Suzanne Westenhoefer: On a Dare to Be Different
BY Jeffrey Hartinger
September 07 2011 4:00 AM ET
I think for all stand-ups — gay, straight, whatever — the best thing about it is that if you make people laugh, you win. You don’t have to look a certain way. You can look like anything and if you’re a good stand-up, you’ll get work and do well. I’m not trying to be an actress who gets the guy in the end of the movie. For those women, it’s still difficult and always going to be, and I don’t see that changing. Some friends of mine are trying to work in the business and are over 40; they are suffering, definitely. For me, I’m not that person — I’m not trying to be on the cast of Friends. I’m sort of fortunate that way.
What was one of your main influences to entering the entertainment industry?
I always wanted to, I truly did. My family tells those obnoxious, boring stories of me being 4 years old and doing the entire story of Cinderella and playing all the parts. I wanted to be an entertainer and never wanted to do anything else. When I realized that I was gay — and it was in college — I got very involved in activism and didn’t have a way to perform; I didn’t know that I could do stand-up. I was focused more on activism and just trying to pay my rent, you know, as a bartender. People kept telling me how funny I was and that I should do stand-up. I knew that I wasn’t going to be in the closet, and I didn’t know what the connection was going to be. I thought, Could I be openly gay in front of straight people? I tried it and I was really lucky; I won a contest my first time up, so I thought I was badass!
Wasn’t that on a dare?
It was! My customers at the restaurant I worked at told me to go do it and see what happens. They were like, you’re openly gay here, and you’re gay all the time. It was sort of like I had to put my money were my mouth was. In the beginning, I didn’t think I would do it as a living. I thought I was going to open a door or start something or make a statement; I didn’t think I would get paid or anything.