Lesbicomic Vickie Shaw thrives on turning her frowns upside-down
With Big Bad Gina. Youth
Orchestra Hall, 4401 Trail Lake Drive, Fort Worth. March 31 at 8 p.m. $25–$40.
Vickie Shaw has great timing — both on and off the stage. Soon after starting her comedy career in 1994, she came out of the closet, eventually giving her standup an entirely new slant. After meeting Lori Patch briefly on an
Olivia cruise, she unexpectedly ran into her five months later; they have been partners ever since.
Yes, the luck of the draw has been on Shaw’s side for almost 20 years, turning her life into laughter — even during the bumpy times. And sometimes, the bumpier the better.
“I was real good about keeping my emotions down and denied being a lesbian for so long,” she says. “Comedy is when I began to open up to my emotions. When I write my jokes, I go to an emotional place of frustration or anger or disappointment. Comedy does come from pain.”
Not that one of her sets is merely a diatribe of awkward moments or too painful to watch. Shaw’s a storyteller with laugh-out-loud tales of her daily life surrounding her partner, children, grandchildren and whatever else strikes her funny bone — which she brings to the Youth Orchestra Hall in Fort Worth on Saturday.
Shaw, 57, describes herself as a late bloomer, coming out at 39, married to a man and mother of three. Shaw is well-known for having been a PTA mom, Republican and devout Christian, but through comedy, she became comfortable with her attraction to women.
“I always know when something is frustrating if I have a strong emotion about it. That’s my mechanism. And life was frustrating,” she says. “When I came to accept my lesbianism through comedy, it was like ‘Oh my God!’
Everything made sense for me.”
Although she was already entrenched in her comedy act, her coming out wasn’t immediately part of her punchlines. Shaw still had to go through her process of acceptance, and as a spiritual person, she had to resolve her sexual identity with her higher power. Where religion can be a rocky road for gays coming out, Shaw became more spiritual, ultimately adding queer shtick to her set.
“I didn’t start doing gay comedy for a couple of years, but I also knew that comedy is about truth and life,” she says. “I had not only gotten a divorce, I started dating women. How could I not put that in the act? But being a lesbian or a mom or whatever, if I’m not funny and truthful, then I shouldn’t be doing comedy. Comedy is truth and I can’t have boundaries. It’s not a choice.”
Although she makes her standup rounds across the country (and even on the water for women-only cruises), Shaw and Patch live a quiet, domestic life outside Houston. When her friend Annise Parker was elected the city’s first gay mayor in 2009, Shaw was ecstatic. She used to perform at fundraisers when Parker was on city council, but her ties to the mayor go deeper.
“She owned Inklings, the lesbian bookstore at the time — that was the first place I went to get a book,” she recalls. “I walked into this bookstore and just started crying! She and [her business partner] really helped me at that time. I always thanked her for that. When she won, I was thrilled and proud.”
Shaw now finds she has come full circle in her life and career, albeit unintentionally. Shaw herself has received the same kind of gratitude she still gives Parker. All she wanted to do was make people laugh, but some of her fans became better for it along the way. And she’ s fine with that.
“The main thing I love is that making people laugh can be part of a bigger picture,” she says. “I’ve always believed that God gives everyone gifts and this is mine. When ladies come to me after a show telling me how I helped them to come out, I don’t consider that lightly because it’s my purpose on here. So I guess yeah, that has come full circle. Which is funny, because I don’t do this to be famous or to be anything.”
Shaw forgets she does this to be funny, but then everyone already knows that.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 30, 2012.