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Comic Kate Clinton’s State of the Union

Richard Burnett
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Kate Clinton’s

Without out American comedy legend Kate Clinton, there is no Rachel Maddow, no out Lily Tomlin, no Rosie, Ellen, Gina Yashere or DeAnne Smith. Kate Clinton was our first out dyke stand-up comic – in my book she is still the queen, and this is my 11th annual Kate Clinton interview – and, if Kate has anything to do with it, her namesake Hillary Clinton (no relation) will become president of the U.S.A.

 
“I wish Bernie Sanders well, but in my lifetime I really would like to have a woman president,” Clinton, now 68, says unequivocally.
 
It’s no understatement to say neither Clinton is “feeling the Bern” but at least Kate acknowledges Sanders has been a welcome addition to the Democratic race, despite the fact many Sanders supporters say they will refuse to vote Hillary if she wins the nomination.
 
“Let me say I am no longer allowed at dinner parties with young people, and that if the arrow in Hillary’s logo was weaponized, I would be using it!” Kate cracks. “But it’s a free country. I think that Bernie is certainly moving Hillary to the left… I am thrilled by the excitement of the youth and the tenor of the whole Democratic debate. Whatever happens at the end of the primaries, this is a very dangerous time, and if you say you’re not going to vote, then you didn’t get the point.”
 
About Susan Sarandon criticizing Hillary Clinton, Kate says, “Are you kidding? It’s, like, such white privilege. I really think it’s a detour and maybe just too much legalized marijuana, I’m not sure.”
 
No stranger to helping political causes, Kate Clinton will emcee the Levity & Justice for All benefit in New York City on June 16, to support LPAC, the U.S. national grassroots lesbian political action committee that supports pro-LGBTQ, pro-women’s rights and progressive candidates. LPAC is also the first U.S. national LGBTQ organization to endorse Hillary Clinton for President, and their June 16 all-star line-up features Rosie O’Donnell, Billie Jean King, Lea DeLaria, Karen Williams, Judy Gold and Marga Gomez, among others.
 
“Others have political action groups, why don’t we have one?” Kate asks rhetorically. “The benefit will also be held in the historic Town Hall which was used by the suffragettes. It’s just great to be there!”
 
Wouldn’t it be great, I say, if Hillary made an appearance?
 
“Well, you know I am doing stunt double work! And when it’s over I’ll do Jamie Lee Curtis. You won’t believe how many people stop me to ask if I’m Jamie Lee Curtis!”
 
As for Donald Trump, I suggest the Republican chickens are coming home to roost. “It’s fun watching bullies getting bullied. And the (Republican establishment is) acting like they don’t know where all of this comes from! Trump is the embodiment. He is all about branding. He totally knows what to do. It’s staggering. It’s such a terrifying and amazing moment, how it has just blown up the ways of campaigning.”
 
It’s also mind blowing to think Kate has been an out queer comic since 1981, back in the Jurassic era when there was only a handful of out LGBTQ heroes, like Billie Jean King and David Kopay. 
 
Clinton has performed in Provincetown now for some 29 years, the last 11 headlining at the landmark Crown & Anchor.
 
“My new show is called Wake Up Call because after a movement victory we get a little drowsy, like we did with marriage equality here (in America),” explains Kate. “After the emancipation of the slaves, there were the Jim Crow laws. We’re in that moment now, with the Jim Queer laws, trying to make America straight again.”
 
In summertime, Kate adds, “so many people come to my shows to hear what happened that day because they spend the day at the beach. It’s not so much comedy, it’s news! I do the set up and they say, ‘He did?’ This will be a great summer because everybody wants to hear about the election.”
 
After all these years, Provincetown remains a queer oasis frequented by approachable LGBTQ celebrities like Pulitzer-winning author Michael Cunningham and filmmaker John Waters. “You see Rosie O’Donnell, Paula Poundstone, Lily Tomlin,” says Kate, who tells me her favourite Provincetown memory is of the late legend Miss Ellie who died of pancreatic cancer in April 2011.
 
Miss Ellie was a transgender woman renowned for her yearly-updated sign, “79 years old and living my dreams,” singing standards in front of Town Hall with her battery-powered karaoke machine.
 
“Miss Ellie was one of the sweetest things in Provincetown,” Kate recalls. “When she died, it was a real loss to the town. Still living the dream.”
 
Clinton will wind down her summer-long Provincetown residency with Bride Pride on Oct. 15 when women from all over the planet will converge for a group wedding scheduled during the 32nd annual edition of Provincetown’s legendary Women’s Week. Of course, Kate “Mad Vow” Clinton – an ordained minister through the Universal Life Church – will perform the nuptials.
 
“Bride Pride wants to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for most lesbian weddings and I am going to be a minister!” Kate says proudly.
 
Meanwhile, back in New York City where Clinton and her spouse Urvashi Vaid live, a transgender woman was allegedly raped inside a single-occupancy unisex bathroom at – of all places – the historic Stonewall Inn this past March. 
 
“The Stonewall today is not the Stonewall that we knew,” Kate sighs. “I mean (now) it’s like an amusement park down there. There are tours going through there all the time! There’s a lot of tourism. It’s not what it was.”
 
Then, on a more serious note, Kate says, “The level of violence against trans people is just staggering. I do think the trans movement has made extraordinary organizational strides, they’ve done incredible work in such a very short time.”
 
Just look at the declining mainstream use of the word tranny: In 2013, on Joan Rivers’s Internet TV series In Bed with Joan, RuPaul discussed being slammed by the trans community for using the word. “The trannies should know that a nigger said it to a kike. Here we go again. Calm down, for chrissakes! Everybody take a deep breath,” Ms. Rivers told me afterwards.
 
But like Kate tells me, “I believe it was your own very own Margaret Atwood who said the conquering nation always has its own language. I think what’s happening is that old syntax of language is busting up. You can see it in the preferred gender pronoun. I am very fascinated by the age difference of it. For Joan’s generation, tranny was a compliment. And for it to have moved to an insult is part of the change of the power structure, which is a good thing. It’s harder to keep up because of the Internet, which speeds things up exponentially. Luckily we have young people in our lives. It’s just harder to keep up. I still don’t do it well. The point is, you don’t fall on your sword.”
 
After all these years, the warm and measured tones of Kate – who was a high school English teacher before becoming one of America’s finest stand-up comics – only add to her icon status.
 
“My job as a comic is to examine language, talk about it and make people aware of it,” Kate says. “It’s been 35 years, my dear, and I still love my job!” 
 
For more Kate Clinton and to purchase tickets for her concert dates in Provincetown this summer, visit kateclinton.com. 
 
Read Richard Burnett’s POP TART blog for The Montreal Gazette at montrealgazette.com/tag/pop-tart.
 
Read Burnett’s national queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill online at www.bugsburnett.blogspot.com.