OUT in America: A Q&A with Humorist Kate Clinton

June 7th, 2011

Kate Clinton (Photo: David Rodgers)

Inside Thirteen recently spoke with multi-talented funny lady Kate Clinton about her participation in the upcoming documentary, OUT in America.

The film is a collection of stories told by some of the country’s most prominent LGBT figures, along with everyday citizens with extraordinary stories. It spans the country to show the diversity of the LGBT community, and transcends stereotypes to reveal the real people behind the struggle for equality.

Here, Clinton shares her thoughts on LGBT issues and her varied career, which spans comedy, acting, writing, and beyond.

OUT in America airs Wednesday, June 8 at 8 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Inside Thirteen: What first interested you in participating in OUT in America?

Kate Clinton: I think that from the beginning, the producer [Andrew Goldberg] was driven to tell the story of the ordinary lives of gay people in America. It’s part of the way of winning hearts and minds, which is certainly the campaign. It’s a wonderful venue through PBS — it has such a wide reach and I was excited that he was so determined to get it there and to really tell a good, ordinary story of the courageous and extraordinary lives of LGBT people in America. You just can’t have enough! So I was really drawn to that, and he [Goldberg] was relentless, so I couldn’t say no!

When I started doing comedy 30 years ago, if something gay happened in the news, I could talk about it for 5 to 10 years. It could be, “Lily Tomlin wore purple,” and that would be it! So, the fact that OUT in America through PBS really realizes what we’re up against to tell a gay story, because there are so many other gay stories being told, it’s incredible. That they have public relations and promotions for it is awesome! Before, it would be like, “Try to hide that thing by putting it on at 3 in the morning.” We are marshaled to make people aware that it’s on.

IT: Are there any stories in OUT in America that you found especially moving or that resonated with you?

KC: What I loved is the overall gestalt the thing. It’s beautifully done, simply told, and I really loved all the stories.

IT: What message do you hope viewers will take from this film?

KC: It sounds so science fiction, but — we are among you. I don’t mean that in a threatening way, we’re not taking your lunch money. We’re tax-paying America loving, ordinary citizens like everybody else. And we want our PBS. (laughs)

IT: Are there any LGBT issues or perspectives that you feel do not get enough attention?

KC: I think that the national focus and conversation is definitely on marriage equality. I think that as a vehicle to talk about LGBT equality is wonderful. I do think that the wonderful video idea of “It Gets Better” is certainly drawing attention to bullying and encouraging young people to hang in there after the incredible number of suicides we’ve had.

I think the LGBT issue is that we are in all issues. Healthcare is an LGBT issue — we have incredibly inaccurate and outdated information about the LGBT population. We’re never represented fully in healthcare policy — we have huge amounts of breast cancer among lesbians. Why is that? We don’t know. Because of the effects of homophobia, we have horrible amounts of alcohol and drug addiction, and tobacco. I think what we’re not focusing on enough is that every issue is an LGBT issue. Immigration is an incredible LGBT issue. LGBT people are kind of like immigrants into the world of heterosexuality. We’re undocumented, we’re trying to figure out the language, we’re afraid of losing our jobs and our homes because we’re LGBT. We’re all border crossers. I think what we need to do going forward is be a part of every issue. To have a friend, you have to be a friend. So, we need to be in the profound discussions about choice in this country. We need to be in discussions about immigration. I’m very happy that we have finally repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but we still have to be on issues like the rape of women in the military.

IT: How do you think the political/cultural landscape will change in the next decade with regards to gay rights and the fight for equality, if at all?

Kate Clinton (Photo: Two Cat Productions)

KC: I do think it will change — to look forward, we just have to look backwards and see the enormous changes that we’ve made in the last 40 years — it’s pretty stunning to be part of a liberation movement that has become so visible and has accomplished so many wonderful things on the state, national, and local levels. I think and hope that the way the LGBT landscape will change is as I was saying, that we become more involved as LGBT people in environmental issues, healthcare issues, education. Then, it is a true change. I worry that if we get federal marriage equality, that people will just go “Wow, that’s great! Okay, we’re done with that.” I love the moment when there’s somebody in an office trying to figure out in triplicate what to do about insurance for gay people. When it really comes down to that level, that’s what I’m looking for.

IT: You’ve had an extremely multi-faceted career, from acting to writing to comedy. If you had to give it all up and pick a different career, what would it be?

KC: I would be an adult literacy volunteer. I would teach people how to read — I think that would be rockin’.

IT: What is your favorite material to cover during your shows? Is there anything you generally avoid?

KC: I think people are overwhelmed by information and what we don’t get to do is contextualize it or connect it to other things. I think that is what I love to do the most. I love to laugh, and I work for laughter. But if you get a moment that’s quiet because people are thinking, and it’s because you’ve made some connection that maybe on some subconscious level they were thinking about but hadn’t articulated…I love that. I guess it’s making connections. On the flip side, if there is any joke that my girlfriend says, “Oh, you shouldn’t do that,” that is the one I want to do!

IT: Is there anything people would be surprised to learn about you?

KC: I think I’ve told them almost everything! I guess they would be surprised that I actually mean it! I have no sense of direction, I am technologically challenged. I really am against gay marriage! It’s a great idea and I’ll work for it, but don’t make me do it! (laughs)