Lea DeLaria is known for different things in different circles.
Mainstream audiences know her for stealing scenes as Carrie “Big Boo” Black on Netflix’s hit series Orange Is the New Black.
LGBT audiences know her as a pioneering comedian. She started performing in San Francisco in the early 1980s, and became the first openly gay/lesbian comic on a late-night show when she appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1993.
Music-loving audiences know her as a fantastic jazz musician—who paid tribute to the great David Bowie with her album House of David, released in 2015, just months before Bowie passed away.
All of DeLaria’s talents will be on display when she performs at the McCallum Theatre at 8 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 8. In fact, DeLaria usually blends these talents when she performs—because audiences can’t handle her otherwise, she said during a recent phone interview.
“I do music and comedy together, because my comedy’s so loud, fast, vulgar, in your face, rowdy and crazy that people can only take it for about five minutes, and they’re like, ‘Mommy, make it stop!’ she said. “So I always add a little music. That gives people a rest from my crazy, rageful, screaming comedy style.”
DeLaria will be performing some of her Bowie covers from House of David.
“He was a big supporter of this record. He championed it on his website and his social media. He told people to contribute to my campaign so that I could get the record made,” DeLaria said. “We released the cover of that album on his website. He was involved with it, which I think was kind of lovely.
“I loved him my whole life. I grew up in the Midwest—St. Louis. So, in 1974, when David Bowie walks out onstage in a fucking skirt and starts singing this amazing rock ‘n’ roll, my queer little heart in the Midwest went, ‘Oh my god.’ I mean, it was like the greatest thing I’d ever seen.
“He was probably the first real performer in the public eye who taught me that one, being weird is cool, and two, to be true to who you are as a performer. He was always ahead of the curve.”
DeLaria was born into music, in a sense.
“My father was a jazz pianist. He was always playing in the house, rehearsing in the house,” DeLaria said. “He would come home late from gigs and bring the guys home, and they would play. Me and my siblings would sit at the top of the steps and listen to them play music when it was like 2 o’clock in the morning—when we should be in bed. So I’ve always had a love of that music. He spotted it in me immediately at a very young age and taught me to sing and really instilled a passion of that music in me. In fact, it was the first thing I ever did professionally—I used to sing with him when I was a kid at the club.”
Comedy came naturally to DeLaria … as did being outspoken and political.
“I was a big voice in San Francisco in the ’80s during the AIDS crisis and was working with ACT UP,” she said. “That’s my history of comedy, and that’s why I’ve always been a really radical comic—a really in-your-face dyke comic. I’m not a comedian; I’m a dyke comic. I always call myself that.
“When I went out onstage at that time, I wasn’t even called Lea DeLaria; they called me ‘that fucking dyke.’ So when they would bring me out onstage, they would go, ‘Please welcome to the stage that fucking dyke!’ I had a shaved head and safety pins in my ears and big stomping boots. … I was a rageful, rageful lesbian. I was always in touch with my rage. I’m still in touch with my rage, and I find that’s important. It’s an important distinction—anger’s a tiny little emotion. It’s a wimpy little emotion. But rage, ooh, rage can get things done.
“That’s why I keep telling people to stay in touch with their rage this election. Rage is when people go, ‘I’m done; I’m not doing this anymore. I’m gonna do something about it.’”
While DeLaria has been singing, acting and doing comedy for decades, she gained a large mainstream audience for the first time in 2013 with the premiere of Orange Is the New Black. After five seasons on the show, DeLaria’s Big Boo only appeared in one episode of this year’s sixth season. I had to ask: Will Big Boo be back for next year’s seventh and final season?
“I can’t speak to future seasons,” she said. “I don’t know, because I was written off the show this last season, so I have no idea. I have nothing but love for Orange Is the New Black; it changed the face of the world, television and certainly my life.”
This is definitely not the first time DeLaria has performed in Palm Springs; in fact, she became part of local LGBT lore when she upset organizers while performing at a benefit more than a decade ago.
“Oh, where I insulted George W. Bush, and they turned off my mic and pulled me offstage?” she responded when I asked her about the now-infamous event. “Unbelievable censorship, especially since it was a gay event. … I was never a fan of George W. Bush, but I never thought of him as evil the way I think of Trump. So that’s what happened there. What happened was people with money—conservative, gay people with money—had me pulled off the stage for spouting my political opinion.”
In other words … come to the McCallum prepared for a great show—as long as you’re not easily offended.
Lea DeLaria will perform at 8 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 8, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $25 to $75. For tickets or more information, call 760-340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.