Laughs first, lecture later
A childhood split between Shreveport and Buffalo, N.Y., is bound to give anybody identity issues, but stand-up comedian Kristen Becker uses that confusion to her advantage, pulling titters and gut laughs from audiences all over the country.
“I find myself constantly defending the other, depending on where I am. Like if I’m up north and someone says something about dumb Southerner I’ll be like, ‘hey, wait a minute!’ If I’m down here and they say something about damn Yankees I’ll say, ‘Hey wait a minute!” So I’m always on guard no matter where I am.”
Now she’s returning to Louisiana for a comedy tour with musician Sarah Rose Marie that will spread both laughter and awareness for the Louisiana Nondiscrimination Act, also known as LANA.
Becker’s love of comedy goes as far back as when she used to sneak peeks at George Carlin on the TV while listening for her dad’s footsteps coming up the stairs. It wasn’t until years later that a friend finally gave her the shove she needed to get her comedy career going.
“I’d been talking about doing it forever. Eventually she just got sick of hearing me talk about it, and said I needed to do it because, either good or bad, at least I would be done talking about how I was going to do it one day. But it is a scary thing. They say the fear of public speaking is number one, and then you add to that the element of vulnerability that’s required to be a really good comedian, which makes it extra scary.”
Another thing that worried Becker was how to address, if at all, her status as a publicly out lesbian.
“I think my first lesson is that when I started out I said I was never going to be gay onstage. It was very much like, ‘that has nothing to do with my jokes! I’m not a lesbian comedian, I’m a comedian who happens to be a lesbian.’ That was my thing…but I realized that wouldn’t work. Audiences are like dogs in that they can smell fear on you…so that was the first big lesson that I learned. It didn’t matter what I thought, because I was trying to build trust with the audience, and I can’t do that if I’m pretending to be something I’m not.”
Becker is her own driver and road manager, and for the last couple of years has been trying to kickstart her hometown’s comedy scene by running the Helium Comedy Club Buffalo. Nowadays, she can add accidental activist to her list of jobs, as she is taking this Lousiana tour as an opportunity to spread awareness for HB 199, aka the Louisiana Nondiscrimination Act, or LANA, which would help protect gays, lesbians, and transgender people from workplace discrimination. However, Becker prefers to laugh first and lecture later.
“You’re here to see me do a comedy show, not to hear me preach…I try and keep a good balance. Listen, I’m there to make you laugh. But afterwards, let’s talk about it, or you can check out a podcast or an interview that I did. I feel like my comedy generates the awareness (for the issue) and I try not to make it too boring.”
Becker is passionate for comedy, and hopes that the laughs she gets from her rowdy, clever comedy will draw more attention to a cause she is equally passionate about. The measure would guarantee equal access to employment, housing, and public accommodations for all LGBT people in Louisiana, and Becker feels that is something worth fighting for.
“For me, honestly, the trip down here is really about the house bill, LANA. I don’t believe that the standing law is representative of the people of Louisiana. I just think it’s something that people don’t really pay attention to so it sits there…but as it sits there, people live in fear, and that just shouldn’t be how it is.”