Lea DeLaria brings jazz, comedy and activism in one concert

by Veronica Winham | 10/12/18 2:06am


Jazz and comedy are two very different art forms, yet they share many similarities. Both are free form and improvisational. Both are honest and authentic.

Musician and actress Lea DeLaria, who will be performing at the Hopkins Center for the Arts tonight, combines these two mediums without compromising the integrity of either. Her “Live in Concert” show will feature both her comedy and her jazz covers of songs by David Bowie and other artists.

“I do music and I do comedy, and I do it all together in kind of a heavy, high-energy, mixed form,” she said in an interview with The Dartmouth.

Known for playing Carrie “Big Boo” Black on the hit show “Orange is the New Black,” DeLaria has been in other films and Broadway productions, and she has also released several record-winning albums over the course of her career, including one reexamining Bowie’s music. She is also known to be a trailblazer for the queer community, as she was the first openly gay comic to come out on live TV.

“That aspect of her being that trailblazer, willing to make a sacrifice in her own career in order to open doors for other people, is just something we should all be applauding her for,” said Rebecca Bailey, the Hop publicity coordinator.

DeLaria first started jazz with her father as a child, and combining jazz with comedy helps her deliver a show that is both raw and truthful as well as enjoyable and funny. She attributes this to her past.

“When I started doing comedy … it was back in the ’80s and I was very rageful, so my comedy was really loud and in your face and vulgar,” DeLaria said. “I thought, ‘Why don’t I give these guys a respite,’ and that’s what I did. I would just sing a standard or whatever and basically lull them into a false sense of security before I would start screaming.”

DeLaria said she also wants to bring awareness to injustices in the entertainment industry. She defiantly takes on an “if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention” mindset, and as an active member of the queer community, she is keenly aware of the double standard when it comes to equity and respect.

“If they cast a straight man as a gay man in anything, our community goes crazy … If they cast a non-trans actor in a trans role, our community goes crazy,” DeLaria said.

She pointed out how that is not the case with lesbians, who are written, directed and acted by straight people with little resistance.

“We never stand up and scream about [casting lesbian characters with straight actors] ever … so basically what we find is we’re not in charge of our own stories,” she said. “That’s what made ‘Orange is the New Black’ interesting. There were lesbians in the writer’s room, there were lesbian directors and there were lesbians playing lesbians … It was greatly impacting to see that, and inspiring. Unfortunately, it lasted about five minutes.”

This refers to the “pendulum” effect: DeLaria is noticing how lesbian characters are being killed off in the show (as her character recently was), something she is advocating against as lesbian characters are commonly treated with violence in media.

This oppression does not just exist in Hollywood, and DeLaria has faced a lot of backlash since coming out in 1993 on the Arsenio Hall Show.

“I made a very bold statement as a lesbian on a stage about my sexuality,” she said. “And women aren’t supposed to have sex and aren’t supposed to talk about sex, still in our modern society.”

DeLaria makes an impact not only as a comedian and musician, but also as an activist.

“Performers like [DeLaria] expand our notions of what activism, and for that matter, what comedy can be,” Maanav Jalan ’19, a Hop Fellow, said in an email. “It’s exciting to have a pioneer like her here.”

Bailey said that DeLaria sets an example by affirming all types of people as their authentic selves, and that this was an example for the Dartmouth community.

DeLaria herself is unapologetic for her assertions.

“You deal with the aftermath of whatever you say,” she said. “You got to stand up for what you believe in. Comedy is a tremendous tool to affect change in the world … In my act, I’ve said many times, ‘If I offended you, you probably needed it.’”

DeLaria’s show at Dartmouth is just the beginning of a tour that goes abroad to London for its last show.

“The public has really come around to see her as a three-dimensional performer and she’s been getting characters that have depth and aren’t just stereotypes,” Bailey said.

Today, there will be more than a comedy show at the Hop. There will be more than a jazz concert. One can expect Lea DeLaria’s fusion performance to deliver both of these mediums, along with a progressive look at social issues.

DeLaria will perform tonight at 8 p.m. at Spaulding Auditorium.