Suzanne Westenhoefer: A gay old time at EPAC

By on August 19, 2015

I’m a newbie when it comes to stand-up comedy — especially lesbian stand-up comedy. The closest I’ve gotten to a stand-up comedy experience is the bookends of Seinfeld reruns. Seriously! Actually, even as a heterosexual male, I know more lesbians than stand-up comedians; so, I grabbed one of my favorite girlfriends and headed to EPAC’s Sharadin Bigler Theatre Saturday, Aug. 15 to see a performance by Suzanne Westenhoefer.

Westenhoefer is billed as “the first-ever out-lesbian stand-up comic,” a handle she gained in the 1990s and brought with her to a full house on Saturday night.

It all started with a dare. In the early ‘90s, a friend urged the young Westenhoefer to try out gay themed jokes on a predominantly straight audience in New York City. It worked! The result earned her a place in history as she broke boundaries and created openness for a subject some people may not directly relate to humor. Described as the first openly lesbian comedian with an HBO Special and the first openly lesbian comedian on “Late Night with David Letterman,” Westenhoefer first appeared openly on TV during a 1991 episode of Sally Jesse Raphael entitled “Breaking the Lesbian Stereotype … Lesbians Who Don’t Look Like Lesbians.”

Her HBO Special, “HBO Comedy with Suzanne Westenhoefer,” garnered a CableACE Award nomination. She has gone on to star as a panelist on the Game Show Network’s remake of “I’ve Got a Secret,” which features a panel of gay celebrities who have to guess the various guests’ secrets through a series of questions. “A Bottom on Top,” Westenhoefer’s comedy special and documentary, aired on LOGO Television in 2007.

She is a popular act at EPAC; this was her fifth time appearing on the Ephrata stage. Her popularity is two-fold; of course her lesbian subject matter gets many people in the door, but Westenhoefer is also a Lancaster Countian. She grew up in Columbia. Her sense of the area quickly translated into some homegrown humor at the expense of local farmers on Saturday. In her usual, snarky delivery she started off the evening by wondering why locals are so hung up on tomatoes.

“Does everybody around here grow tomatoes?” she asked, and then launched into a series of well-mannered jokes about gardening.

A brutally honest comedian, Westenhoefer quickly moved into more risqué territory. There were plenty of jokes about female anatomy. The crowd became exceptionally uproarious after she described — in plenty of detail — her love life with her girlfriend. There was a sandwich involved. That’s about all I can say about that joke without drawing the ire of censors.

She told a story of how she created a LGBT community group on her college campus. Afterwards she asked how many lesbians were in the audience. Then she asked how many gay men. Then she asked how many bisexual people were in the audience. Only one hand came up and that individual became the source of much laughter; and there is a reason Westenhoefer tries not to include the audience in her show. She related a story to all of us. Once, while working a room, she called out a couple to use as fodder for her jokes. Eventually, she uncovered the fact the two were cheating on their spouses. It didn’t go over well, said Westenhoefer.

Since I have many gay and lesbian friends I assumed — even though a straight man — I wouldn’t be too lost with Westenhoefer’s set. I wasn’t at all. She is more than just a lesbian comedian. Every joke comes from the hip with Westenhoefer. Her sets are completely different every time she takes the stage. Maybe that is the reason for her popularity in Ephrata. After the show, she mingled with a crowd of fans in the EPAC lobby. The show was a success. I’ll enjoy seeing her again when she returns to Ephrata. I’m assuming this is not her last visit. At least she’ll have to come back and check out the tomatoes, right?

Michael C. Upton works as a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure, covering subjects ranging from funk punk to fine wine. He invites your comments and suggestions at facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.

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