Five Questions with Kelli Dunham

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

  This Saturday, Kelli Dunham will be appearing at the William Way Community Center for a night of comedy, animated shorts, and LGBT-friendly healthcare enlightenment. In advance of the show, Dunham took some time to email with PGC about herself and her mission.

PhillyGayCalendar:  Have you done a show like this before, where you’ve bundled comedy with queer health awareness? What inspires you to do that?

Kelli Dunham: Yes! I’ve done a variety of different comedy/health shows in all sorts of situations: clubs, colleges (that’s a big one), health systems, etc. Comedy + LGBT health= I will go anywhere. Seriously try me. I will do queer health comedy in barn, with some yarn, on a ferris wheel, on Let’s Make a Deal. You get the idea. I even did a show with some other comic in New York where we did pelvic exams LIVE on stage. With a health care provider and everything, with the idea that if we demystify some of this preventative health care, maybe folks will get their bits checked out.

What inspires me? The simple fact that queers, like everyone else, DESERVE HEALTH CARE. Good health care. And we don’t get it, for many reasons. The system is broken, it’s especially broken for queers, we’ve been subject to terrible homophobia and transphobia in the health care system, we don’t identify with the parts we have. These are all valid reasons but if we don’t care for our bodies, how will we live? How will we change the world? What will we have sex with?

I know these conversations about health and about preventative health care are very hard. That’s why the comedy. And it’s about harm reduction, not shame. Part of what I share in the queer health comedy part of my act is my own struggles to take care of my body. I mean, c’mon I drink my own weight in Diet Mountain Dew every day. It’s about progress, not perfection.

And also, I’ve lost two partners to cancer in five years so you seriously see why I’ve got a bug up my ass for queer health.

PGC: Your bio states that you were once — just once! — at a livestock auction. Could you tell us more about that?

KD: Ah no, my bio says I emceed a livestock auction once. (Ed. note: Oops!) I have been present at many many livestock auctions. I grew up in Hartford, Wisconsin, population 2345… if you count cows as equal to people, which, if you live in Hartford, Wisconsin you do.

PGC: What do you think are the most common misconceptions queer people have about their own health?

KD: That we’re super human! Some of the most fierce people I know don’t ask for help/care when they need it. But anger, even righteous queer anger doesn’t actually protect us from cancer, or HIV or COPD.

Another misconception: That you have to love your body in order to take care of it. Loving your body is advanced stuff, but you can still take care of it even while you struggle to make peace with it.

PGC: Being a nurse, does anything gross you out anymore?

KD: You soooooo do NOT want me to get started on “things that are gross.” You will lose all your readers! I guess once in a while something grosses me out, but mostly I am fascinated with body fluids, wounds etc. This reminds me of the joke:

Question: Two social workers were eating lunch. Two nurses joined them. How many people were eating lunch?
Answer: Two. Social workers know that once the nurses come in and start talking, the meal is over.

PGC: What’s your favorite thing about Philadelphia?

KD: Well you know I lived here almost a decade and I always say that Philadelphia was where I had my second childhood, the pleasant one. So definitely the people. This is where I learned how to be queer, this is where I learned how to be love and be loved.

Is that too corny? Also, there is nothing better than a soft pretzel from a cart. When I first moved here after leaving the convent I was super broke, I would buy three pretzels and a Diet Pepsi from the cart on my way to work. I ate breakfast and lunch for two bucks. Cheap and super tasty… but oh the occasional irregularity! 

Prior to the interview, Dunham made it a point to praise the performers who will be appearing with her on Saturday, who include our own R. Eric Thomas! Here are their bios.

R. Eric Thomas (@oureric) is a playwright, teaching artist and storyteller. He is the author of four produced plays, including “The Spectator” (Run of the Mill Theater Company, Baltimore). Eric has read or performed for Second Stories at the Dive, Rant-o-Wheel, Queer Ignite, Superheroes Who Are Super!, Queer Memoir, and Philadelphia’s First Person Arts Story Slams. His writing has appeared in Columbia University’s The Collection and the literary magazine, The Q Review. His solo show, “Will You Accept This Friend Request?” premiered November 14 and 15 as part of the First Person Festival.

Dan Horrigan got his start telling stories to anyone who would listen at bars and cocktail parties across New York. Dan is thrilled to be bringing his tales to a slightly more sober audience. In addition to being a writer / performer Dan is also a co-founder and Artistic Director of At Hand Theatre Company. At Hand is an independent, non profit theatre company in New York City that produces new plays while using eco-friendly practices. Dan likes to make you laugh and he likes trees and plays! He also appeared in Kathy Griffin’s My Life On The D-List playing Laughing Gay Guy in the 3rd Row At The WaMu Theatre (surprisingly, uncredited). 

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