Reunion sparks talk of College’s queer past and present

“I’m Kate Clinton. I’m a lesbian comedian.”

These remarks, which opened the “What’s so Funny?” discussion Saturday at the Dartmouth Gay and Lesbian Alumni/ae Association Reunion, set the tone for an honest, funny and occasionally raucous discussion about humor and the gay movement in America.

Renowned and politically active comedian Kate Clinton, who performed a stand-up routine at Spaulding Auditorium Saturday night, was brought in for the discussion with Professor Martin Favor as part of the Hopkins Center’s Arts and Outreach Education program.

After a brief introduction, Clinton began telling the animated audience about her own beginnings in comedy, coming out of the closet and how her material has changed over time. The talk proceeded as a discussion panel, with members of the audience directing questions to Clinton, Favor and even other members of the audience.

“We were really interested in getting the audience to ask questions, and that went really well,” Clinton said.

The original focus of the discussion — the way people define humor — was at first eclipsed by Clinton’s political focus. Questions shed light on the way attitudes toward the gay movement have changed and how Sept. 11 has affected liberal politics.

“We [the gay community] have really gone into the mainstream in a big way,” Clinton said. “The challenge of my material now is also being a progressive … my lesbian material makes people a lot less nervous than my political material.”

When the topic turned to the humor, few stones were left unturned. Clinton talked about the restriction of First Amendment rights and the re-emergence of humor over the past year, all the while sprinkling her discussion with her signature one-liners. The discussion became especially intense around the use of political correctness as a way of silencing dialogue.

The recent cancellation of Bill Maher’s “Politically Incorrect” also generated a lot of comment. Clinton called Maher “a sort of sacrificial lamb” in the battle over free speech.

“We’re living in what I call, not a political correctness, but a patriotic correctness,” Clinton said. “It’s not pretty when straight white guys feel terror…they don’t know how to handle it.”

Despite timely political and social themes, however, the discussion was far from serious. From jokes about every president since Reagan to jibes at regionalism, Clinton put into action her no-holds-barred attitude toward humor.

“I will do almost anything if I have the right angle and the right anger on it,” Clinton said.

Saturday’s event represents the increased collaboration between the College and D-GALA. Though D-GALA first held a reunion-type meeting 11 years ago, this year marks the first time the College has provided substantial assistance in event planning and organization.

“It was great that the Hop would bring in Kate Clinton for the D-GALA weekend,” Vice President of D-GALA Nancy Vogele ’85 said. The College “has really gotten behind us.”

Though the forum was open to all community members, the nearly 60-person audience was comprised almost exclusively of D-GALA members.

“I’m hoping that from this … [we will] really see this weekend grow in order of magnitude,” said Chuck Edwards ’86, former editor of D-GALA’s newsletter. “The people organizing this event this year have really made it easier for this reunion to become an annual function.”

Favor and Clinton also enjoyed the opportunity to talk frankly about humor, sex and issues addressing alternative sexuality in America.

“I get to talk about things that matter, but that we don’t talk about all the time,” Favor said. “This is a good first step for Dartmouth.”

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