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Aqua Girl presents comic Suzanne Westenhoefer 8 p.m. Friday at Unity on the Bay in Miami

Suzanne Westenhoefer, the first openly gay comedian to perform on television, appears 8 tonight at Unity on the Bay, 411 NE 21st St. Miami.

From Aqua Girl, which runs through Sunday:

Join us for an evening of laughs with the first openly gay comedian to appear on television.  You’ve seen her on Letterman, HBO, Bravo, Logo and GSN as well as performances across the US.  Now come see her newest show – SEMI-SWEET – LIVE at Aqua Girl®! The Miami Gay Men’s Chorus and Katie Wirsing open the show.

$30 in advance / $35 at the door
Members: $25 in advance / $30 at the door

VIP Seating:
$45 in advance / $55 at the door
Members: $40 in advance / $45 at the door

Advance tickets are available throughout the afternoon at the Aqua Girl welcome center, Surfcomber Resort, Atlantic Room, 1717 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach.

Here's a 2002 profile I wrote of Westenhoefer, that ran during the fourth annual Aqua Girl festival:

Comic looks at the in's and out's of success

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com

Lesbian comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer has a serious message for gay performers just starting out:

Stay in the closet, at least until you've made it big. Then come out and the gay community will really appreciate you.

Westenhoefer, who performs May 17 at the fourth annual Aqua Girl festival in Miami Beach did it the hard way: She has been out since her first stand-up date 12 years ago - and never got the attention of her more famous peers.

"Ellen comes out. Rosie comes out. They're all over The Advocate and every move they make is covered: They came out!!!

"And for some reason we value it more."

Westenhoefer said that she and other out-from-the-start performers are "no big deal" in the gay community.

"We're the utility players, " she said. "If you ever see the 100 Most Influential People, you never see us."

But, adds Westenhoefer: "I go to sleep knowing that I never had to compromise, to look at tapes of me talking about 'my boyfriend.' "

Westenhoefer grew up in Pennsylvania's Lancaster County, where "people judged you on whether you took care of your home, not your background."

Her managers prefer that she not reveal her age.

"I can tell you I'm queer, but not 41, " Westenhoefer said.

She moved to New York City in 1983 after graduating Clarion University in Pennsylvania.

"I thought I was going to be a great actress. I was so intimidated by the process. I became a bartender.

"People would come into the bar and say, 'Oh, you're so funny. You should do stand-up.' I had never thought about it."

She made her first stage appearance on July 31, 1990.

"I was, like, the only openly gay person [doing stand-up] in New York, so it was a very big deal, " she said.

Her early audiences, mostly straight, had never seen an openly gay comic before.

"It was so hard because the first three or five minutes I couldn't do any jokes. I just had to be really happy or peppy about being gay, " she said. "I don't know what they expected. Me to burst into flames?"

Westenhoefer came out on national television in 1991, on an episode of Sally Jesse Raphael titled "Lesbians Who Don't Look Like Lesbians."

Since then, Westenhoefer has appeared on Comedy Central, Evening at the Improv, Caroline's Comedy Hour, and Politically Incorrect. Her HBO special was nominated for a 1995 cable ACE award.

Westenhoefer also has recorded two live comedy albums: Nothing In My Closet But My Clothes and I'm Not Cindy Brady.

Some straight audiences still don't feel comfortable hearing her joke about her partner of 10 years. ("My girlfriend and I are old-fashioned queers. We don't want to get married.")

But because of network TV shows like Ellen and Will and Grace, straight audiences today are more hip than they were 10 years ago, she said.

"It's way easier, " Westenhoefer said. "It just rips open everything. It's eliminated a tremendous amount of explanation. To a straight audience, I can now make references to butch and femme."

Then, the joking stops and Westenhoefer reflects on the realities of show business.

"It's about how you look, " she said. "If you look normal - what they decide is normal - it's easier than if you are a screaming queen or a big dyke. It's just that ugly sometimes.

"And I'll tell you what: Gay people say it - 'We love you because you come out and you're not a big, ugly dyke.' "

Westenhoefer believes that being openly gay has hindered her career.

"If I hadn't been so gay, as I was told early on, I could have had a shot on Letterman, " she said. "I would be naive to say 'No, I don't care.' Sometimes I care for a minute, but I have to live with me for the rest of my life."

Instead of doing lots of big TV spots, Westenhoefer perfors at gay-oriented events like Aqua Girl. Event coordinator Lily Majjul-Pardo said Aqua Girl is a "great way to meet new people."

"Not everyone wants to go to a bar. . . . We have pool parties, a basketball game, dance parties, " Majjul-Pardo said. "One hundred percent of the money goes to Dade Human Rights Foundation Women's Fund. Their whole goal is to promote equality, health and the visibility of South Florida lesbians."

Westenhoefer describes her Aqua Girl gig (part of the Miami Light Project's annual Come Out Laughing series) as "a little bit about pride."

"It's just pure entertainment and a lot about networking, " she adds. "If 800 women show up, 10 will meet someone they hadn't met before. That's how we create our society.

"Everybody brings something different to the table. Miami has a lot of glamour. You go to Fayetteville, Ark., and they remind you why you are there, why you are out. They talk to you after [the show] and they cry."

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