Every summer for the past 15 years THEGAYUK’s British/American movie critic Roger Walker-Dack has hot tailed it to spend his entire summer in Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod.
A lot has changed since the first Brits landed there when the Mayflower docked in 1602. They only stayed five weeks then before sailing on to their final destination at Plymouth Rock, and they really don’t know what they missed. This captivating beautiful small seaside town has been an artist’s colony, a Portuguese haven, and now it is an enchanting gay mecca that each summer sees the all-year round population of less than 3000 swell to over 60000 people.
In a series we are calling POSTCARDS FROM P.TOWN, Roger Walker-Dack will introduce some of the people and things that create the magic that make this such a ‘must see’ destination for gay people from all over the world.
Kate Clinton describes herself as a faith-based, tax-paying, America-loving political humorist and family entertainer. She is also one of the funniest and quick-witted lesbian comics with her no-holds barred, often-controversial take, on all the hot button topics of the day. Now in her third decade of performing, the woman is seemingly unstoppable with TV appearances ranging from ‘The Rachel Maddow Show’ to ‘The L Word’, several off-Broadway shows, countless sold-out nationwide tours, movies, radio, MC‘ing events and even doing a turn at The Gay Games in Chicago one year. She has worked with some of the greatest performers of her time from Lily Tomlin to Oprah Winfrey. Her summer show is one of the first dates I put in my diary when I arrive here in P.Town. I’ve sat in her audience at least once a year for the past 15 years, and have also exchanged the odd quip or two as we passed each other at Joe’s Coffee Shop, but now she is taking time out of her busy schedule to give her first ever UK magazine interview to The Gay UK:
RWD: You shocked me one year by revealing in your show that you were once a schoolteacher.
KC: Yes, I taught English in High School for years but I always wanted to try my hand at Stand Up Comedy. In March 1981, after I only had just ‘come out’, a friend booked me into a local gay club in Syracuse New York. To my great relief it was a huge success, although it did help that all my friends had turned up to support me. However two weeks later I did the same show at a Women’s Club in Boston where they had no idea of who I was. And the same lines that had slayed them before, now just died an instant death, and from the back of the room a voice shouted out in a broad South End accent ‘you’re on your own now dahling!’ And I was.
RWD: Did that floor you?
KC: (laugh) No. I knew from Teaching just to go on regardless. So I did, and got through it.
RWD: How long did you juggle both careers?
KC: Actually I didn’t. My partner at the time said after my first show ‘I don’t know how to tell you this, but you have to do it again.’ So I immediately gave up teaching and went into performing fulltime and she became my manager. Then another good friend who used to perform in a band booked me for a first summer season touring the North West in a red camper van called Ruby, playing one nighters in an a varied assortment of small and… how can I put it politely… ‘interesting venues’.
RWD. Wow! The touring part doesn’t amaze me but the camper van part is too hard to swallow. You are without doubt THE most elegantly-dressed woman in P Town and even when you whizz past on your bike here you look like you are suitably attired to have tea with The Queen…or a queen at least.
KC: (laughing very loud) I only had a few outfits in those days. But in 1985 I started travelling more and Eastern Airlines had this amazing deal where you could fly to 21 cities for a pittance. The only catch was that you always had to fly through Atlanta, so if you wanted to go from Portland Oregon to Seattle it added 5000 miles to a 173-mile journey.
1985 was also a turning point for me as the AIDS crisis started to hit hard and I played less lesbian only audiences and began playing more gay audiences along with fund raisers and benefits as well. And then I also went on to do memorials and services for friends that were lost.
RWD: A very tough time…
KC: Yes, but I also saw it as a great coming together of our community too, as a way of healing.
RWD: Have you always been so very political?
KC: Coming out as a lesbian in those days was in itself considered a political act. After all, some women can’t say the word lesbian… even when their mouth is full of one.
But on a professional level I feel that we have to deal with a barrage of news and information on a daily basis and I think it is the job of the comic to filter and give it the benefit of a thought that people generally don’t tend to do. I like to contextualize it and to put it in historical context.
RWD: I find what you do is to articulate something that concerns us all and put a funny spin on it, even topics that are considered very serious. You are unashamedly a fervent and passionate Democrat and so I love the stand you take on every issue as I feel completely in tune with your political beliefs, however I am wondering how they go down with an audience that is a tad more conservative?
KC: Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but I think it’s all-educational still, and anyway I just presume that we are all in it together.
RWD: Even though a third of gay people voted for George Bush. Twice?
KC: That’s still hard to believe, but people do come up to me afterwards and say I’m a Republican BUT I loved your show.
RWD: And those that don’t?
KC: When they find it too tough to take, like when I was including pieces on the Iraq war, I simply pretended that all the people who walked out during my performance had just gone to the bathroom and so I carried on. And anyway, I’m a moderate lesbian, I only hold grudges for six generations.
RWD: (laugh) But do you ever censor yourself thinking you may be going too far?
KC: I don’t deliberately set out to provoke outrage. If I am confident in any piece and feel good about it, then I will do it.
RWD: P Town is not just the place you perform. It is also very much home for you and your partner.
KC: I came here first in 1984 and performed for a week. The next year I did two and so on, and I very quickly fell in love with the place. I started to think why am I going back to Upstate NY when this is the place to be all summer. I love all the natural beauty of the town, and the way that people still come here for both that, and also the wonderful sense of community we have here.
RWD: The thing most baffling about you is why have you never ever performed in the UK? Many of your books and CDs are available on Amazon there and sell very well so I know you have a big British fan base.
KC: I’ve got very close to it twice but on each occasion I had family emergencies and had to cancel. BUT I am really hoping it‘s going to be 3rd time luck. I do get a lot of Facebook mail from the UK from people who seem to like that my take on the US is quite raw.
RWD: You would have a great deal of fun giving us your very incisive take on British politics too. I think if you had been born there you would have become one of our great stately Institutions, the sort of person the Queen would have made a Dame.
KC: Thank you.
RWD: Here in Provincetown despite all the many changing fads and trends that have occurred over the years you are still here, and obviously having a great deal of fun, and in fact this season you are the ONLY lesbian comic performing. Whilst all the other acts are ‘barking’ on the street trying to entice people in to see the shows, you don’t and yet you play to packed houses every night.
KC: I think sometimes they come simply because I don’t plaster the beaches with flyers when everyone is simply trying to catch some rays! (laugh) But it’s also a longevity thing, as after all these years I have become part of people’s regular schedule. In the winter I travel a lot around the country: I do workshops, conferences, host award dinners etc. and so many of the people I meet there come to see me when they are on vacation here.
RWD: Over all these years that you have been performing you have won countless Awards, been lauded with praise from the likes of writer TONY KUSHNER (Angels In America) who called you a ‘political visionary’ and ‘incredibly funny’, and rave reviews from the media such as the NY TIMES whose critic said he was in tears from laughing so much, but I am wondering what your favourite compliment is that you have ever received after a show.
KC: After a show in Lexington, Kentucky, I was having dinner with the producers and a young woman came up to me and clapped me a good one on the back, and exclaimed, “Kate Clinton! You made me want to f**k again!”
RWD: (laughing) I am for once speechless.
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