Kate Clinton brings All Fracked Up tour to Madison

Jason Cuevas, Clarion Staff

In a world where people feel the need to watch what they say more than ever, Kate Clinton bucks the trend. The humorist and political activist will be visiting Madison on Feb. 17 at the Barrymore Theater.

Clinton has a long career in both writing and performing. She currently writes for The Progressive, Huffington Post, and on her own website kateclinton.com. She has written three books and appeared on shows like Rachel Maddow and The Rosie O’Donnel Show.

There is little in the world that Clinton cannot find a way to poke fun at. She is an outspoken lesbian activist and pulls no punches when giving her view of the world. The Clarion was recently able to sit down with Clinton and discussed the following:

Clarion: What can people expect when they go to see Kate Clinton?

Kate Clinton: I would say laughter. If it were a bar or restaurant, food products could be blasted out the nose. But I don’t think they serve drinks at the Barrymore, so no, there wont be any of that.

Also thinking, because I think you can do those two things at the same time. They can expect to see their friends, and it’s always good to see your friends.

Here’s the thing. I am a job creator. People come. Maybe they go to a restaurant, or have to get a babysitter. I am a job creator, and a comedian.

Clarion: Do you think that humor allows you to get a message across you wouldn’t be able to otherwise?

KC: Absolutely. I think that people, when they are laughing, are open in a way that they might not be open, because they let down their guard to let a laugh out. In that moment, ideas come in they might not ordinarily entertain. If I’ve had really almost disgruntled people coming out of my show going, “I’m a republican, but I really liked it,” I’ve done my job.

Clarion: In your opinion is there anything that it’s not okay to joke about?

KC: I don’t think so. First of all you have to have confidence in it and deliver it competently. You have to have the right angle on it, and often the right anger on it. If you have those things you can do anything.

It’s interesting generationally. There are words that we kind of grew up with and embraced, I’m in my 60s, but kids in their 20s are really offended. For example when we were coming up and we had the stonewall riots, it was with great love and affection that we said the transgendered people – queens, drag queens and we called them trannies – kicked down the doors. They were like no more police harassment, but the word tranny is really offensive to a younger generation. So it’s like everything is a learning moment, and it really changes. And you just make mistakes sometimes. Just like anyone, I do admit my mistakes. They’re a teachable moment.

Clarion: You’ve been a gay activist for a long time. How have things changed? It’s obviously been a big time for homosexual rights.

KC: Huge. Unbelievable. I think really if you look at the 40 years of LGBT activism we’ve really accomplished a lot. I think it should be the envy of every movement. We’ve accomplished a lot in a short amount of time. Of course we’ve had setbacks, and it often feels like two steps forward and oh my God four skips back. But I think on a cultural level the visibility of LGBT people is huge. And because of that and because more people come out and more straight people get to know them. I’ve often felt people weren’t really homophobic and much as homo ignorant. It’s not true anymore. There are pockets where people think, “I’m the only gay person,” but it’s like hello, get a television.

We’ve made progress culturally with visibility. We’ve certainly made progress with great legislative non-discrimination things. Workplace changes, civil unions, marriage in some places, the repeal of don’t ask don’t tell. We’ve made enormous strides in 40 years.

It’s quite an exciting moment right now. It won’t be over until a kid who comes out and comes out young won’t have their first thought be suicide. And we’re not there yet. We’ve made legislative and cultural strides but there is a kind of traditional way of thinking about gay people that’s still there and that we’re still working on.

Clarion: What do you think are the common misconceptions people have?

KC: I think that, I think they’re jealous that we’re having a better time. And we are. We are in relationships, that’s a lot of hard work. We’re worried about our healthcare. We’re worried about our elders getting on and having healthcare and no one to take care of them. We have all those problems. I think they’re a misconception that we’re all white, gay and very healthy.

And that we’re having a lot of sex. Ok, we are. Or that’s the only thing we do. I have friends who are like, “I wish we were having as much sex as they think we are.”

Those are changing, I think these imbedded assumption about gay people are changing. And they’re changing because people are coming out. They’re coming out at work. They’re coming out at schools younger and younger to their families. There certainly is a period when kid come out to their families and they’re shunned, I tell them enjoy it. Because there is going to be a time they’re going to think you’re really cool and come visit.

Clarion: What is your opinion of the current Republican primary and their candidates?

KC: Well it’s sort of like the slowest speed dating. On and on. I think that it has been, and people have said it, that some things that come out of their mouths become a highlight reel of dumb ideas for Republicans. I think they’re really exposing themselves. “Damn it I don’t think people should have healthcare,” and people in the audience cheer. “If they die, they die,” and it’s like holy crap. I mean you could tell people that’s what they think. , but to actually see it has been pretty astounding. For a while it kind of looked like a perp walk. But I think it’s been so revealing that a lot of Republicans are saying, “enough.” John McCain is like, “let the mud wrestling stop.” I think It’s been very clarifying.

Clarion: You say things a lot of things other people wouldn’t have the guts to say. Is that from your background of what you’ve gone through as a gay woman, or is that just you?

KC: I think it’s probably a combination. I notice the older I get the less I care. Which is lovely, I recommend it. My motto is, “I couldn’t care less.” And then I think. “Wait a minute, I’m caring less.” I think it’s a little bit probably ignorance. I think everyone thinks this way, so I just kind of say it. Now I say that with a wink-wink, but I also think it’s important that everybody does their own kind of activism. Mine is to articulate things people are thinking and get it out there. I absolutely believe in the palpability of words, and the ability of words to change things. I think that the hardest part of my job is paying attention to just horrible things and trying to transform it into something funny so people can hear it.

Clarion: Do you think that making something funny helps people do deal with it?

KC: I do. I think it helps to have a lighter moment. I think a good show is if I’m talked about in the bathroom after. If people are still talking about something I said after I leave, that’s great.

I really load a show. And people tell me after they go to dinner after and have total amnesia form the show, just been knocked out by too much. So they try and reenact the show.  I think that’s great, I like repetition is good.

Clarion: When it comes to your shows or your writing, do you have a preference?

KC: When I’m struggling to write I’d like to be on stage. But part of being on stage is flying. So when I’m circling Newark for the third hour I’m thinking, “Ugh, I’d rather be at my desk.” I really, when I was in 6th grade and it was a career day, my job as a comedian, and a lesbian It’s amazing that I’ve been able to do this. That I’m able to make a living at it is just astounding.

Clarion: Have you found that the reaction you get from when you started and the kind of feedback you receive differs from when you first started? I don’t think many people think an outspoken lesbian woman is a big deal anymore.

KC: It reminds me recently I went to the Apple store. Which is this amazingly beautiful store, we call it temple that’s apple. I bring in my iPhone, which is first generation. Suddenly all the young people that work there are looking at this. It was like an archeological find. They’re like, “Wow, I’ve never seen one, it’s great.” I was like, “For God’s sake, I have a horse tied up outside.”

There definitely is a change in perception about to even say what you’re lesbian means. I don’t think the drive towards equality and justice has changed. Among younger people it’s always a surprising and happy finding when they come to my show. It’s not me talking about my softball team and flannel shirts. It’s very political. We talk about media and rappers. It’s on topic. It used to be if something gay happened you could talk about it for five years because nothing else would happen. Now I just try to keep up.

It’s a lovely change for me. What I’ve always thought of feminism and the LGBT movement is that it’s really inclusive. It includes people that are working on issues of violence. From being anti war to anti bullying in school. It’s really a lovely cross pollination. I think we have learned in the gay movement it can’t be just an identity issue. The only way we’re going to go on is to hook up with other progressive movements. Movements working on issues like poverty and race. I get couples, young couples, straight couples. They come to hear the politics.

Clarion: We know for the civil rights movement it was a huge deal to have an African American as President. We hear some about Barney Frank, and Madison has Tammy Baldwin. There still doesn’t seem to be many gay political leaders, and we still seem to be a ways off from having a woman president.

KC: I think that we’re sort of a more successful occupy gender movement. I think one of the reasons we don’t see LGBT leaders – and they are out there, there’s young people running wonderful organizations and the Obama administration is a place loaded with gay people in agencies throughout the government – but in the past one of the reasons we didn’t see LGBT leaders was no mistake during the Bush years. It was a blackout, like we kicked them off the air.

That’s the lovely thing about social networks. I think there is a kind of equalitarian part of the social network where there is a kind of equality to getting your message out. I think it’s a reflection of the grass roots of the LGBT movement. I travel to a lot of places and invariably there is that leader that is running the LGBT center, or is on the school board and making a difference. I do think they’re out there but it’s not a mistake people don’t know about them, but you weren’t supposed to for a long time.

Clarion: What is on the forefront for you with writing and performing?

KC: I have a part in the NBC over-advertised series called “Smash.” A series about the making of a Broadway play and has all the backstage intrigue. The musical they are trying to make is based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. It has Angelica Houston. I’m on a lot of the trailers. Apparently they’ve been showing them on American Airlines and my friends are on planes screaming, “It’s Kate!”

I’m crafting a routine and will probably record again in the fall. Will be my 10thalbum. I just always feel like a CD is kind of a record of what you’ve been doing. And I’ve been talking about doing another book, so I’m a busy gal. And feeding the Internet beast, which is blogging and blogging and tweeting and just shoveling stuff in every day.

Clarion: What keeps you going with such a big agenda?

KC: I guess I want to bring down the patriarchy, and you know it a big job so I keep busy. I guess if you’re a writer you write. I get up every morning and write. And what to do with it. It used to be people sat around with their novels and books and didn’t know what to do with it, but now you can just get it right out there.

Clarion: Is there anything you would like the people to know?

KC: I’m excited to come back to Madison. I’m excited to congratulate everyone there on the incredible work you’ve been doing to oust your governor and protest his early shenanigans. I’m very, very excited to come to the home of Tammy Baldwin, who is stellar. I’m doing a lot of work with her. I’m very happy about that, and also coming back to the home of the magazine I write for that is doing such amazing work throughout the progressive world. They’ve been committed to getting the word out forever. So I’m happy to see my friends form the progressive, it’s like a homecoming. Whenever I come to Madison I get so home sick because it’s such a great town. Everyone is in leagues and doing activism and they’re volunteering, and it’s so cool.