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Comedian Susan Westenhoefer pulls no punches

Comedian Susan Westenhoefer never hides her sexuality at her live shows. Since the day she stood up at an open-mic session at a club in New York City's West Village, she's been openly gay.

"People told me not to tell audiences. Even gay people told me not to say anything, but I always did," she says during a telephone interview from her home in Los Angeles. "The whole idea was to be an activist, to be a gay comic in front of straight audiences."

She won $25 for her humor at that open mic in 1990.

"I thought, hey, this is easy. This is great," she says. "I was lucky because I was in New York City. There were a lot of places to perform, and not many were against my sexuality. It wasn't like I was starting a career as a comic in Louisiana. I went on the road, and it has been my living. It's been amazing."

In 1991, Westenhoefer appeared on an episode of "The Sally Jesse Raphael Show" titled "Breaking the Lesbian Stereotype: Lesbians Who Don't Look Like Lesbians." After being introduced as an "openly lesbian comic," Westenhoefer was inundated with mail and requests from comedy clubs and talk shows. She went on to make appearances on "Geraldo" and "Ricki Lake."

In '91 and '92, she appeared on Comedy Central's "Short Attention Span Theater" and "Stand-up Stand-up." She also was the first openly gay comic to host her own HBO Comedy Special in '94 — which earned her a Cable Ace Award nomination — and to appear on the "Late Show with David Letterman" in 2003. Westenhoefer will perform at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 30, at the Unitarian Fellowship, 87 Fourth St., Ashland. The show is open to ages 21 and older. Tickets cost $25 in advance and can be purchased online at stclairevents.com, at Music Coop, 268 E. Main St., or by calling 541-535-3562.  "Though I'm billed as a lesbian comic, my shows are fun for heterosexuals, gay men, lesbians, everyone," Westenhoefer says. "The truth is that the show's are pretty funny, and everyone will enjoy it." Her sassy style takes the world as it presents itself to her and spins routines that are hilarious, pertinent and unexpectedly personal, according to fan Meredith Baxter.       Born and raised in the Amish Country of Pennsylvania — and a resident of New York City for 10 years — Westenhoefer moved to Los Angeles in 2001.

"It's in our DNA for people raised back east to dislike L.A." she says. "But I do like it. It's awesome here. Just like New York, everything is available." 

Being openly lesbian didn't help her career that much in L.A., she says.

"I think it's a Hollywood thing," she says. "They seem to embrace one person of race or sexuality at a time. When Ellen (DeGeneres) came out, it was a big deal. But then it was as though a gate had shut for others."

Westenhoefer spends most of her time touring and performing stand-up comedy in cities and towns across the U.S.

"I love it. It's the greatest job. The places, my routines, it changes all of the time. This is awesome."

Suzanne Westenhoefer started her career in 1990 at an open-mic session in New York City. She now makes her home in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of St. Clair Productions