Beth Pinkerton’s first time performing standup comedy was in March. As of June 28, she was opening for a national act — comedian Jen Kirkman — at Cozmic, where Pinkerton brought down the house with her outsider views of Eugene. It takes some serious chutzpah to tell a Chaco-wearing, CSA-subscribing crowd of the hippie noblesse that you buy your produce at Walmart, you eat at Taco Bell and that you, Eugene, can go fuck yourself already.
Sure, there was a boo or two, a few gasps and clasped hemp necklaces, but, overwhelmingly, the New York transplant was greeted with laughs, applause and what felt like a collective cathartic release.
Pinkerton’s shtick is the stick poking at our self-righteous, bougie bubble of liberal values, an antidote for politically correct lives lived too seriously.
But she also pokes at herself in her act, regaling with self-deprecating stories about trying to come out as a lesbian to her cigarette-dragging mother at 15 (it didn’t take at first), her Catholic upbringing and what it’s like to follow in the footsteps of her brother, the “golden boy,” a navy pilot, who’s now one of her biggest advocates.
And for all her jokes, Pinkerton — who works for a local nonprofit specializing in therapeutic foster care — loves Eugene and its generally accepting nature. EW caught up with Pinkerton to discuss comedy, marriage equality (she married in December), gaydar and more.
Catch her next Aug. 29 at Sam Bond’s Bleepin’ Funny comedy night, but for now, here are some Pinkerton musings.
On discovering comedy:
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always wanted to make people laugh, and I tried so hard to be funny, but the reality of it is that, my brother was hilarious growing up. My mom thought my brother was hilarious growing up. He’s the golden boy. He saw Top Gun when he was 5 or 6 and he stood the whole time in the theater and gripped the seat in front of him. And from that day, that little shit, moving forward, he has wanted to be a navy pilot. He has never changed his mind, ever. He’s exactly what he wanted to be, which is a navy pilot officer. And he got it all. He’s a white, heterosexual Republican.
On starting standup:
I’ve actually wanted to be a standup comedian my whole life, but it was one of those pipe dreams things — that’s never going to happen. I’m also super self-conscious about stuff, so I was super nervous about it — “I don’t even know how to get into the scene.”
Then I was like, “Fuck it.” There’s a class through LCC, a comedy-writing class. It’s taught by Leigh Ann Jasheway and it was a fantastic experience and I learned how to write standup. The whole final for the class was, if you chose to participate, doing standup at “Bleepin’ Funny” at Sam Bond’s. So that was my first show.
I think my opening joke was my mom had an STD in the 1980s and it was called an unwanted pregnancy.
On developing her Eugene shtick:
I love making people laugh. It feels amazing and you feel good about yourself. But playing off the crowd is so fun. I found that that became so easy, like being able to go up there and play off and look at and point people out and hear their laughs and their comments and make jokes about that — that came so easy. So part of my bit about what it’s like to be in Eugene — folks really responded to that. So I was like, “Alright, bring it Eugene.” [laughs] “Because I’m going to tell you how I think.”
On Eugene elitism:
I think what you eat, where you buy things, where you shop, who you associate with, where you stand on certain social, political issues — it’s all very judge-y. I kind of said it in my standup: I do; I eat Taco Bell and I do fucking consider it Mexican. I’ve been shamed for that here. The first time I told a joke about shopping at Walmart, that’s where I buy my produce, people booed in the audience. I was like, “Yeah. Suck it. You can boo if you want.” I’m sure they were half being funny but it’s true, you look down on that.
But I work for a nonprofit. I’m the primary breadwinner in my family. I just bought a house. I don’t have a ton of money and I do shop at Walmart and that’s just the way it is, because it’s so expensive being healthy.
On vegan one-upmanship in Eugene:
For a couple years, I was a vegetarian and I remember thinking, “I’m a vegetarian!” Than someone said, well I’m a vegan and let me tell you why you still suck, because you’re a vegetarian. [Laughs]. I’m like OK, I’m never going to get there. There’s no way to keep up with this shit.
On everyone looking like lesbians in Eugene and refining her “gaydar”:
When I first moved here, my gaydar was shot because when I look for a lesbian, I look for a dyke haircut, short fingernails and a general angry disposition. Do you know what happens when you put tin foil on a cat’s feet? They can’t feel the ground so they can’t walk. That’s how I felt when I got here around navigating the queer community and figuring out who was gay because I had no idea.
Where I work right now, when I first started there, everyone called their partners their partners. I was like, “Everyone’s gay! This is the coolest thing ever.” Then I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. You’re just PC or some shit.” I’m not used to that. Where I’m from [Rochester, New York], you say partner you mean gay. It’s great you want to be PC but it throws us East Coasters off our rocker.
On marriage equality:
As a young lesbian, you think you’ll never see it. I always hoped that I would see marriage equality, but once it finally hits you — when it hit here [in Oregon], I remember walking out of work and calling Jules, my wife, and just crying.
And now with the Supreme Court, it’s just fantastic. My boss texted me at 7:15 in the morning. It was the best thing to wake up to. We live in an amazing time. The fact that I can now technically go to Arkansas where the Duggars [of 19 Kids and Counting] live and get married and throw that in their face — I’ll tell you what Jim Bob!
On gay bars:
So I was shocked when I came here and there wasn’t a gay bar. And all the straight people’s response — they were like, “Yeah but you guys don’t need gay bars. Everybody’s welcome.”
And I was like, “No. I totally get it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want a space.” It’s weird. It sounds so backwards to say a benefit of oppression, so stay with me on this, but a benefit to it, back home, was this whole group of people was forced to find a community. I had a handful of gay bars just in Rochester alone — lesbian bars, gay bars, bear bars, leather bars, all kinds of stuff with each little niche of the queer community because you needed a place to go, because nobody was accepting. What that allowed for was for you to know other lesbians in the city. What happened here [in Eugene], it’s bittersweet. It’s more accepting here but I lost that sense of community.
It’s a safety issue as well. I don’t know about here but back home if you’re a gay man and you hit on a straight man? That’s where hate crimes come from.
On family and coming out:
My parents were super liberal. They left the Catholic Church due in part because I came out. At this point, they’re completely done. My mom started wearing PFLAG [family and ally org advocating for LGBTQ community] pins and my dad has a rainbow sticker on his car, like a straight rainbow. I was like, “You’re going to be confused as a gay man.” And he’s like, “I don’t care. I support my daughter.”
Every single letter or card my dad signs, every single one for years now, has been signed, “In love and pride, Dad.” I have amazing parents. I think my mom actually really likes the fact that I’m a lesbian. She gets a really big kick of out of being in with the hip, liberal lesbians!