I first saw Suzanne Westenhoefer many moons ago in Philadelphia. Kim & I laughed until we almost wet our pants. Even to this day one of us only needs to spit out a punch line from one of Suzanne’s skits to make ourselves laugh (after all crazy behavior like this is part of the secret to longevity in relationships, right?).
Last year when we went on our Olivia cruise we had the chance to get an even bigger taste of Suzanne onstage not only with her own show but the little mini-bursts of hysteria when she was emcee-ing. The woman is hysterical and tells it like it is — no one is safe, not even the unsuspecting audience. If you haven’t seen her do her magic – put seeing a live show or watching one of the DVD’s on your short list of to-do’s.
I’m tickled pink and filled with gratitude that Suzanne took time out of her crazy schedule to take part in this interview… so without further ado…
1) What was the inspiration that led to your career in comedy?
I don’t think I had inspiration. More I had pushing from some friends, my partner at the time and some people where I bar tended. It honestly would never have occurred to me to do stand up. Once the idea was in my head, however…I couldn’t let it go.
2) What words of wisdom would you give to women today who are embarking on a career in comedy or entertainment?
The best words of wisdom are really just go and do it and work. Because you will work for so long for no money, or it will actually cost you money to get to the club….you will work late nights with drunks, the beginning of a comedy career is hard. I think that it’s to weed out the weak. If you don’t really feel the need from a deep space inside you to get up and do it…..the struggle in the beginning will push you out.
3) What kind of experience did you have before becoming a comedian full time?
After saying all that in the last answer…..I must admit my beginning was amazing. I won a contest my first time up….I was getting paid within the year (nothing major but money nonetheless) and in two years I was traveling as a headliner. My HBO special happened when I had been doing stand up for only three years. But I know that is all very unusual. I was fortunate and I was one of the first to talk about queer. That changed everything for me.
4) Your style of comedy is unscripted and bold bringing truth to the forefront in its funniest light. To pull this off (and even make pajama bingo funny as hell) takes tremendous confidence and timing. How would you say being comfortable in your own skin has contributed to your success? During times when you haven’t felt so comfy in your skin, how did that create challenges, obstacles, or barriers to being successful?
The truth is I am only comfortable in my own skin completely when I am on stage. That’s the secret or trick. That’s what pushes me out there to keep going and to do more and explore more. If I were uncomfortable on stage I would have no act….no career.
5) Have you experienced any challenges in your professional life because you are a lesbian?
The biggest challenge I have had in my professional life is not because I am lesbian but because I am an “out” lesbian. Because I refuse to take it out of my act or water it down or not talk about it. I did this on my terms but I am well aware that I’ve lost gigs and opportunities because of that. I don’t care; it was only my agenda from the beginning to be open. It hurts when others get so far because they stay in the closet but I can’t focus on that.
6) What keeps you going on the tough days?
What keeps me going is audience laughter. Knowing when you get up there that they will be laughing and giving you so much. I am addicted to that. It is why most comics never stop doing stand up.
7) What are your top three measures of success?
Being able to work. Being able to pay your bills. Getting recognized for what you do.
8) Your career has certainly grown over the years from your first comedy competition (on a dare no less) in the early-1990’s to the ubiquitous presence you have today performing on land, at sea, on the small screen (and who knows maybe in outer space one day ;-). What is the wildest success story you can imagine for your future?
My wildest success story that I can imagine for the future is to be King. I have always wanted to rule. And not in a democracy. That wouldn’t work for me. I need to be the czar …..not a mean one. I don’t want to rule with violence or anything negative. I just want everyone to do as I say because I have thought about it and I do know better.
9) What are some of the secrets that have worked (and those you discovered didn’t work so well) as you have balanced the demands of traveling, performing, and building your career with personal pursuits over the long haul?
There are no secrets to making the home, career etc. all work. It is having the people around you who want it all to work too, so that there is a team. I kid my friends etc. that they are “Team Suzanne” but it’s true…..to do this is impossible alone. I chant, I am a Buddhist so that also guides my life but in the end it’s all the people you let in (and occasionally kick out) that get you where you need to be. So maybe the trick is to make sure you have good people around you and that you are exceptionally good to them.
10) What brings you the most joy personally or professionally?
Personally I get the most joy from being there for someone who needs me and being able to actually help them. I am a closet mom/therapist/guru. Personal joy for me is being with Jennifer when both have no where to go, when it’s quiet and we are just lying around together.
Professional joy is being appreciated. Audience laugher, people saying they had a great time at the show….having someone want to hire you because they love you. Acceptance is HUGE in the entertainment business but comics suffer from that need even more.
More about Suzanne…
Fearless. Bold. Sparkly. Hilarious. That’s Suzanne Westenhoefer in a nutshell. She’s made a career out of telling the truth. And, the truth is, life is funny (and no one is off limits). From her sister’s obsession with “Passion of the Christ” to her girlfriend’s Herculean thighs, Suzanne tells stories that leave audiences in stitches.
Suzanne works mostly unscripted, so when she hits the stage it’s an unpredictable, original night of comedy magic. Since winning her first comedy competition on a dare in the early 1990s, Suzanne’s career has taken off.
Her comedy special and documentary, “A Bottom on Top,” aired on LOGO Television in fall 2007. In the summer of 2006, Suzanne starred nightly on the GSN’s remake of the classic game show, “I’ve Got a Secret,” entertaining audiences as the “token girl” on a hilarious all-gay panel with ex-Major League Baseball player Billy Bean, radio icon Frank DeCaro and Broadway’s Jermaine Taylor. Currently, Suzanne is writing her first book.
The first openly gay comedian in New York, Suzanne did gay material to straight audiences in mainstream comedy clubs. She was the first lesbian comedian to garner an HBO Comedy Special, which earned her a Cable Ace Award nomination.
On land or at sea, Suzanne delights audiences with over 100 performances a year at theatres, clubs, colleges, fundraisers and cruise and resort vacations (Olivia and RSVP Vacations). Touring with the Indigo Girls and Ani DiFranco made Suzanne wish she’d been born a rockstar.
COMEDY CDS / DVD & AWARDS
“HBO Comedy with Suzanne Westenhoefer” (1994) : Nominated for a Cable Ace Award
“Nothing in my Closet but my Clothes” (1999): Gay and Lesbian American Music Award (GLAMA)
winner for best comedy CD
“I’m Not Cindy Brady” (2000): GLAMA winner for best comedy CD
“Guaranteed Fresh” (2003) : GLAMA winner for best comedy CD
“Live at the Village” (2006)
“A Bottom on Top”