An American Impressionist – The Advocate, 2/28/2006

Despite a daily, strictly medicinal, dose of the New York Times Crossword puzzle, I do often draw huge honking blank holes of memory. I used to fight it, but now I embrace it. I might not remember the restaurant, what we ate or who was there, but I do remember that we had a lovely or dreadful time. Details come, details go, but impressions remain. I am an American Impressionist.

It’s my 25th anniversary of performing. I’d like to do a few impressions for you.

In the early 80s I did a set at a comedy club in LA. After, in his dark wood paneled office, the manager told me, “You can’t do that gay stuff.” In the late 90s I did another set at that club and a different manager whined, “I thought you were going to do more gay stuff.”

At 7 a.m. in a tiny, blue-egg-cartoned radio station whose frequency could not have been heard for more than a three block radius, an interviewer began, “I love your music.” I replied, “You hear it too?”

Before I clambered into the huge red boat of a New York Gay Pride Grand Marshall convertible , I reminded my co-Marshall, and fellow traveler, the activist, writer, theologian Fr. John McNeill, that when he was my college ethics professor he had huffed wearily that “homosexuality was nothing more than mutual masturbation.” As rainbow ribbons snapped in the bright morning around us, I told him that had set me back a few years. He winced saying, “Please forgive me.” I said, “Don’t let it happen again but for your penance you’re going to have to ride on the hump.”

In Buffalo, NY, where I had grown up and still had relatives, the producers did a daring, full frontal job of advertising “the openly lesbian comic” in the papers and I come from a family of readers. I walked out on stage and there in the third row was my 90 year old Uncle Harold with my 75 year old aunt Margie. During the show, Margie, seemed to ogle the women around her. I was taken aback and then I remembered that she was a retired electrologist. Margie had stumbled into a follicular bonanza! The only thing Uncle Harold said to me after the show was, “I’m 90, y’know.” But it sounded like, “I was 75 when I came in and after what I heard here tonight, I’m 90 now.”

At a show in Ottowa, Canada’s very federal capital, the producers told me to smile when I left the building, because I was being videotaped from a window across the street. This was after a big Canadyke had come up to me and said, “I came because I heard you were a feminist humorist, and if you made fun of us, I was going to punch you out.”

One of the best compliments I ever got was after a show in Lexington, KY. The producers had gone all out. The stage was decorated with huge cardboard Hydrox cookies and tree-trunk-like, free-standing tampons. The audience went all out too. After the show, I was having a celebratory repast with the producers and a young dyke came up, gave me a good crack on the back and proclaimed, “Kate Clinton, you made me want to fuck again.”

In a cultural time of discredited memoir and a political time of memory as shredder, it left a lasting impression.