Politics and comedy meshed on Monday, September 27, as the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice raised funds for their social justice programs.
In the auditorium of The Lighthouse on West 59th Street, several hundred lesbians gathered for a screening of Andrea Meyerson’s “Laughing Matters,” as part of the 17th Annual Lynn Campbell Memorial Fund Benefit.
The event raised more than $20,000, according to Katharine Acey, executive director of Astraea. The group distributes grants to community-based lesbian organizations in the U.S. and internationally.
The screening of Meyerson’s “docu-comedy,” “Laughing Matters,” made for a pleasant evening. The film, which premiered to a sold-out crowd at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre, profiles four lesbian comedians—Karen Williams, Marga Gomez, Suzanne Westenhoefer and Kate Clinton. Combining footage of their stand-up acts with candid interviews about their careers, especially as openly lesbian entertainers, Meyerson shows how these four women have paved the way for others.
“These four women were my first choice when I decided to make this movie,” Meyerson said in an interview. “In fact, they inspired me to make the movie, because they’ve been out comics for an average of 20 years [when] it was just not an easy way to go, and I always commend them for their courage and their integrity, for being honest about who they were to our community and our world, whether our not our world was ready for it. They are as talented or more talented as any of our mainstream comics, gay or straight, and the reason why they’re not more mainstream is because they chose a path of honesty. So I love them for that. And that’s what this movie is intended to do, to celebrate their courage and integrity and give them recognition.”
Prior to the screening, Astraea’s 2004 Comic to Watch Out For, Julie Goldman, performed her politically infused comedy to a very receptive audience. Goldman had the audience laughing with spot-on jokes like, “Here’s a president who tells me to be a patriot, but then makes laws against me!”
Goldman speculated that the reason her political comedy was so well received was because people wanted the “cold, hard truth.”
“I’m not most well informed,” said Goldman, “I just know what I know: war is bad, women’s rights good, gay-lesbian marriage, yes. But it seems like that’s how a lot of people feel.”
Goldman launches a weekly showcase, “Julie Goldman’s Third Party” this Friday at Culture Project at 45 Bleecker Street.
After the screening, Meyerson, Williams and Gomez were on hand to take questions from the audience. Clinton, who was scheduled to attend, bowed out due to a family illness.
Williams said of her inclusion in the film, “it’s totally in line with the work I’ve been doing throughout my 20-plus-year career, so I always feel honored—and just think, we live in a time where there’s Astraea, a lesbian foundation! We’re making herstory, and I’m always proud to be a part of it.”
“It couldn’t be better,” she said. “Obviously we’re approaching the election now, and it’s hard even for a comedian not to get bummed out, so to be doing this kind of work and to have people come together at a time like this is kind of like rallying the gay troops.”
The serious Q&A session quickly turned into an extended laugh-fest. A raffle awarded two lucky recipients weekend accommodations to next year’s Dinah Shore Weekend in Palm Springs, a popular lesbian event. A reception followed.
Astraea’s Acey said that in addition to raising funds, the event was “also about bringing our community together to have fun, to celebrate.”
“There was politics, but there was also humor, and it was great to see so many people here together, laughing together,” she said. “These four women comedians are truly treasures for our community. They have paved the way for so many others, but they keep performing, and doing their thing in a way that I truly admire. I admire them for both their courage and their humor. And also Andrea Meyerson—this was her first film, but you could hardly tell from the reception the film received.”
Meyerson told the crowd that she has begun work on her next film, “More Laughing Matters,” which will feature four more lesbian comedians.
“I couldn’t be more honored to be doing this for Astraea Foundation,” said Meyerson. “I think their work in our community is phenomenal.”
The Astraea Foundation is a New York–based organization that raises funds to support lesbian programs in the United States and internationally. Since its 1977 founding, Astraea has become the largest lesbian organization in the world, distributing grants of $700,000 in the pat year.
The Lynn Campbell Memorial Fund was established in memory of Lynn Campbell, a woman who supported Astraea’s mission and devoted her life to social justice issues until her death from melanoma 20 years ago.