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Pride 2014: Lea Delaria Interviewed

Anna Carruthers chats to the Orange Is The New Black star, Pride Marshal and 'Professional Lesbian'

Written by . Published on August 26th 2014.

Pride 2014: Lea Delaria Interviewed

LEA DELARIA is the American comedian, actress and jazz musician and lead of this year’s Manchester Pride Parade.

I think if you went to New York and asked people why I didn't get the Tony nomination that everybody thought I should get, never mind winning, they'll say it was because of my butch image.

Having become America’s first openly gay TV comic in 1993 when she introduced herself as a ‘big dyke’ on The Arsenio Hall Show, Lea Delaria has gone on to have a highly successful career as, in her terms, a 'professional lesbian'.

Since 2013 Delaria has become widely known for her portrayal of Carrie ‘Big Boo’ Black on the Emmy-nominated Netflix prison comedy-drama series Orange is the New Black (OITNB).

Confidential caught a few minutes with Delaria before she headed out as Grand Marshal of the 2014 Manchester Pride Parade. 

Confidential gets up close and personal with Lea DelariaConfidential gets up close and personal with Lea Delaria

What made you want to come and lead the Manchester Pride Parade this year?

I’ve been a professional lesbian for 33 years so if anyone asks me to come to a Pride I’m going to come. It’s really important to me to put a positive spin on being a butch. Something as visible as Manchester Pride is really going to help me along those lines so of course I’m here. Plus the girl’s here are really hot.

A 'butch'? What's a 'butch'?

A butch is a masculine lesbian but there’s a lot more to it than that, you get in trouble when you start to lump everybody into a certain category. People do that all the time and when they lump butches into a category it is always a very negative category. Without getting myself into the same sort of trouble I would say that butches tend to be, if you’re an old school butch like me, very hard on the outside with a very creamy soft filling.

Is your character Big Boo a Butch?

Absolutely. It’s one of the reasons I like playing the character so much because she's a real honest butch. You have to give it up to Jenji (OITNB creator Jenji Kohan) because they’ve written this beautiful, three-dimensional butch that I love portraying.

So you're essentially Big Boo?

Yeah. They wrote this part for me. Unlike a lot of the other roles in this show that were written and then cast, they wrote this part and made Big Boo for me.

Is there anything Big Boo does that you wouldn’t?

You mean like using a screwdriver as a dildo? Well first of all I have the freedom to own a goddam vibrator. But also there’s the question of penetration that comes from that episode, I had a long conversation with people about how butches aren’t really into that. I'm not going to say anything about the peanut butter scene.

Big BooBig Boo

Is it weird filming those scenes or are you comfortable with it?

Oh no, not at all. With the screwdriver thing I jumped up and down when they told me I had to do that. I mean, what comedic actor doesn’t want to masturbate on camera for comedic effect, please. Sorry for name-dropping but I’m really good friends with Alan Cumming, when I got the script I read that moment to him and he said “I’m so, so jealous."

From social media there looks like there's a real camaraderie on set...

I've done a lot of shows and this one is different. I was on One Life To Live for a decade and we never once did anything off set as a team. That's pretty much the norm. The fact that the OITNB are always spending time together and having fun can be seen on screen, it's palatable. You guys can see that, taste that. We love it.

You were once close to quitting acting after missing out on a role. What else were you going to do?

I’m signed to the Warner Jazz label here in the UK and I’m also a pretty well known stand up, so that was it. I was just going to live here and sing and perform and make records and do stand up. If someone wanted to give me a part I'd do it, but I wasn't going to audition anymore.

Delaria is also a jazz musicianDelaria is also a jazz musician

You're done jazz and musicals in the past, is it difficult to reconcile the butch image with those?

Absolutely. I think if you went to New York and asked people why I didn't get the Tony nomination that everybody thought I should get, never mind winning, they'll say it was because of my butch image. i think people do have a hard time reconciling it but my whole life has been an exercise in not judging a book by its cover. When I do a little jazz club and people come purely from hearing my music, you can see the shock in their faces. That’s why I have this great opening number called Welcome To My Party. Once I play that nobody says a goddam word.

Both yourself and Laverne Cox are seen as figureheads in the LGBT community. Who do you look up to?

When I was younger there was no one. People didn’t really start being visible in that way until the 80s. By that time I was already doing 'dyke' stand-up comedy. My heroes came from different places. I loved Lucille Ball, Judy Garland, Lenny Bruce and Lily Thomlin, but even Lily wasn’t out then. They were ground-breaking people that I loved.

But I couldn't look up and see me, that's one of the reasons I made the decision to be who I am. One of the exciting things now about the LGBT community is that they can now look up and see themselves, not just in our show. I get messages that make me weep, messages from girls in India where it’s illegal to be lesbian about how important the show is to them. They come from all over the world. I knew if I accepted the first direct message I'd be doing it every day, but I feel a great responsibility to do that.

Do you think OITNB will have a lasting effect in the media world and lesbians as main characters will become more common?

It’s such a crazy industry, I call it the pendulum effect. We’re in a good place right now and I don’t know what will happen. Will it swing back? Will we reach another place of conservatism? After we had Clinton in America things seemed great and then we had Bush for eight years and everything went to shit. Obama’s been spending eight years trying to clean that shit up. What’s going to happen next I don’t know. I hope so. I truly hope so. I’ll be out there fighting the good fight to make sure that happens but who can say.

Big BooBig Boo

You famously came out as the first gay comic on television in America in that famous appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show. Was that planned?

That was planned. I'd been a stand-up comic for almost eleven years. They did an article on me in the LA Times and it was so well-received that I started getting phone calls from every late night talk show. I went with Arsenio because at that time it was the number one talk show in America and reached millions of people around the world. That gave me an instantaneous worldwide fame. Interesting fact, I was on the coach for five minutes and my stand-up routine was four minutes, they did a count and I said the words 'dyke', 'fag' and 'queer' 47 times in the nine minutes I was on. I didn’t just open that closet door, I chain-sawed it open.

Is there anything you want to catch at Manchester Pride this weekend?

We were being briefed today and the Head of Pride said “Tonight we have Anastacia with glitter cannons”. I’ve never actually heard the phrase glitter cannon before but I know exactly what it’s going to do and I’m very excited about this glitter cannon thing.

The theme of this year’s Pride is LOVE in light of recent gay marriage developments. What do you think the next step is for America?

Well now that they’ve gotten rid of the Defence of Marriage Act I think marriage equality needs to happen throughout every state. That’s going to be a hard fight, we couldn’t even pass the Legal Rights Amendment so that’s going to be a big old fight but I think that has to be done. I think we should also nationally have installed a Hate Crimes Act. I think that’s really important. 

Lea Delaria stars in Orange Is The New Black on Netflix.



Delaria poses for ConfidentialDelaria poses for Confidential

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