Lea DeLaria is an comedian, actress, and jazz singer. DeLaria is credited with being the first openly gay comic to appear on a late-night talk show with her 1993 appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show.
We had the pleasure catching up with her:
How has your success on Orange Is The New Black impacted your music career?
I haven’t had a show that wasn’t sold out since Orange hit the airwaves. I always sold really well before that, but Orange amplified it. But I still do the same thing: in-your-face dyke comedy and good music.
Has making it as an actor been more difficult because you’re a lesbian?
Well yeah, I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I had to deal with the double-edged sword of misogyny and homophobia, as well as internalized homophobia from my own people.
And butch dykes are a very visible subset.
Yes, and that’s a double-edged sword too, because femmes have that other thing they have to deal with, where nobody knows they’re a dyke unless they’re draped with a butch. I hope that we reach a point in the queer community where we just accept each other for who we are. I think that has some- thing to do with the alphabet soup—you know, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender; by the time you say everything, the parade’s over. Can we just keep it as “queer”? Because queer encompasses everything, and those letters point out our differences.
How has the business changed over the last 30 years?
Well, they write parts for lesbians now, and actually let lesbians play them. I make fun of lesbian chic, but it’s one of the reasons I got on TV. I was on Arsenio Hall because he was black and also part of this disenfranchised community. I was on the air for seven minutes and managed to say dyke, fag, and queer 49 times, apparently. Which is awesome.
I don’t think anybody expected me to be THAT queer. People kept on putting me in that box where all I did was play PE teachers and police lieutenants and again my life was saved by a black man. George C. Wolfe, the artistic director of Shakespeare in the Park, cast me in On The Town because he didn’t care what I looked like. He cared what I could do.
What did OITNB do for dyke representation and what did that mean to you?
OITNB has been great for queers and women. The writers committed to creating real characters. People are so unused to turning on the TV and seeing themselves. The episode with the Big Boo backstory did for butches what Sophia’s backstory did for trans people. It changed perceptions of what it is to be a butch dyke. When I got that script I called up Lauren (Morelli), crying, and said, “It feels like somebody’s read my diary.” Butch dykes have a shared experience that other lesbians don’t have, and every bit of it is in that script. I get thousands of direct messages every day, all from young girls. Everything from “Thank you” to “I can’t come out to my family.” I find this a very serious responsibility, to be able to help the next generation along.