Comedian Gloria Bigelow Returns Home For Her First Pittsburgh Show

I first learned about Gloria Bigelow from a July 2013 interview in the Pittsburgh New Courier. I was intrigued that this talented queer woman of color was making people laugh around the nation and had not performed in Pittsburgh. We became Facebook friends. So I was thrilled to learn that she’s coming to Pittsburgh – this week!

She’ll be at Cruze, Friday at 7:30 PM as part of iCandy Pittsburgh.  Tickets are $20, VIP tickets are $45.

Gloria was kind enough to answer some questions for me, including questions about the systemic challenges to Pittsburgh Pridefest and her participation in the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.

Gloria Bigelow

You are a Pittsburgh native. What is your favorite memory? My favorite memory, is going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve at St. Benedict the Moor Church in the Hill District. I remember it being ridiculously cold, ’cause it’s Pittsburgh… in December… and I remember coming out of church and it being freezing outside and huddling with my family, trying to shuffle to our car. That church in still really special to me.

As an adult artist, what resonates with you about Pittsburgh? Is there something you *must* do when you visit? What resonates with me about Pittsburgh is my family. I have really sweet memories about my childhood in Mt. Lebanon and spending the weekends in Beltzhoover with my grandparents, or spending time in East Liberty with my Aunt Helen, who I adored. When I’m here, I have to see my family, and I have to get a fish sandwich from The Oyster House Market- haven’t tasted a better fish sandwich in my life.

Are there any Pittsburgh artists (based here or born here) that influence you? Is it weird to say Mr. Rogers? It’s weird, huh, but true… that whole kindness thing was very influential. I try not to be an ass, most of the time, largely based on his soft voice and kind dealings.

Who was the first LGBTQ person that you met and how did they impact you? I believe the first people I met were a lesbian couple that lived across the street from me when I was growing up. I mean, I didn’t know- know but looking back on it… I know. A lot of dinner parties, and a giant poodle… that’s not always the criteria- but there was something about who they were and how they were that now feels familiar to me.

Past or present, favorite LGBTQ character in television, film or literature? Favorite character, is based on a person, I guess, it’s Audre in Audre Lorde’s Zami. That book, that book, that book… my goodness. That book had a huge impact on me.

What can we expect when we get a Netflix series starring Gloria Bigelow? Ha, if I had a show it would be ridiculous, and it would be based on my insane years in New York- there’s plenty of fodder there! I spent my weekends with an incredible group of friends who were every letter in the LGBTQ spectrum- who were wild and special and then I spent my week days teaching cheerleading, and theatre in some really under-serviced schools. The stories- smh- the stories!

You wrote ” I came up with my own three “Cs” of what, beyond love, would make me say “till death do us part”:” Do these still hold true?  Ha, they still hold true- they were Cheerleader, Companionship, and Commitment and I recently added one more Cherish. So now I have 4.

Pittsburgh’s LGBTQ community has been struggling in a very public way around the need for anti-oppression and anti-racism work within our organizations and institutions. Have you followed this dialogue? Do you have thoughts on how that could look moving forward? I haven’t really followed it. I mean, I know that there was something going on with Iggy, but that’s the most kind of, shiny part of things– she’s representational–I’m sure the dialogue is waaaaay beyond that. Whenever there are discussions around identity, it’s hard to have, but they have to be had, right. And in order for the discussions to go anywhere, you have to have all kinds of people represented. Not just one black person, not just one trans person, not just one person who struggles with the economics of things… you have to have a serious representation of folks at the table. And the discussions are hard, because it’s about identity, and that taps heavy on feelings- good and bad. And the dialogue has to have a goal.
And the goal has to be measured in both a qualitative and quantitative way. Both of those are important – so both feelings and numbers or measures. So you could have a goal to be kind and have 2 people from every aspect of the community represented on the board and 4 out of the 10 people will be people of color. You know what I mean- it’s both. The way of things is just as important as the thing of things sometimes.

If everyone is in agreement that the goal is to do things in a kind way- and we all agree to it- it’s the big picture- we are all then moving in the same direction and when we’re not- it’s easy to self- monitor and it’s also easy to call out. If we say we want to have a board that has 4 out of 10 people of color- then you know if you’ve done it- it’s measured. Either you hit the goal or you didn’t.

You performed at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in recent years. What do you say to your fans and supporters who have been hurt by the policies of MichFest, especially in the wake of violent murders of so many trans women of color through the nation this year? (Note – Our blog officially signed the call to boycott through Equality Michigan and includes two trans female contributors.) I’ve been asked similar questions before about this. And, I have heard from supporters, and fans about this. I have also talked to trans woman about this directly, and not surprisingly, have learned that not all trans women feel the same about it, because it’s a multi-layered issue. That being said, the first time I went to fest, I walked up the road to Camp Trans to show my support and to go to an anti-oppression workshop. I’ve also been a part of workshops, on the land, that have at the very center of it, the desire to have the dialogue about what it means to make MichFest a place for everyone. The last time I was there, I participated in the workshops, with trans women, supporters, and people who had really strong feelings about wanting the festival to stay with the intention. Those workshops were tough, and gritty, and there were people on every side that sat with their tears, with their sadness, with their anger, but the important thing was that we were having a conversation to move the ball forward.

The violence that is happening to trans women of color throughout the nation is an issue in and of itself- Michfest is an experience of privilege- let’s not make it more than it is, no one has to go to fest, no one has to be in the woods listening to music, it’s an experience that is not fundamental to anyone’s ability to live a life freely, it’s not about food, clothing, or shelter. These are the things that many of the trans teens, and other trans folks of color are struggling with– where do you go when your family doesn’t want you in the house… you go to the street… you don’t go to a festival. I don’t equate them- the trans women of color that are being brutalized and murdered are being denied their basic human rights– it has nothing to do with being in the woods- and everything to do with economics, accessibility, family structures, safety, and race. Those issues are survival issues- a matter of how do I survive in the world and how do I survive when as a person of color, and as a trans person of color, I am not valued in the same way that others are valued… you see what I mean… it ain’t about a festival that’s 3 days… those are bigger, in my opinion more important, and tougher issues that are deeply rooted in mysogony, racism, and economics… which are alllll tied together! I feel myself getting long winded- because I feel passionate about this- I had a student who was kicked out of her house and ended up on the pier in New York because she was a brown body, a trans body, and because she was poor.

Which queer female comics should we be paying attention to and why? You gotta pay attention to Judy Goldman- because she’s a bad ass and brilliant. You have to pay attention to Erin Foley- she’s bend over with laughter hysterical. Another comic, not a female comic but really funny that I love is Ian Harvey. You gotta pay attention to Ian Harvie – the last time I saw him, I almost fell out of my chair. (Read our interview with Ian here.)

What is one simple thing a reader can do to support the LGBTQ community? If you’re not an LGBTQ person, I would say it’s important to let people know that you are an ally. It’s important for LGBTQ peple to know that they are not alone and it’s important for others to know that we aren’t alone as well.

What is your love song to today’s LGBTQ youth? I would give them Carl Bean- I was Born This Way (Better Days Mix) it’s a house song- where you can lose your mind in it and it’s affirming-and I say that version because I truly believe that there are better days ahead!

PS- Sue- your questions were really thoughtful- I do a lot of interviews and many of these questions, I haven’t been asked before. (Editor’s Note: I kept this in for bragging rights and to remind myself how the Q&A format works well. Mostly for bragging rights though.)

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