Living & Entertainment

For 'Orange' star Lea DeLaria, pushing audiences comes naturally. She kicks off Tacoma Pride

Ricky Middleworth

Lea DeLaria is out and very in.

DeLaria is a comic, actor, author and jazz singer.

She’s been on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community’s radar since the 1980s, performing on the LGBT comedy circuit.

Now, she’s gone from gay-famous to just plain famous.

As Carrie “Big Boo” Black in Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black,” she’s put “butch dyke” in the mainstream’s consciousness. The sixth season of the hit prison dramedy will be released July 27.

It’s on stage where DeLaria can go off script and unleash the brand of comedy and outrageous moments she’s known for.

“I love to see how far I can push them,” DeLaria said in a phone interview last week. “I love to see how outrageous I can be. Did I cross the line? I always like to see where the line is for whatever audience.”

DeLaria, 60, brings her one-woman show, “Lea DeLaria: A Man for All Seasons,” to Tacoma’s Rialto Theater on Friday (July 13.) The show, with opening act Kim Archer, will kick off Tacoma's Pride celebration.

DeLaria became the first out gay comic on television when she performed on “The Arsenio Hall Show” in 1993.

Along with her stand-up, she’s performed everything from Broadway musicals to fortuneteller Madam Delphina on “One Life to Live.”

The News Tribune caught up with her from Los Angeles.

Question: Has life changed completely since “Orange”?

Answer: Of course! What kind of stupid question is that? Come on. I can’t even leave my (expletive deleted) apartment.

Q: But you had an established career, you were known, you were mature …

A: That’s true. That’s the difference between me and the other people on the show. I’m used to people recognizing me on the street and asking for my autograph. What I’m not used to is everybody needing a picture.

There are maybe two of us on the show, me and Samira Wiley, that look exactly like (we do on the show). Most of the other girls can walk right by (people on the street) because they make them a tad uglier on the show. I look exactly like me.

Q: I don’t know about that. You have a fabulous fashion sense. Where does that come from?

A: That’s probably from my Italian upbringing. But I was also raised by queens. Being dressed and looking good is wicked important to me.

Q: Do young people ask you for advice on coming out?

A: I get everything from, ‘I’m 16 years old and because of you I was able to come out to my family and they’ve accepted me and my life is lovely’… all the way to, ‘If I tell my family, I’ll be stoned to death’.

Because of "Orange" it feels like I’m the first lesbian a lot of these people have ever seen. And that comes with a great amount of responsibility and I try to be on top of it.

Q: Coming out is a life-long process. When did you last have to come out to someone?

A: The last time I had to do that was with a cab driver who was hitting on me in New York City. About a year ago. (after DeLaria declined his advances) He goes, ‘Why not?’ And I said, ‘Because I’m a lesbian and frankly, I can’t tell how you can’t see that.’

It was also offensive that he was a cab driver and he was hitting on me. That’s not safe for any woman. I kind of let him have it.

Q: When you started in stand-up, LGBT people were treated as punch lines, not people. How did you survive that era?

A: I started (doing stand-up) at a club in San Francisco called Valencia Rose, which was set up for gay stand-up comics. I didn’t do an actual comedy club until after I did "The Arsenio Hall Show" in 1993. ... Before that I was performing to art houses and small theaters because I was so popular in my own community but the mainstream didn’t know me. It wasn’t until after I did "The Arsenio Hall Show" that gay people became welcomed in comedy clubs.

Q: You have lived most of your life as an out, defiant, lesbian. How have you survived all the vitriol and invectives thrown your way?

A: With comedy. If I didn’t have the sense of humor I have, I would have jumped off a building a long time ago from hopelessness and the state of the world. But instead,I see things with a sense of humor. If having a career and money was the most important thing, I would have remained in the closet, became famous and then come out.

Q: That’s a huge difference between you and so many other queer celebrities.

A: Absolutely. Me and pretty much all of them.

Q: What do you think of President Trump’s …

A: (expletive deleted) him.

Q: … track record on LGBT rights?

A: He got Mike Pence to be his running mate. That was a clue right there. He’s systematically trying to ban trans people from the military. He’s supported the guy who said because of my religion I don’t have to bake you a (expletive deleted) cake. He’s basically taking our rights away from us. …This administration is making it very clear: I’m not an American, I’m a lesbian.

Q: You’ve been vocal about your opposition to the separation of families at the southern border. You act in a show set in a prison run by a private corporation. Are you aware that a private corporation runs a prison for ICE in Tacoma — the Northwest Detention Center?

A: No, I was not aware. Do they have protesters out there? If I have half an hour (of free time), they’ll see me.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor

Lea DeLaria

What: "Lea DeLaria: A Man for All Seasons"

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday (July 13).

Where: Rialto Theater, 310 S. Ninth Street, Tacoma.

Tickets: $39-59, $2 per ticket benefits Rainbow Center.