Kate Clinton: DVD Review

By Jeff Walsh

I've always been a fan of stand-up comedy. Hell, I keep threatening to do it.

When I first came out, I devoured the Out Comedy specials that were big deals at the time with Bob Smith, John McGivern, Marga Gomez, and Kate Clinton, to name a few. They were a new breed of stand-up comics, talking about their lives in largely straight comedy clubs across the country, as well as to appreciative gay audiences in urban areas. I remember taking a timid gay friend to a Lea Delaria concert in the early 90s, and sitting us front row center. He had no idea who she was, and I had as much fun watching his horrified face as we became part of her act for a huge chunk of the night.

I remember Kate Clinton as a bookish, proper former teacher, and just seeing her joke that someone "couldn't say lesbian if her mouth was full of one," was so surprising because it was so at odds with her demeanor. I loved her.

I guess I'm trying to set up that I went into the DVD of "Here! Comedy Presents Kate Clinton" wanting to like it. I mean, sure, her Advocate articles were always a bit too pithy and clever, but this is where she made her name, onstage and telling jokes.

Only, the times have changed. She doesn't look like a former schoolteacher anymore. She looks great and is dressed all hip. And someone could probably get her line about having a mouth full of lesbian past primetime TV censors on a good day. So, for nearly 90 minutes, she told fun stories, amusing anecdotes, and obvious politically slanted material, but I never found myself, you know, laughing.

And I think it's because she is so comfortable onstage, tells a story so well, has such great delivery, and commands the attention of an audience that makes me wonder why I'm not finding the material up to par. Has she just been playing to all-gay houses for too long, so that their constant appreciative vibe hasn't forced her to add the sass and edge of her old act? I mean, she's still sort of doing that same act, but 15 years later, it doesn't really work as well for me.

If I didn't think she had the ability to do so much more, I'd probably just write off the DVD entirely. I mean, one guy in San Francisco doesn't like it, but she sells out clubs. At the end of the day, does it matter? Is it what I call the Indigo Girls Syndrome, where you do so well and get such a loyal audience, that you get insular playing to constant appreciate crowds and your material never broadens as much as it otherwise might?

I don't know exactly what jokes she should be telling, but something that would have the same "mouthful of lesbian" effect in 2007 that the original line did in 1992 or thereabouts. Speaking of being stopped by airport security in a red state, arriving from a blue state, she says:

"They searched me. I did meet a lovely woman in a pat down and I really had no idea I would enjoy random wanding all that much. And you know they only let you go through one time? It's sad."

I guess I just don't find any of it edgy, or even risky. Does it need to be? Based on the crowd response on the DVD, apparently not. They loved her and cheered wildly from the moment she stepped onstage.

I went in wanting to do the same (well, I don't actually applaud for filmed live performance in my living room, but you get the idea). I think I just see that she is doing so much right, it seems some minor adjustments would make her so much more relevant and poignant. I want her on the Tonight Show, Conan, Letterman, becoming a regular on the Daily Show.

When a friend asked me about the DVD, I told him that if I threw a dinner party and Kate Clinton was there, she'd probably be the most interesting person speaking if she did that material. Just charming, clever, fun... a great time. Everyone would leave talking about her, wanting her at their parties.

But the same material up onstage? Not as much.