Tomlin - Edith Ann on Lesbians (late 1970s)
That was "Camp Song" by Dos Fallopia, and I think it epitomizes the definition of a lesbian comedy song, because I think the best comedy contains elements you can identify with, finds humor in our own lives and looks at a culture's idiosyncrasies with an offbeat approach. Why am I telling you this? Because this is an edition of Queer Music Heritage like none I have done before. This is JD Doyle and this is Queer Voices on KPFT, and I'm calling this month's show "Those Funny Lesbians." It's a tribute to lesbian comedy, and while yes, this is Queer MUSIC Heritage, for this topic I'm opening it up to include stand-up comedy. Oh, before I played Dos Fallopia you heard a snippet called "Edith Ann on Lesbians," which of course was by Lily Tomlin. It's an obscure clip, from a 1970s San Francisco radio program called "The Gay Liberation Follies."
So I will be mixing music and stand-up comedy, and for my feature interview, well, I don't think I could have found anyone more qualified, as she's almost completed her third decade of doing out of the closet comedy. She's Kate Clinton. But before we get to that, I want to cover some of the early history of lesbian comedy, and I'm talking about the 1970s. In that decade, well, it was very early to be doing openly lesbian comedy material, and the artists doing it braved the waters first by being known as feminist comedians. The pioneers were Harrison & Tyler. Pat Harrison and Robin Tyler released two comedy albums, starting with "Try It - You'll Like It" in 1972 and following that one a year later with one called "Wonder Women." Here's a short clip from "Wonder Women" where you can hear them get close to the line, but don't quite cross it.
Harrison & Tyler - Running It (part) (1973)
By 1979 Robin Tyler was more than ready to release a solo, blatantly lesbian album, and I give it credit as being the first openly gay or lesbian comedy album. It was on the Olivia label and was called "Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Groom," and from it is this representative clip.
Robin Tyler - from "Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Groom" (1979)
A few years ago I was fortunate to be able to interview Robin, so I'll let her take us through going from the act Harrison & Tyler to doing her own very out comedy.
Robin Tyler Interview (2002)
Robin, I've read that the album "Always A Bridesmaid, Never A Groom" was the first openly gay comedy album, how did that album come about?
70s Pat Harrison & I, Harrison and Tyler, we were a female comedy
team. We were signed to ABC. We had come out of being a feminist comedy
team. So we played all over colleges and so forth and so on, and the
network picked up and decided we'd be a great replacement for, are you
ready for this, Donny & Marie Osmond. They were looking for variety
show people, So we did four pilots and we ended up starring on the Kroft
Comedy Hour. And at the same time I was political. You know, gay liberation
was happening, gay & lesbian liberation, and at the time it was
gay, and we added lesbian, then bisexual, now transgendered, and now
queer. So I had to gain 30 pounds just to put everybody's rights on
my t-shirt. Anyway, what happened was, it was interesting, and it's
actually, if you look at the history of comedy and the civil rights
movements, it's happened to most of the comics who came out during the
era of civil rights. We were just beginning as a movement to emerge,
re-emerge, gay & lesbian movement.
And so here I was starring on television and all these pilots being very, you know, generically cute, and offstage I was beginning to talk all over. And I got a call from a guy and he said, "we're having a gay pride celebration, go say some gay jokes." And I said, "I'm not doing anti-gay jokes." He said, "no, no, do some pro-gay jokes." And I thought, what are pro-gay jokes? It was interesting. So I went to the celebration and he said "get up there, get up there, do something pro-gay. Just make it up." So I got up and did this joke about running into a right-wing guy and he said "I think they should take all you queers and put you on an island someplace." And I said "They did, darling, and they call it Manhattan." And that was my first gay joke. And they laughed, and it was an entirely gay audience, and so I just started to make up jokes where we weren't the object of the humor, where we were the subject of the humor. You know, humor is the razor-sharp edge of the truth. Humor is anger and truth made funny. There's no such thing as just kidding. So when people used to do faggot jokes, comics, well they still do faggot jokes, or even Eminem tries to make it funny, kill the faggots, there's no such thing as just kidding. For an audience to laugh at something, they have to believe that the premise is true.
And so what happened in the 70s is I began to go on stage and turn the tables, and to jokes that were pro-us, in order to combat all the jokes that were anti-us. And out of trying to do those jokes and beginning to do those jokes, I was beginning to formulate material, and then Anita Bryant came along, and I'm so grateful for Anita Bryant, I am. I tell you something, Anita Bryant and Laura Schlessinger have done more for comedy than, you know, no, really, these are great women. I know a lot of people look at them and say oh well they're not, these are very important women because all of this was like a wealth of material, you know, so I came out against Anita Bryant, I was doing jokes on her, and ah when I started coming out and doing humor that was pro gay and lesbian, people said to me, gays & lesbians, "You're gonna kill your career" even though they were laughing "you're gonna kill your career, you're gonna kill yourself on television. You won't be a star." And you know I said, I may never be a star but unless you can tell the truth as a comic you can never really be funny. And so I didn't care. I just came out. And the day I was on the Kroft Comedy Hour, Patty & I were starring, ABC television, Ellen Degeneres' network, we were the stars, and the national news carried us and said "Avowed Lesbian." You couldn't just be a lesbian, you had to say, I vow it, I'm an avowed lesbian, avowed lesbian. I vow it. What they were probably trying to say is out of the closet lesbian, so, "avowed lesbian Robin Tyler does Anita Bryant jokes" and this was on the national news, right after the national broadcast. I'm so glad I came out, because when I came out I got happy and free and funny, you know, and I didn't know I'd get all the bookings, and I didn't know I'd make a whole bunch of albums, I didn't know I'd make history. I just knew that I couldn't lie anymore. You know, when people say don't ask, don't tell, what they're really saying is be a liar, and how can you be an artist and be a liar? I mean, how can you when art, when the basis of art is supposed to be your truth. How can you be a liar? So comedy is a very serious business.
Of course Robin Tyler is also well known for her activism and for helping to organize several of the Marches on Washington and countless women's music festivals. I want to mention another long time activist, Ivy Bottini. I've got a short comedy routine to share with you but in addition to doing comedy, Ivy Bottini is long time activist, with work spanning five decades. I encourage you to do an internet search on this amazing woman, but for just a sampling, in 1966 she founded the first chapter of the National Organization for Woman and in 1969 she designed their logo. She founded the first AIDS organization in Los Angeles and has been active in many other community services. There's a theatre in L.A. named after her, she's an accomplished artist, and last August she celebrated her 83rd birthday. The comedy bit I have for you is from a 1976 45 called "Women's Lip," and the two sketches are called "Lesbians" and "The WLM," with WLM standing for Women's Liberation Movement. Now the recording quality is not great, but I wanted to preserve it as part of this show.
Ivy Bottini - Lesbians/WLM (1976)
That was Ivy Bottini, and, I'm such a tease, if you visit the extended version of this show on my website you can hear a wonderful interview with her, but here's a quick quote.
Kate Clinton, she's my comedy hero.
I guess this is a good time to comment, or perhaps admit, that I think picking what material to share with you is perhaps risky, and I certainly do not claim to be any authority on humor. What we each find funny is subjective and is to some degree a function of where we are coming from. For example, when I was picking what stand-up comedy clips to share I went through many, many recordings, and there were some common elements of many that only women or only lesbians will find funny. As a man, or as a gay man, I just do not find funny routines about feminine products, periods, or cunninglingus. I can't say, been there, done that.
And here's another observation. When you are talking about stand-up comedy, it's pretty easy to think of comedians who had anti-gay or lesbian jokes as a standard part of their routines, such as Eddie Murphy, Sam Kinison and Andrew Dice Clay. Since QMH is really a music show, it occurred to me that while it's been easy over the years if I wanted to play homophobic songs about gay men, to find a large number of them, full of mincing, effeminate, and very stereotypical queens and faggots. But how many songs by straight artists making fun of lesbians can you think of? Was that because gay men were an easier target? Or was there something else going on?
In 2005 I did a show tracing homophobia in country music, and I found it interesting to note that there was an evolution in the treatment of gays and lesbians in country music that started in the 90s. And that was the revelation by the singers, in their lyrics, that their wives and girlfriends might be lesbian. I made a comment in that show saying, okay, let's stop and think. I've covered about 40 years of country music and we finally hear about lesbians. I'm not sure if we should bemoan that lesbians seemed to have been invisible or be thankful we didn't get a lot of songs about butch dykes in cowboy boots. At any rate, the songs were much less critical and the men are mainly just complaining about the loss of "their women." But the point I was building to was that for quite a while in mainstream comedy, lesbians were almost invisible. But I was able to find one example to the contrary.
I want to go next to a skit from a comedy album devoted to gay life. From 1977, it was called "Out of the Closet," and while Bruce Vilanch was one of the writers and performers, I do not really consider it a gay album. But I do think it's interesting in that its approach is, I think, very positive, in more of the laughing with rather than laughing at vein. The main lesbian sketch featured Broadway actress and comedian Tamara Long. The sketch is called "The Fashion Show," and you'll hear Bruce Vilanch introduce it.
the Closet - The Fashion Show (1977)
I followed the sketch from "Out of the Closet" with an iconic song, that just happens to contain a bit of humor. From 1976 Alix Dobkin taught us the "Amazon ABC's" from her album "Living With Lesbians."
In the 1980s Lynn Lavner, and Kate Clinton, were probably the main funny lesbians in our culture. Between 1981 and 1992 Lavner released five delightful recordings that reveled in her kind of cute butch image. Hey, she often wore leather in her act. I did an extensive interview with her in 2003 and I want to share a short clip from that, but I want to nest it between one of her comedy routines from her "Butch Fatale" album and then go to one of my favorite songs by her. Lynn Lavner.
Lynn Lavner comments (2003)
I've been looking at your albums and I decided that one of my favorite songs was "a lesbian too long" so I'd like to start off by asking have you've been a lesbian too long.
Well somebody asked me if I was always a lesbian and I said not yet, but I expect that probably, you know, I was ever the slow child, I didn't come out to myself until I was three years old. But that's the truth, I knew very, very early. They gave me a doll house and I did the electric. But I suppose that everybody gets to a certain age where they've just have seen everything that can that can be cute with cocktails, and they say, well, I think I've been a lesbian too long.
Lynn Lavner - Butch and Femme / A Lesbian Too Long (1992)
I think I've been a "Lesbian Too Long," by Lynn Lavner.
A straight friend of mine at work asked me what show I was working on for this month and I told him lesbian comedy. He thought a minute and said, well, I have a joke for you. These two gay guys were standing on a corner, just passing the time chatting, and a bus stops and this gorgeous woman gets off. She was all dressed up in a very provocative outfit, very tight fitting, perfect hair and looks, a real knockout. So the one gay guy says to the other, it's times like this I wish I were a lesbian.
Lily Tomlin - Doris Gay (late 1970s)
After this break we'll get to that interview with Kate Clinton I promised you, but this is a good time to invite you to check out my website. If you visit it while you're listening you can see the playlist and follow along, while looking at photos of the artists and recordings. I've always considered our music history as a visual as well as an audio experience. And this is another one of my shows where I had much too much great material for just one hour, so you can find a much longer version of this show on my site, about four hours total. Again, that's at www.queermusicheritage.com, Also, for more very queer programming, please listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, every Saturday night/Sunday morning from 1 to 4 am, on KPFT, it's Queer Radio, with attitude. Oh, and if you want to see more info on a lot more queer comedy in general, I will send you no further than www.qcomedy.com.
Kate Clinton - from the DVD of her 25th Anniversary Tour (2007)
I am very, very pleased to be able to bring you an interview with Kate Clinton. She's funny and smart and articulate, and exactly the person I wanted to ask about the history and state of lesbian comedy. As a brief bio, she taught high school English for eight years before she found her true calling, and she started doing stand-up comedy in 1981, and over the years has released a number albums and CDs and DVDs and makes countless appearances each year. She early on called herself a feminist humorist, or a fumerist. And she couples activism with her comedy, and recently spoke at the March on Washington last month. She is the perfect one to ask about lesbian comedy. So I started out by asking how it's changed over the last, say, 30 years.
Well, first of all, when I started performing, about 28 years ago and came out as a lesbian comic, no one stole my material. It was lovely. And I think that the lesbian comedy has sort of mirrored the changes in the lesbian community, and gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community, and that is that it's really much more interwoven in the main stream, so that gay audiences can hear information about material about things that are not specifically about our lives, that are about the economy, that are about the health care debates, that are about racism. And I think that straighter audiences are less homo-ignorant. They really know gay people in their lives; they've seen them on television, and so they're able to hear gay material, really because of the activism and political work that's happen over 30, 40 years, certainly since Stonewall, and before, really, that material has changed, and the audience has changed as well.
JD: Who were your influences for your own comedy and in particular what lesbian comedians were important to you?
They probably weren't out, but you know, I can always remember the power of seeing a woman like Carol Burnett, like Hines, Mimi Hines, Moms Mabley the power of seeing a woman make an audience laugh was really important. And in terms of lesbian comedians who were important to me you know, I remember seeing Maxine Feldman at the '79 March on Washington, and she had some funny songs. She had some very powerful songs as well, but she also had great patter and a great presence in between. And I remember seeing her do that and I thought, I could do that. And I really started thinking about it, and trying to figure out how I could do it, and 1981, there I was, starting off.
Of course one of the earliest lesbian comedians was Ivy Bottini, and I loved not only her material about being a lesbian, but also her material about the body. I mean, she was kind of round and very comfortable with her body and I thought that was wonderful to see a woman celebrating her own body, certainly in the context of back then, and I think returned now in women comedians really putting themselves down.
[Actually, in correspondence after this interview, Kate has emphasized that she gives Robin credit as being THE earliest openly lesbian comic]
And Robin Tyler was one of the first lesbian comics to self-identify on television, and I just thought she was really courageous. You know, I've been interested in following her career, as an activist as well. I always appreciated that about Robin. It's not just about I mean, she absolutely wants to be funny and make people laugh, but I always had the sense from her that there was a political activist component to her humor.
JD: I credit her with having the first openly lesbian recording, "Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Groom."
Yes, absolutely, and if you don't say it, she'll come and find you.
JD: And I've got one by Ivy Bottini, but she wasn't really self-identifying on the recording.
I saw her years ago in Syracuse, New York, probably '77, '78, and she did then, but maybe for a wider audience she didn't.
JD: Well, in the routine on that disc, one sketch was called "Lesbians," and she's talking about lesbians, and in the other she's talking about the Women's Liberation Movement, where she's going to a meeting and coming home telling her husband about it.
Oh, it's wonderful, to see the progression, even now, of comedians who have a level of notoriety and then decide to come out is very exciting. You know, I'm not in favor of outing, but I always feel like, if it happens, okay, I just won't do it. And I've never been one to, you know, to say "she should come out," it seems so punitive. But when it happens, people are usually ready to do it, or are comfortable and strong in their identity with it, then I'm totally all for it. People like Rosie, people like Ellen coming out, I think is great.
JD: How do you think that you have changed in your material or as a performer since you first started out?
You know, I think that I really can say that I have more confidence and competence in what I do. I think, you know, I have friends who are tax preparers who say, I don't know how you do it. Well, I don't know how you do what you do either. But it's just been from showing up year after year, and just working on it, writing new stuff. And I do love to write, and the taking it on the road, and on the stage as been it's just that constant practice I'm a practicing lesbian, absolutely right. It's just been a joy to learn this particular craft. It wasn't on the career day choices, in 6th grade. It wasn't even "other." Lesbian Comedian, hmm, I think I'll do that.
My show basically is the format the same form that I've always done. I like to think of it as a newspaper, that there's news of the day, there's international news, national news, there's news about sports, news about the media, opinions throughout, and even science news. I love to do science jokes, which drive people crazy who are scientists. So the form of my routine has remained the same, but I think, as I said earlier, the material has changed with the changing makeup of the community, gay and straight, and I think we have often done a disservice to ourselves to minimize our really huge number of allies and growing. You know, we have a number of straight allies and that was certainly visible at the March on Washington. I thanked our allies who were here and the place went crazy. So I do think the form is the same but the material has definitely changed.
JD: What differences do you see between gay and lesbian comedy?
I think, oddly enough, that lesbian comedy is very male. It's very one person at a microphone. It's sort of a very traditional set up, punch line, which is very male. And yet gay men's comedy is more feminine, and I think that a lot of gay men's comedy is really I sometimes feel bad for my friends who are pretty traditional gay men doing a stand up comedy routine, cause really so much of the humor that has been from our community has been from drag queens. And not that Bob Smith has to get on a wig and makeup but I think he'd look great anyway, I think he'd be very cute, but I do think that the forms are sort of oddly opposite. The lesbians, it's more of a male, kind of traditional show, and gay men's humor is more feminine and more of a show, and generally a part of a show.
JD: Do you think lesbian humor for some comics has gotten cruder?
I do think that it's kind of the common parlance now. The level of political correctness that was during the late 70's and certainly through the 80's I think precluded a lot of making fun of yourself, making fun of other women, of swearing a lot, and I think right now all bets are off. But I think that's also the influence of comedy clubs in general, and a lot of the newer comedians don't have an opportunity to kind of come up through the minor leagues that people of my generation had, which was you came up through the basements of the Unitarian Churches, and then maybe upstairs, that was like hitting the big time for a while. Honey, we're going to do the show upstairs. And I think that a lot of younger comics have to come up through comedy clubs, and there it's lots of swearing and people just seem to understand broad, raunchy sex jokes. [and heckling]. And heckling. Although I don't get much heckling, and that's fine with me. But I don't think I look like you could heckle me either. I feel like no matter what I try a friend of mine once said, no matter how punk you try to make yourself look you always look like the Campbell Soup kid. And I love it when people talk to me, and I feel like I have teacher ears, and I will stop a show and ask somebody what they meant by that shout out. And it's not really stopping a show, it becomes part of a show.
But I actually did have a heckler my first show. How my first show happened, I was talking about wanting to be a stand up comic too many times in front of my best friend, and she actually booked me in a club, and she said, you're on in a month. And so we put a little sign up at this women's bar in Syracuse and all 180 of my closest friends came. And I was about three or four minutes into it and my friend Rita started heckling me and I said, what are you doing? And she said, I'm heckling you, you're supposed to heckle in comedy, and I was like, stop it. That's the old high school English teacher.
JD: Putting you on the spot, what lesbian comics of today do you particularly admire?
Right now, Julie Goldman, who is on the Big Gay Sketch Comedy Show, which I think is a good start, the show's a great start, and I want us to be present in all genres, like bad sitcoms and bad sketch shows, and I don't think it's bad. I think it has some really good points. Julie Goldman, absolutely. There's another young woman who is from New York and her name is Jackie Monahan. She is hilarious, cause she's insane, and she's very physically funny. And another wonderful woman is Amy Boyd, a wonderfully physically funny and fearless comedian from San Francisco, who I just can't imagine why she doesn't have more broken bones. Certainly Lea Delaria is absolutely in the rich tradition of Sam Kinison, that kind of really confrontational, wonderful humor. And sort of a little bit younger than me, but Karen Williams, who's a wonderful African American woman who does a lot of material about being an African American lesbian, and just chides the white audiences mercilessly. Vicki Shaw is a southern who's just gotten better and better, her fundamentalist Texas upbringing, roots, and she's a mom, and was married and that whole story. I mean, she's very, very funny. And what I appreciate about a lot of comedians, like Vicki and Karen, and Julie Goldman I've seen them in action, and Amy Boyd as well, I've seen them in action on Olivia Cruises, where you get to do your show, but you also are expected to run bingo and do all those things, and they're wonderfully funny on their feet, just really fast and it's a pleasure to watch them. [well, comedians have to be very smart] Thank you, we do. People say to me, you're brilliant, and I really think it's just cause we agree. Although I had a wonderful woman come out of my show this summer and say, well, I'm straight and a republican but I laughed.
JD: What gay male comics do you like?
I have always loved the wordsmith of Bob Smith. He is a classically, beautifully trained joke writer. Danny Williams, who used to be with the Funny Gay Males, is impromptu and completely insane, not only on stage but in life. I have enjoyed, let's see, sometimes Ant I like a lot, and I don't think there's a funnier gay male comedian than Margaret Cho. I'm confused but I like her.
JD: What do you think is your place in GLBT history?
You know, I think that we all have our strengths that we bring to different movements. My girlfriend (Urvashi Vaid) has been an activist forever, and it's wonderful, and sits through meetings every day, and it's just something I would just tear my own hair out, and probably other people's. But she's a wonderful strategist, strategist, oh my gosh, George Bush has affected me. Strategist. And so we all bring our strengths to it, and mine is to bring humor to the movement, so that we can laugh at ourselves, and, I used to say, make light enough so that we can see where we're going, and light enough to be able to move, and I've done that certainly in my shows. I've been able to do it emceeing long dinners, and emceeing conferences. I like to think of myself as the comedy concierge, just kind of move things along. And I don't know if you know this, but I am now a celebrity auctioneer, mostly because I'm terrible at it. I don't add very well. I don't go up in increments well at all. I lose count of the zeroes. I don't remember the last bid. But I'm good at guilt-tripping people, and I love raising money for organizations.
I thank Kate Clinton for that excellent interview, and I'll make a side comment. Of all the interviews I've edited over the ten years I've been doing this show, I think I had the least editing to do on this one. Maybe in the future I should only interview former English teachers.
We're down to the end of this show, or at least Part 1 of it. And I know you're saying, wait, what about Suzanne Westenhoefer, or Lea DeLaria, or Jamie Anderson or Ellen Degeneres, or on and on. Well, I've got lots more great lesbian comedy music and stand up on my website, over three more hours worth. Of course you can find that at www.queermusicheritage.com, and you can write to me. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices in Houston.
And, what song to close with? It wasn't really a hard decision. From the landmark compilation album "Lesbian Concentrate" from 1977 is Sue Fink singing about those "Leaping Lesbians."
Sue Fink - Leaping Lesbians (1977)
Lezzy - Episode #1 (2007)
Ah, yes, "I Survived a Femme." That was the title track from a 1994 cassette tape released by Teresa Chandler and Karen Ripley. This is JD Doyle and welcome Part 2 of my Queer Music Heritage show called "Those Funny Lesbians." I opened with Lizzy the Lezzy, which was created by Ruth Sewlyn and is the first lesbian comedy animation. Millions have seen the series of short video clips on the internet, and a CD compilation of them was released in 2007.
Up next I've two songs by one of my long-time favorite artists, Jamie Anderson. It was a tough decision, but from her 1993 album "Bad Hair Day" is "Wynona, Why Not," and after that I can't resist playing an unreleased track from 2004.
- Wynona, Why Not (1993)
And that unreleased track by Jamie Anderson was called "Six Flags Over Jesus." And I know you'll recognize this next voice.
Ellen Degeneres - from "Here and Now" (2003)
From her 2003 DVD "Here and Now," that was Ellen Degeneres, and shortly after she came out of the closet in 1997, Georgia Ragsdale had this to say, from her CD "Always Forward, Never Straight."
Ragsdale - A Huge Ellen Fan (1997)
I love that song and that group. That was Rhythm Method and that was their updated and very dyke version of the old Shirelles song "I Met Him on a Sunday." It was from their 1994 album just called "The Rhythm Method." Okay, how many of you lesbians love power tools? Is that a cliché? Well, it inspired Ann Reed to record a song about it.
Ann Reed comments (2002)
Well, I have several people in my life who have this affinity for hardware stores and power tools and my manager is one of them. She always has some kind of tool on her Christmas list. And we always have to have her cut a picture of one out so that we know what she's talking about. We went up to this gig in Alaska. They've got like the world's largest hardware store up there. She almost went into a coma. It was unbelievable. So, got back, talked to our hardware store who were sort of upset with us, sort of like we cheated on them. We went to a different hardware store. And they said, "You know, you don't have any hardware songs." And I thought, oh, old dopey me, what have I been writing about? But, came up with that and I kind of thought "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" needed to be rewritten anyway, so, it was a good use of it.
Ann Reed - Power Tools (1997)
From Ann Reed's "Timing Is Everything" CD from 1997. Up next, one of the most popular lesbian comics, Suzanne Westenhoefer. In a reader's poll done by Curve Magazine last year, she was voted the funniest lesbian in America. Here's a clip from her 1997 CD, "Nothing In My Closet But Clothes."
Westenhoefer - from "Nothing In My Closet" (1997)
song is quite obscure and you'll probably hear it nowhere else, especially
due to that last line. The act is from New Zealand and took its name
from a type of birds whose name is pronounced, I'm told, bidngi (bin-gee).
It's spelled b-i-d-n-g-i. I thank an Aussie friend of mind, Sue Barrett,
for sending it to me. The song, called "Irony," came from
the group's 1995 album, "Fly." The act was comprised of Kaeleen
Hunter & Angelika Heinrich, and I found Kaeleen on facebook, and
she told me the album is long, long out of print.
Linda Topp comments (2001)
Yup, pretty much everyone in New Zealand knows that we're lesbians. We've been out since 1976, and Jools and I are both lesbians. It's a twin thing, and in fact our brother is gay as well, so there must be something in the water, here in New Zealand. But yes, we've been out as lesbians for a long time, ever since we started our career, pretty much. I think that our audiences respect our honesty and our openness in New Zealand.
And who is your audience?
audience is, you know, right across the broad (laughs) right across
the broad (laughs) I can't believe I'm saying that. I've got broad on
the mind. It's a lesbian thing. It's right across the board now. When
we first started out it was very much lesbian orientated audiences that
came to see the Topp Twins but now it's mums and dads and kids and grannies
and all people come to see our show and they come back and it's "oh,
we love your show" you know and our show is about entertaining
and the fact that we're openly lesbian is just part of our lives. You
know it's I mean it's and the great thing now is that gays & lesbians
and mums and dads and kids come to the show, so, it's a beautiful thing.
From their 2005 album "Flowergirls & Cowgirls" that was the Topp Twins and "Country Music." Another treat coming up, Robin Greenspan. From her 1999 CD "Totally Naked" is a routine on gay comedy.
Robin Greenspan - Gay Comedy (1999)
Again, Robin Greenspan, from the album "Totally Naked."
Ready for some more comedy I could only play on the internet version of this show? That would be Lea DeLaria. From her 1992 recording "Bulldyke in a China Shop," here's "Ms DeLaria's Dating Types for Dykes."
- Ms DeLaria's Dating Type for Dykes (1992)
After Lea DeLaria was Monica Grant and a track from one of the funniest lesbian CDs I can think of. It was from 1996 and since it was packed full of parodies, was called "Parodisiac." I want to share one more cut from it, and you'll probably only think it's funny if you're real familiar with the classic song by Ferron called "Shadows on a Dime."
Grant - Shadows on Uuugh (1996)
I almost said, following Ferron was Phranc, but no, that was Monica Grant doing a very good take on Ferron. So, following Monica Grant was Phranc, with a live version of her song about "M-a-r-t-i-n-a." That was from a comedy special from 1993 called "Out There," but the original can be found on Phranc's 1989 recording "I Enjoy Being a Girl."
And I know some of you might have been disappointed not to hear more of the comedy of Kate Clinton in Part 1 of the show. I can take care of that. And I'm going to go way back to her first album, from 1982, called "Making Light." She'll talk about, well, you'll see.
- from "Making Light" (1982)
And after Kate Clinton you heard "I Like Being a Dyke." That's by Alison Farrell, from her very rare 1992 album "Tomboy."
You know, I had a suspicion this would turn into a multi-part show. There is just so much good lesbian comedy, and I hope you come back for the next segment. This is JD Doyle for Queer Music Heritage and I'm closing Part 2 with a singer going by the name Indigo Etheridge. But that was just a gag. Her name is really Julie Goldman and you can see her these days on the Logo's "Big Gay Sketch Show." But in 2001 she released a whole album with the name "Co-dependent Obsessive Love Ain't So Bad (So Leave the Window Open)." And it contained the tender love song "Monogamous Slut."
Indigo Etheridge - Monogamous Slut (2001)
Lezzy - Episode #2 (2007)
This is JD Doyle and welcome to Queer Music Heritage and Part 3 of "Those Funny Lesbians." It's my salute to lesbian comedy and I opened with another episode of "Lizzy the Lezzy," the animated creation of Ruth Sewlyn. And I followed Lizzy with Suzy Berger, who was one of the four comics featured on the 1999 album "Gay From Las Vegas," and after that, an act from the UK, the Well Oiled Sisters. I wish they would have released more than two albums, but I'm glad to have them. From their 1994 CD "Alcohol and Tears" that was "It Ain't Hard Being Easy."
On Part 1 of this show, I introduced you to Ivy Bottini, and promised you an interview with her. And I almost didn't do the interview. I had more than enough material for this show, but I just felt I would not be doing a responsible job if I didn't at least try to contact her. Well, I'm so glad she agreed to talk with me, as it was a delight. For those of you who may not be listening to these shows in one sitting, let me refresh. Ivy Bottini, who just turned 83 in August, is a long-time activist. She helped found the first chapter of the National Organization for Woman and in 1969 she designed their logo. She founded the first AIDS organization in Los Angeles and has been active in many other community services over the years, just to touch scratch the surface. And, as you heard in Part 1, she did comedy.
JD: During what time span, what years, did you do stand up comedy?
Seriously, between March '74 and '79, into the very early 80's.
JD: When did you start doing openly lesbian material in your comedy?
JD: Right off the bat? [uh huh] What was the reception to that?
Fine. I never had any problem, never had any problem at all. I played mostly in the, first couple of years, I played mostly to feminist conventions, chapters of NOW. I went on two road tours with my then accompanist. One was a six-week road and the other was a nine-week road tour, and we were doing pretty much driving and, you know, every night doing a show or every afternoon doing a show.
JD: Did you change your material at all based on the audience?
No. One of the things that happened with my comedy, I talked very much about gynecologist visit and birth control and menstruation and inserting the first tampax I mean, I was the first one to talk about that stuff, the very first one. It was really funny, because the women would come to see my show, and the next night, cause I usually played twice, they'd bring their daughters. It was like this lesbian health course.
JD: Well, I've listened to a lot of lesbian comedy working on this show, almost everybody talks about those subjects now.
JD: Yes, but nobody talked about them back then.
I understand from reading about you that you had some problems with the National Organization for Women.
Yes, the forced me out, because I introduced the issue of lesbianism into the movement. I did a panel in 1969. The panel was "Is lesbianism a feminist issue?" And that was the first time that the word lesbian had been spoken out loud in the movement, if not the first time it was ever spoken in the movement. And it was a great panel. There were 15, including myself, and of all those people there were only two lesbians on the panel. And the place was packed. There were oh God, over 300 people came, it was packed. After it was over and when the feedback started to come back, they thought everybody was a lesbian on the panel, cause otherwise why would you want to talk about it.
JD: Do you think your lesbian comedy contributed to the backlash you got?
No, because I wasn't doing my comedy until after they forced me out. I was kind of like the first lesbian purged out of the National Organization for Women, and that was in late '70.
JD: And who else was doing openly lesbian comedy the years when you were doing it?
Nobody I know of, in the beginning.
JD: Did you see folks like Maxine Feldman, Robin Tyler?
Oh, Maxine Feldman was a very, very good friend of mine. And I was the one that introduced her into the entertainment world in the movement, when I played my first show. I did my first show, or my first routine. It was called "Women for Women," and it was a seven-week series at Town Hall in New York. And they asked me to be one of the acts on opening night. And I had met Maxine when I was living out here in California. And I went back home in very late '73, almost November '73, cause I was sick. I went back to the East Coast, and that's when they contacted me, NOW, the National Organization for Women, the New York chapter. They contacted me and said, we hear you have a show, and I didn't. I had been studying out here with (Lee) Strasburg, you know, studying improve and comedy. And I didn't but I said, yeah, I do. And so they asked me to be on opening night, along with Blossom Dearie and Joan Hackett and Tammy Grimes, and I can't remember who else, there were about six of us, seven of us.
And I said I wanted to bring this woman in, who was a singer/songwriter, who lived in California, who I knew when I was here. So I flew Maxine in, and she actually opened for me. She did, I think, two songs, that was how I introduced her into the movement, and then in New York when I flew her in, she stayed and she lived with my then-partner Mary Carol and I for a year. We all lived in the same apartment uptown, in New York City.
JD: Oh, you're the ones that she talks about in the song "Come Out of the Closet." Wonderful. I interviewed her a few years ago and she was a terrific interview.
She was an integral part of my life. One night when we were all living in New York, the first feminist restaurant was down in Greenwich, on West 11th, it was called Mother Courage, and it was during the streaking era. And Maxine and Mary Carol and I drove down there, and she stripped in the back of my little Volkwagen bug, and streaked Mother Courage, and it was hysterical. Cause it wasn't a big place, and I knew she was coming in. Mary Carol and I went in ahead of her. And we knew it was going to happen; she was moving so fast, my eyes kept missing her, you know, I was always a beat behind her. And she ran into the kitchen, turned around and ran back out, it was amazing.
JD: I got the impression that she was quite a character.
Oh yes, she was, she was, I just adored Maxine.
JD: I never got to meet her in person, but that phone interview I had, it was just like I knew her, it felt just like I knew her.
Yeah, that's the kind of person she was, very open, nothing was hidden.
And that interview is the perfect introduction to Maxine Feldman. I wanted to put this next track on Part 1 of this show, as it's so packed full of history, but then, I would have had to edit the language in it, and I wanted you to get the full effect of the comedy and singing of Maxine Feldman. Sadly, Maxine passed away in August of 2007. I'm playing a cut from her 1979 album, "Closet Sale." I got to hear her sing it at the 1979 March on Washington. And even better, in 2002 I got to interview Maxine, and when we get to the song, if you pay close attention to her introduction, you'll hear her mention Mary Carol and Ivy. The Ivy was Ivy Bottini. So here's a clip of her talking about the song "Closet Sale."
Maxine Feldman comments (2002)
about "Closet Sale" I love that song
Feldman - Closet Sale (1979)
Ah, nothing like good old harmony, right? After Maxine Feldman was Judy Fjell and "I Was a Teenaged Lesbian," from her 1993 album "Best of Times." And then you heard the group DykeAppella. I took "Wet Underwear" from their only commercial release, "At the Gates of Heaven." That was from 1998 and is a wonderful album, but years ago one of the members sent me a recording of their farewell concert, from 2001. So you got to hear the very unreleased song, "Sit On My Face."
Up next, more sex talk, this time by Michele Balan, from her 1999 CD "Neurotic By Nature."
Balin - from "Neurotic by Nature" (1999)
And of course that's Meg Christian and the classic "Ode to a Gym Teacher," and that was the long version, which included the intro, which you'll only find on Meg's 1974 album "I Know You Know," the first album released by Olivia Records. That version is not available on any of the CD reissues of her material.
Venus Envy - Beaver Cleaver Fever (1990)
Ah, one of the historic funny groups, Venus Envy. From their 1990 6-song cassette tape "Unarmed and Dangerous," that was "Beaver Cleaver Fever." That's the group that gave us the classic album "I'll Be a Homo for Christmas" and was comprised of Laura Love, Linda Schierman, Linda Sivert and Lisa Koch. And I've been a big fan of Lisa's for many years. Besides being one half of the comedy duo Dos Fallopia, Lisa Koch has released several wonderful albums that contain, besides great music, lots of humor. Like the title track from her 1995 album "You Make My Pants Pound."
- You Make My Pants Pound (1995)
After "You Made My Pants Pound" it just seemed right to play "Hickey" from Lisa's 1991 release "Colorblind Blues." Back in 2001 I asked Lisa to tell me about a track from her album "Both of Me," as I just love the song "I Won't Survive the Festival"
Lisa Koch comments (2001)
"I Won't Survive the Festival" is really about women's music festivals. I've been to many, over the years, and what I've observed is that, you know, couples will come, partners will come, and one partner loves the festival, loves digging in the dirt, loves camping out, loves the bland food, loves everything about it, and the other partner could really give a rip, would rather be at a five-star hotel somewhere warm. And it's just so funny to watch these women, who never wanted to come to the festival in the first place they get convinced to come along by their partners, at least once and you can spot them, you can spot them miles away in a crowd. They don't want to be there. They're not having a good time. And so this song was written for those women who never wanted to come to the festival in the first place.
- I Won't Survive the Festival (2001)
"Back When We Had Sex" is ah it's about any of those relationships that, I'll say probably longer than four/five years where you just, you know, you just don't do it as often. And especially in the lesbian world there's that myth of well, maybe it's not a myth, of lesbian bed death. So I just decided to write a song about, you know, long term couples, couples who have been together for a while, and they have to work at it. But they remember back to when they had that wonderful stuff.
Lisa Koch - Back When We Had Sex (2006)
Yes, "Back When We Had Sex." I just can't get enough of Lisa Koch, so I played a song from each of her four solo albums, finishing with one from her latest, the 2006 album "Tall Cool Drink."
And you heard Lisa sing about women's festivals, that's where I'm starting off this routine from Karen Williams.
Karen Williams - from "Human Beings What a Concept" (1998)
Yes, "Human Beings: What a Concept" is the title of the 1998 CD by comedian Karen Williams. You can find a new routine by her on Logo online.
Time to close Part 3 of "Those Funny Lesbians." Again, this is JD Doyle for Queer Music Heritage and I hope you check out Part 4. Yes, there's one more, because, as long time listeners already know, when I want to share music on a subject, if I've got more to give you, well, I just have no willpower. Ending this part is a group from the 90s I really liked, called Yer Girlfriend. Between 1989 and 1995 they released three wonderful CDs, but this song is not on any of them. It can only be found on a various artist's compilation called "Family of Friends," from 1993. It includes a lot of great music by women artists and the Yer Girlfriend song "Lez-B-Bop."
Yer Girlfriend - Lez Be Bop (1993)
- Obvious Dyke (1999)
From the UK, that was stand-up comic and artist Clare Summerskill, and you heard two by her, "Obvious Dyke" from the 1999 album "Make It Sound Easy," and from a couple years ago, from the CD "Still Let Me Fly," that was "Wedding Bells."
This JD Doyle and Queer Music Heritage, which of course you already know, as you could only be listening to this from my website, and it's the fourth and last part of "Those Funny Lesbians."
I played a couple songs by Jamie Anderson on Part 2, and I want to give you one more. From her 1999 album "Drive All Night" is "I Wanna Be a Straight Guy." And I'm following her with another song from 1999, by the iconic Judy Small.
- I Wanna Be a Straight Guy (1999)
By Judy Small from her queerest album of all, "Let the Rainbow Shine," that was "Lesbian Chic." And next I'm playing a song that was recommended to me for this show. One of my internet friends is Sue Barrett, a women's music expert and columnist in Australia, and she suggested a song from a 1988 album by Hunter Davis. The album is called "Torn" and one interesting thing about it is that it contains a duet with Cris Williamson, with backing vocals by Teresa Trull, Linda Tillery, and, this surprised me, "Tales of the City" author Armistead Maupin. Sue says the song is funny based on its interpretation. It's called "Arm and a Leg."
Davis & Cris Williamson - Arm and a Leg (1988)
That is Amy Boyd, one of Kate Clinton's favorite comics. I found the video of that clip on Amy's site and it's from a Logo One Night Stand show, from around 2008. And I got to see this next artist perform this song live, at an Outmusic Awards show, and she really knows how to work a room. It was terrific. She's Ember Swift, and on her 2002 album "Stiltwalking" she gifted us with "Boinked (the Bride)".
Ember Swift - Boinked (the Bride) (2002)
If you've seen many gay stand up comedy shows on TV, you've probably seen this wonderful comic, Elvira Kurt. She's known especially for ethnic humor, as in this sketch from her 1999 album "Kitten With a Wit."
Kurt - from "Kitten With a Wit" (1999)
That short little song after Elvira Kurt was called "Let's All Be Gay." It's from the album "Live from the Greenhouse," from 2004 and was by stand-up comic Susan Unger.
You all know I love to put history in these shows. Well, in 1981 there was a various artist compilation released on a small Chicago label, and the Folkways label picked it up and also released it. It was called "Gay and Straight Together," and was produced by Ginni Clemmens. For its time I think Judith Carsello's song is kind of funny. You know I could not resist a song called "Lezzie Queer."
Judith Carsello - Lezzie Queer (1981)
And here are more funny songs, starting with Anne Seale and then a group called Estrogen. You'll understand the title of the first one once you hear it. It's called "Women, Womyn, Wimmin"
- Women, Womyn, Wimmin (1991)
A bit of commentary there. And back to the beginning of that set, from Anne Seale's 1991 cassette tape "Sex For Breakfast" was "Women, Womyn, Wimmin," and from the 2001 album by Estrogen called "Tales from Lesbianville" was "Lesbian Time." Ending that set was Mara Levi, with "Homo Song," from her 2006 CD called "What Are You?"
Next is a bit of a sketch from 2007 by Wanda Sykes.
Wanda Sykes - Gay Marriage (2007)
Wanda Sykes has been very visible over the last ten years, in movies and on television, and in the past year she became the latest celebrity coming out story. It had been rumored for a while, and I saw her in the summer of 2008 in Cyndi Lauper's True Colours Tour when it played Houston. She was not quite out yet then. But she was in November. Here's a short clip of her coming out at a rally in Las Vegas.
Wanda Sykes - Las Vegas Speech (2008)
Now, for a change of pace, here's the Portland Lesbian Choir. In 1997 they released a CD called "Making Light," which celebrated and included recordings from their first ten years together. In 1992 they were at a GALA conference and performed before a very enthusiastic audience the Captain and Tennille song "The Way I Want to Touch You."
Lesbian Choir - The Way I Want to Touch You (1992)
I followed the Portland Lesbian Choir with a very funny duo known as the Therapy Sisters. They've been doing their comedy singing dating back to 1989. From their "Sound Mind" CD from 2002 you heard "I Need a Stalker."
Derivative Duo - Eine Kleine Visit (1993)
And that was the Derivative Duo, otherwise known as Barb Green and Susan Nivert. They released two delightful albums doing parodies of classical and opera songs in the early 90s. That track was "Eine Kleine Visit" and was from their 1994 release "Opera for the Masses." Two years later they released "Mutiny at the Matinee." And I probably could not think of a bigger change from a classical music parody than this next act. They are Team Gina, and the song is called "Butch/Femme."
Team Gina - Butch/Femme (2006)
From 2006, Team Gina, featuring Cindy Wonderful, and Gina is Gina Young who has several earlier releases under her own name.
Time to close this over four hour salute to lesbian comedy. And of course I will be the first to say I just scratched the surface. There is so much more. And I hope, being a mere man, I was able to do this topic some degree of justice. This is JD Doyle thanking you for listening to Queer Music Heritage. Now, I puzzled on what to end it with, but it wasn't hard for me to pick this one, as it was written by a friend of mine, whose work in various groups and as a solo artist over the years I much respect, Gretchen Phillips. In 1990 she was in the iconic band Two Nice Girls, and one of their most famous songs is this one, "I Spent My Last $10 on Birth Control and Beer."
Gretchen Phillips comments (2005)
Oh, well I wrote "I Spent My Last $10" when I was in Meat Joy actually, and I brought it to that band, and they really weren't interested in it, which I thought, "okay, well, I'm really sitting on a goldmine here so if you want to be like that, be like that." And I brought it to Two Nice Girls immediately and of course it was very popular right off the bat, once it started being performed.
I said literally at a show to my bandmates prior to during sound check "I just spent my last $10 on birth control and beer" because I was on the pill for my spotting, my sort of hormonal problems, and I also drank a lot of Busch Beer, and I had spent my last $10 on birth control and beer, and I when I said that I was like "that sounds like a country song, I gotta write that song." Which I think all the time but I don't necessarily act on. But that song really came came right through me. It just basically kind of wrote itself, I have to say. I wrote it while I was driving around for a job. I always have these jobs where I have to be in the car a lot. It came out pretty much fully formed. "I Spent My Last $10 on Birth Control and Beer" did very well for Two Nice Girls, in terms of a lot of college radio play, and the fact that it's a sing-along and people do enjoy the audience participation.
Two Nice Girls - I Spent My Last $10 (1990)