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Westenhoefer, Suzanne (b. 1961)  
 
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Out, proud, pretty, and funny, Suzanne Westenhoefer has found success as a stand-up comedian and actress. She is also an outspoken supporter of glbtq and feminist causes.

The youngest of three sisters, Westenhoefer was born March 31, 1961 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. When the girls ranged in age from six to two, their father abandoned them and their mother. Their situation was highly unusual for the time and place; Westenhoefer recalled that "there were no other divorced families in the entire town" back in the 1960s. Perhaps partly because of that, the mother and her daughters are all "very, very bonded" to each other.

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Westenhoefer's mother is proud of both Suzanne and middle sister Joan, who is also a lesbian activist. Upon meeting other parents of glbtq children, she has been known to quip, "You have only one?"

Westenhoefer's oldest sister, a born-again Pentecostal, has dire predictions for her siblings in the afterlife. Nevertheless, everyone manages to get along. "We love each other, and we're never not going to be friends," said Westenhoefer of her family.

But the relationship at the center of Westenhoefer's life--and many of her routines--is with the woman who has been her partner since the early 1990s, Jennifer Houston.

Education

After high school, Westenhoefer enrolled at Clarion University in Clarion, Pennsylvania. While there, she helped found the college's first gay and lesbian group.

After earning her degree in drama, she moved to New York City in hopes of beginning an acting career. She continued her involvement in glbtq causes by marching with ACT UP and later with Queer Nation after that group split off from the former.

Stand-up Comedian

Westenhoefer started her stand-up career with a three-minute routine at a piano bar in 1990. She proved to be a natural, and some friends urged her to enter a stand-up contest at a West Village cabaret. She won the competition and began getting bookings at other New York clubs.

Westenhoefer came to wider attention when she appeared on a January 1991 episode of Sally Jesse Raphael's talk show with the curious title "Lesbians Who Don't Look Like Lesbians." The tall, blond, and beautiful Westenhoefer evidently did not match whatever stereotypical image the producers had.

Westenhoefer did not perform a routine on the show, but the fact that she was identified as a stand-up comedian drew interest and inquiries that led to more bookings and opportunities to tour.

An immediate hit with audiences, Westenhoefer also sought to reach out to the mainstream public. "I want to talk to straight people. I want to dialogue with them. I want them to get over this stereotype stuff. I have a desperate need to convince each straight person that we're fine," she said, adding that from the beginning, "I've always enjoyed the responsibility of being, to some degree, a vocal person for the gay community. I take that on on purpose. It's a mission in my life."

She commented in 1997 that she found it encouraging that straight people in her audiences had a greater awareness of glbtq culture so that she did not "have to explain as much" about it as she did at the beginning of her career.

Westenhoefer made her television debut when she was featured in Out There, a special filmed on National Coming Out Day, October 11, 1993. The next year she had the opportunity to do an episode of the HBO Comedy Half-Hour series and was rewarded with a Cable ACE Award for her performance.

Comedy Albums

Westenhoefer's first comedy album, Nothing in My Closet But My Clothes, was released in 1997. She found humor in her relationships--romantic, familial, and with pets--and in interviewing her sports idol, Martina Navratilova, for The Advocate, among other topics.

In an Advocate review, actress and screenwriter Guinevere Turner called Westenhoefer "just as entertaining on non-queer subjects" as when discussing her experiences as a lesbian. Turner praised her "fierce" and exquisite timing and her wit. "She has an unnerving ability to make you think that she's going to say something really tasteless, but she stops just before she gets there and surprises you with something else entirely. It's classy and, most important, funny."

The album earned Westenhoefer a Gay/Lesbian American Music Award (GLAMA) for comedy.

Westenhoefer released her second CD, I'm Not Cindy Brady, in 2000. The title refers to the fact that some people seem to think that she was the child actress (actually Susan Olsen) who played the youngest daughter on the sitcom The Brady Bunch. The album brought her another GLAMA Award.

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Suzanne Westenhoefer in 2004. Photograph by Angela Brinskele.
  
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