Funny with a purpose

Suzanne Westenhoefer brings bold comedy to Antioch

By Lauren Adams

Laughter is truly the best medicine, and as any good doctor will tell you, there is an inherent responsibility in the way that medicine is dispensed. At its best, comedy not only entertains—it inspires, educates and exposes some difficult truths about society. It’s something we need to survive. Any great comedian must be able to weave societal critique, introspection and hilarity into a seamless show. There are few comedic medicine women who have taken that responsibility more seriously, and been more successful, than Suzanne Westenhoefer. She’s bold, pioneering and unapologetic: an activist, educator and an inspiration to her peers. However, Westenhoefer, who will bring her unique brand of comedy to Antioch School’s 20th Annual Auction Gala and Comedy Show on March 5, is one thing above all others: absolutely hilarious.

Westenhoefer, a Pennsylvania native who has lived in California since 1999 (and has no intention of leaving, unless, as she says, California asks her to leave), fell into the funny business with a little coaxing and a dare from friends. After graduating from college she
immediately began bringing joy to the masses, working as a bartender for nine years. Suzanne refocused her energy in her late 20s, transitioning into comedy in 1990.

“… All of a sudden its nine or 10 years later … and I hadn’t done anything with the acting,” Westenhoefer says. “All of a sudden people [were] coming up to me saying, ‘You’re so funny every time we come in here, you should go do standup.’ By that point, you know, I was a super activist, openly queer, openly gay … and I got into comedy in 1990 and a woman standing up, doing standup, being a lesbian, was not done.”

Her unwillingness to sensor herself onstage presented a unique opportunity: there were no openly lesbian comedians performing onstage, and certainly none performing who had maintained her high level of activism, alliance and visibility among multiple queer rights groups. Since 1990 she has been traveling all over the US, pursuing her passion and performing wherever her heralded voice and perspective is needed. As the first openly lesbian comedian to have notoriety with heterosexual audiences, her 25-year career has been spent bringing joy to people from all walks of life.

Her comedy is something special. She reflects on the diverse space she lives in, highlights its ebbs and flows and intricacies, and then crafts a lively, personal and incredibly funny story from the raw matter. She is honest and open onstage, and has cultivated a familiarity and communion with her audiences for decades. You can easily imagine Suzanne sitting amongst the crowd, sharing a drink and enjoying the show, just as easily as you see her command the stage. She pays due homage to her experiences as a woman, comedian, entertainer and queer rights activist.

If you ask Westenhoefer how she feels about the advancements that society has made toward acceptance and embracing the LGBT community, she will give you a straight answer. She encourages people to be critical of apparent progresses in our country’s attitude towards the LGBT community.

“They’ve passed marriage equality,” she says. “But if you’re watching the news and listening to Donald Trump say hateful, bigoted, misogynistic things, that’s horrible, but there are thousands of people applauding it … so it hasn’t changed that much.”

Westenhoefer also notes the internal damage being done to the LGBT community through divisive speech and passive intolerance between LGBT groups. For example, she has known gay men to be reluctant to go to a particular bar because there are too many “dykes,” and lesbians bemoaning the “faggy” guys at a gay pride parade.

“We don’t first think of ourselves as this minority that needs the support of one another … to change hearts and pass laws,” she continues. “As a community we don’t rise up and collectively get together.”

Westenhoefer believes in the need for designated spaces for identity groups, be them rooted in race, sexuality or gender. This belief has translated into her positioning as an entertainer. Suzanne believes that attempts to neutralize the special spaces created for identity groups—gay radio stations, women’s rights groups, comedy specific to the black experience in this country—in the name of equality are generally clever guises to destabilize the collective efforts of those communities.

“[These groups] need a space where they can be represented, feel comfortable, tell their story, because they are the minority,” Westenhoefer says. “And while it would be nice if we didn’t have to have these spaces, and everyone was truly equal and everything was great, that’s not the reality we live in.”

Westenhoefer is changing that, and using her comedy and truth to be really funny, and affect real change for real progress.

Suzanne Westenhoefer will perform at 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 5 as part of the 20th Annual Auction Gala & Comedy Show held at the Antioch College Foundry Theatre, 920
Corry St. in Yellow Springs. Tickets are $55 and also include access to a silent auction, a live auction, gourmet hors d’oeuvres by Current Cuisine and an open wine bar. For tickets or more information, please visit suzanne, or call 937.767.7642.

Reach DCP freelance writer Lauren Adams at

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Reach DCP freelance writer Lauren Adams at

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