Girls’ night out

Suzanne Westen-hoefer brings her enigmatic comedy to the Twin Cities.

Suzanne Westenhoefer, like so many other aspiring stand-up comics, left the serenity of a quiet home life to follow her dreams of making it big in the Big Apple. Westenhoefer differs in one very critical way from most of these humor-troubadours: She actually made it.

Eleven years later, Suzanne has taken her stand-up act national and has gone from being one of the first openly gay comics to performing in a field that grows more inclusive every year. She has earned the respect and laughs of television-show hosts, who have invited her on their shows. Her first major appearance was in 1991 on the Sally Jesse Raphael show in an episode called “Breaking the Lesbian Stereotype: Lesbians Who Don’t Look Like Lesbians.” On March 18, 2003, she became the first-ever out lesbian or gay comedian to perform on the “Late Show with David Letterman.”

Her stand-up act contains rapid-fire jokes and stories about her life, as well as commentary on current affairs that are important to her. Much of her act focuses on her sexual orientation. She explains, “It’s who I am. I’m a gay girl in a straight world.”

Her show has a double message of showing straight folks that there isn’t much difference between people of different sexual orientations and, more generally, “it’s all good.” And for the homosexuals in the audience, Westenhoefer would like to fight “inner-homophobia” and send an empowering message.

Recently, Westenhoefer’s performance at Carlow College in Pittsburgh, Pa., was canceled. Apparently, college president Sister Grace Ann Geibel realized belatedly that Westenhoefer was a lesbian and that her act focused on this, which prompted the nun to deem the act somehow unfit for Carlow. Westenhoefer responded positively. After all, it did generate a lot of free publicity for her.

That was not the first time she has been met with hostility toward her act. In 1993, during her act a Dallas audience became agitated – even hostile – and didn’t calm down until well into the show. This is less common recently, perhaps as a result of the broader acceptance and mainstream visibility, particularly in entertainment, of homosexuality and alternative lifestyles. Also, Westenhoefer now performs primarily in comedy clubs, which she believes attract a more liberal crowd than other venues.

These days, Westenhoefer splits her time off the road between Los Angeles and Columbus, Ohio, and is on tour for more than 100 live shows a year. When asked about her stance on current political issues that affect gays and lesbians, she only said, “for that, you’ll just have to come to my show!”