate, she is an occasional contributor to The New York Times.
She also has written for the "Rosie O'Donnell Show," narrated the Broadway production of "The Rocky Horror Show," written a book (`Don't Get Me Started') and acted in a New York version of the play the "The Vagina Monologues."
Some of Clinton's latest endeavors include a nearly completed second book and a role in the upcoming Alan Rudolph film "The Secret Lives of Dentists." She also is laying the groundwork for a new comedy CD.
So far, she has released six comedy albums, including her most recent, "Read These Lips."
Clinton prepared for her current tour in her summer hometown of Provincetown, Mass., where she polished her 80-minute routine in local clubs. The tour kicked off officially on Labor Day, and Clinton has been making her way around the country slowly ever since.
"As horrible as the world is right now, there's actually a lot to talk about," Clinton said. "Who knew we would look back on the sex scandal days as a great time?"
Clinton sees herself as a one-woman news-gathering organization. In addition to getting "entirely too many magazines," she draws her inspiration from newspapers, Web sites and scientific journals - not to mention the scuttlebutt she hears on the streets.
"I feel like it's a newspaper, really; there's local news, national news, sports news and opinion," Clinton said. "Any time I get to a new town, I always work over the guy who picks me up at the airport.
`You've gotta be careful though. One guy was a Lionel train maniac and not everyone in town was like he was."
Like a lot of comedians, Clinton's predilection for comedy showed itself at a young age. Initially, she said, she learned to be funny in order to distract her three football-playing brothers and to prevent them from using her as a tackling dummy.
Having a healthy sense of humor didn't hurt when Clinton decided to become an English teacher, but it took her eight years to realize her true ambitions. As it turned out, she said, performing in a classroom wasn't so different from taking the stage in a comedy club.
"As a teacher, you really learn how to work the room," Clinton explained. "I taught 11th and 12th grade and that is a really hard audience.
`Nobody listens to anything for the first five minutes; they're just checking out what you're wearing."
Clinton's emergence on the comedy scene coincided with her own coming out as a lesbian, which became a source of much of her early material. Discussing her sexual orientation on stage, she said, was therapeutic for her and her audience.
Nowadays, Clinton still discusses her sexuality, but she also touches on plenty of other subjects. Along with politics, pop culture, religion and the Internet, she tackles Sept. 11 and the recent Washington, D.C., shootings.
"I couldn't not talk about the sniper," Clinton admitted. "I was in Palm Beach, and I started talking about Sept. 11. And I could just feel the crowd was so relieved when I started talking about gay stuff."
Clinton, who coined the line "Inhale to the Chief" for former President Bill Clinton, tends to gravitate most often toward politics. Her last CD was released in 2000, before the election of George W. Bush.
Not surprisingly, the president takes some shots in Clinton's latest live routine, but he's not the only one who gets abused.
`Bush is a lot of the material, but the Democrats are, too, because I think they're idiots," Clinton said. "Where are they? What are they waiting for? What are they, `sleeper cells?' '
Entertainment reporter Lewis Taylor can be reached by phone at 338-2512 and by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kate Clinton is at the Hult Center on Sunday. "As horrible as the world is right now, there's actually a lot to talk about. Who knew we would look back on the sex scandal days as a great time?" - KATE CLINTON, comic
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|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Nov 15, 2002|
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