Outrageously Funny: An Interview with Fortune Feimster

Photo via Fortune Feimster, Facebook.

Queer comedians are funnier than they’ve ever been. From Wanda Sykes to Matteo Lane and Jessica Kirson to Jerrod Carmichael, they keep the non-stop laughs coming. There’s little doubt that Fortune Feimster is one of the funniest of the bunch. With two hilarious, full-length Netflix specials to her name – 2020’s “Sweet & Salty” and 2022’s “Good Fortune” – numerous acting roles, and a brand new live stand-up comedy tour, aptly titled “Live, Love, Laugh,” there’s plenty of Fortune to go around. A genuinely kind and thoughtful soul, Fortune made time for an interview before heading out on tour.

Gregg Shapiro: Fortune, this is my third time interviewing you, and I’m grateful to speak to you, again. The first time was in 2018, in advance of your performance at Milwaukee Pride Fest, and the second time was in early 2020. In what ways would you say, in those five years, your stand-up has evolved?

Fortune Feimster: I think my stand-up has evolved tremendously because, in 2018 I had just done, the year before, my half-hour (special) for Netflix. So, I think it was with “Sweet & Salty,” which came out in early 2020, where I really found my voice. I landed on that storytelling, talking about my life, sharing who I am, in a more vulnerable kind of way. I felt like that that resonated so much with audiences, that I was like, “Oh, this is what I like doing.” Not as much the set-up/punchline (kinds of comedy), which you feel the need to do more when you're in a club because there are a lot more distractions. But with theaters, which I was able to move to after “Sweet & Salty,” it really allowed me to dig more into the story side of my stand-up.

GS: Shortly after we spoke in 2020, everything shut down due to the pandemic. You addressed the subject of the pandemic in your 2022 “Good Fortune” tour. How would you say that the experience of the pandemic changed you personally and professionally?

FF: Obviously it was a difficult time. People had no idea what live performance would look like. That was the first in our lifetimes that nobody could perform. No clubs were open. We always thought that live performance was kind of foolproof in that way. But we saw that anything can happen. What came from that was resilience. A lot of comedians figured out a way they could still do what they love, still make people happy, and help alleviate some of the anxiety that people were going through by still finding a way to do comedy and make people laugh. You saw a lot of Zoom shows happening. I did a bunch of outdoor shows. I did baseball fields. I did parking lots and outdoor movie theaters. It was a very interesting time and I think it showed a lot of us how much we love what we do and will do anything to try to figure out how to make it work. You saw the need for comedy in a way that we haven't had in a very long time. People were so stressed and full of anxiety. It was a really tragic time. A lot of lives were lost. People needed to have that relief. I think it made me appreciate the medium more than ever. Once you can't do it for a long time, it makes you that much more determined to do it. I approach it from a much more dedicated place.

GS: Just when we thought it was safe to carry on with our lives, war breaks out in the Middle East. Do you feel that, as a comedian, it’s your responsibility to make comedy, or as you’ve said, “adding levity to the world”?

FF: I think that’s how I approach comedy in general; with the idea of adding levity. I try to come from a more positive place, a more uplifting place. That's where my focus has been for a while. There’s just so much going on in the world where we live. People are faced with challenges every day. There's war. There are awful things happening all over the world. You go online you can see a barrage of very intense, very negative, very difficult things that people are going through. If I can provide an hour and a half of relief from that, it's something I’m glad that I can provide. I don't know how to fix all these other bigger problems. Obviously, those are beyond many of our capabilities. We can’t control those things. All I can do is find ways to make people feel good, make people laugh, and that's where I approached my comedy from.

GS: You have a joke about meeting your wife Jax in a parking lot, due to the lack of lesbian bars, a subject that’s gotten a lot of attention, including in a New York Times article. In the interim, lesbian writer Krista Burton wrote the book “Moby Dyke,” subtitled “An obsessive quest to track down the last remaining lesbian bars in America.” If you could open a lesbian bar, what would you call it, and where would you open it?

FF: [Laughs] Gosh, I don't know! I would maybe open it back in my home state of North Carolina. I feel like those are the places where representation and community are needed even more. What would I call it? We were doing a radio show the other day and there was a big seagull there. I was like, “Oh, look at that chunky seagull.” And then I said, “That's a great name for a bar!” So, maybe I would call it The Chunky Seagull [laughs].

GS: Jax is from Chicago, and you have said how much you love the city. When you’ve been there, have you had a chance to stop into the new lesbian bar Nobody’s Darling?

FF: No! I didn't even know about it.

GS: In fact, it’s doing so well, it’s expanding.

FF: Where is this bar?

GS: Do you know where Women & Children First Books is in Andersonville?

FF: I do!

GS: It’s a few blocks west of that.

FF: Listen, any time there is a new bar for lesbians or owned by lesbians, I want it to succeed because it is difficult. I don't know what the reasoning is behind that. I think, in general, it's hard to keep a bar or restaurant afloat anyway, but we certainly lack those spots in our community, so I wish these places the best.

GS: My husband Rick and I are dog dads to our Yorkie-poo Coco. Are you and Jax still enjoying being dog moms to Biggie?

FF: Oh, yeah! He's sitting right here on my desk. Jax is taking care of our house, constantly cleaning and doing things around the house, as I talked about in “Good Fortune.” She’s the butch one around here. She puts him in his little bed, and he just conks out right here while I'm working. I just love having him close because he’s so cute and cuddly. We’re obsessed! Every night we just stare at him and we're like, “We love you so much!”

GS: With your new show “Live Love Laugh,” you are once again embarking on a stand-up. What are you most looking forward to about this tour?

FF: I feel like with every tour I hone my voice a little bit more each time. I know myself a little bit better each time. I’m having fun! That's what’s most important to me. If I’m having fun, that means you're going to have fun. I'm really enjoying the stories that I'm telling. I talk a lot about Jax, about our relationship. I’m telling stories about my mom. I always feel weird laughing at my own stories, but my stories about my mom genuinely crack me up. It’s been fun digging into that. I’ve also been interacting with the audience a lot more. Talking to them and having some fun crowd-work moments. This has been one of those where every time I’m on stage, I'm pumped to see what comes. With the crowd-work part, especially, you just never know what you're going to get. I love that aspect because it keeps me on my toes.

GS: Speaking of being on your toes, one of the things that I personally love about your live performance is the way you incorporate little touches of physical comedy and that you are known to break into song showing off your wonderful singing voice. Do you think you might have a music album, or perhaps a role in a Broadway musical, in your future?

FF: Oh, gosh, my mom would love that. Every time I bring up stand-up, she's like, “When are you gonna start singing? People would love it!” I'm like, “I don't know what you mean by that!” I'm not a songwriter. It's not like I can go out with a guitar and be like, “All right guys, here's a song I wrote.” Adam Sandler does that so beautifully. He writes songs and plays guitar, so it’s cool. I would just have to sing covers and [laughs] I don't know exactly how that would work as far as being original. I do try to find ways to sing something in my set because it's fun to show a different side of myself. I recently got onstage and sang a song with The Chicks in Nashville. I sang “Goodbye, Earl,” with them. People were like, “Oh, my gosh, you can actually sing!” I would love to, at some point, do something, but I don't know what that is; if it's an acting thing or what. But I'm not gonna go on tour as a music act.

GS: You are performing at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach on New Year’s Eve. Is this the way you usually ring in the new year?

FF: I have done it before. Normally, it was at comedy clubs. They always have a special night. At a club, you're doing two shows in a night; the early show and the late show. After the late show, you get off the stage and then go back on and ring in the new year with everybody. I always felt a lot of pressure – like, “Oh, I'm gonna be the one counting down for everybody? The beginning of their new year is going to depend on me?” So, I stopped doing it for a while. We were going to go to Florida anyway, to see Jax’s family, and I thought, “Why not? Maybe let's try it with a theater?” I thought it would be cool because the show’s earlier, at 7. You go to a show, and then everybody can do what they want after, go to dinner. They can have a fun, awesome night, but I don't have to be responsible for their countdown and messing that up. Hopefully, it'll be the start to their very fun evening.

GS: Are you a New Year’s resolution maker?

FF: Oh, yeah!

GS: What’s your record in keeping them?

FF: I would have to go look. Jax and I started this tradition about five years ago. Jax is not one of those L.A./hippie-dippie types at all, but she likes the idea of setting goals and intentions. I said, “Why don't we start making a vision board,” which sounds very L.A. We would cut things out of magazines, and write our goals and intentions, and show each other what we did. Kind of put it out there – “This is what I'm hoping to do in the next year.” That felt like it gave it more weight, gave it more direction and purpose. That's one of my favorite things that we do every year. It feels like we're starting off the year on a good foot. I’ll have to go back and look and see if we’ve accomplished any of those things. I believe so! I think we’ve had some cool things unfold.


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