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Comedy: Stand-Up, Lesbian  
 
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Suzanne Westenhoefer

Before DeGeneres's coming out episode, Suzanne Westenhoefer might have been named the lesbian most likely to play one on television. Slim and pretty, with long, curly blonde hair, Westenhoefer complained to Anderson Jones of the Advocate that, "I don't look enough like a lesbian to play a lesbian!"

Nonetheless, she has a funny, sardonic act featuring jokes about the experiences and dilemmas of ordinary lesbians. Tellingly, her appearances are given such titles as "Nothing in My Closet But My Clothes" and "I'm Not Cindy Brady."

Sponsor Message.

Westenhoefer began her career by winning a contest in a New York City piano bar with a three-minute comedy routine. Only a few years later, she was the first out lesbian to have her own specials on HBO and Comedy Central. A confident and personable performer, she regularly appears on television on Evening at the Improv and Out There.

She was involved in serious talks with network executives about starring in her own situation comedy with a lesbian heroine when the coming out controversy over Ellen sent the major networks scurrying back to safer themes.

Marga Gomez

Marga Gomez began her show business career helping her parents in their song and dance act on the East Coast Latino nightclub circuit. She later moved from New York to San Francisco where she joined Lilith, a feminist theater collective. In the 1980s, she honed a smart and urbane comedy act that she took to the gay clubs and comedy stages of the Bay Area.

Along the way she co-founded Culture Clash, a Latino comedy group, and created a one-woman show, "Memory Tricks," where she lovingly and humorously recreates the joys and pains of her childhood.

Gomez' routines vary from character portrayals to sassy repartee. Lesbian comics are political almost by definition, and Gomez also pokes fun at her audiences, who, she says, "just love to be part of the struggle, so they'll come see a Latina if she's spinning plates on sticks--'We must support her!'"

As with other stand-up comics, Gomez pursues aspirations other than stand-up comedy. She acted in the 1998 film Sphere and has performed on television many times, notably in Tracy Ullman's HBO series Tracy Takes On and The Rosie O'Donnell Show, as well as in comedy specials on PBS, Arts and Entertainment, Comedy Central, and Showtime.

Sandra Bernhard

Now better known as an actress and performance artist, Sandra Bernhard began her career as a stand-up comic. After performing in Los Angeles-area comedy clubs, she landed a regular spot on Richard Pryor's television show in 1977. When that show was cancelled, she returned to the comedy clubs, where she attracted a devoted audience intrigued by her unconventional looks and entertained by her satirical takes on popular culture and sexuality.

Bernhard has sometimes described her sexual orientation as bisexual or lesbian and has sometimes resisted all labels. Nevertheless, she has become something of a gay and lesbian icon. In the 1990s, she appeared as an out lesbian on Roseanne Barr's sitcom and she embarked on a widely publicized, erotically charged friendship with Madonna.

Bernhard's acerbic humor is frequently directed at the emptiness and absurdity of celebrity, and she regularly skewers pretension of all kinds. Her act is irreverent and satirical. Nevertheless, she always includes a positive message about self-acceptance and the value of difference.

Rosie O'Donnell

Although Rosie O'Donnell was not publicly out when she embarked on a career as a stand-up comedian in the mid-1980s, she got her start in show business by performing at comedy clubs. In 1984, she won the comedy championship five consecutive times on Star Search. Subsequently, she produced and hosted VH-1's Stand-Up Spotlight (1988), a series that featured up-and-coming stand-up comics.

The secret to O'Donnell's success as a comedian was her likeability, her empathy, and her ability to create a non-threatening persona, the same qualities that made her talk show (1996-2002), which netted her a long string of Emmys, such a runaway success. Her ability to communicate with mainstream America made her decision to come out as a gay parent in March 2002 all the more significant.

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