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Becker Q&A with Maggie Cassella

Dear Buffalo,

You need a good laugh. The last couple of weeks have been hard. Shootings during an election year? You know things are out of hand when they can’t keep things safe while trying to get re-elected. Laughter is the best medicine.

For the last few years, I have been trying to convince you all that Buffalo is a town ripe for comedy. Today is no different. This Wednesday night, veteran comedian (and big time Canadian TV personality) Maggie Cassella brings her one-woman show, Because I Said So, to the Ninth Ward @ Babeville. For the past 20 years, she has been performing all over the continent and beyond, and now, finally, we get a chance to see her LIVE. I asked her a few questions to help you get to know her.

Becker: Since this is your first time performing in Buffalo, let’s start from the beginning and get to know you. Where are you from originally?
Maggie Cassella: Connecticut. But in Canada (where I have lived for the last 18 years), I just tell people I’m gay when they ask that question. The conversation goes like this:  

    Canadian: “Hey where are you from”?
    Me: “Did you know I’m gay”?
    Canadian: Who cares about that, I asked where you were from?”
    Me: “Biiiiiiiiiiiiig lesbian!”  
    Canadian: “Uh, what?”  
    Me: “Yep, I eat p*##y. Hey where are you going? I thought you wanted to know where I was from?”

I do this because they don’t really care if you’re queer in Canada, but if you tell them you’re from the States they get all like, “Okay, why did you invade Iraq again, and how come gay people can’t get married, and while you’re at it will you explain the electoral college”.

Yeah. No. I can’t. So. I’m gay.

B: Who were you before you were Maggie Casella, International Superstar?
MC: You’re sweet. But I don’t know that person. Maggie Cassella, schlepping writer/producer/current events comic, was at one point a lawyer. Shhhhhhhh.

B: You’ve been performing for years as an “out” performer. Pre-Ellen, even. What’s different for you (and me), now vs. then?
MC: Pre-Ellen is such a joke to me. Like she was the one who opened the doors when it was the bulldykes and drag queens of Stonewall who really threw down the gloves and the glitter. ANYWAY, since Ellen, there’s been no difference for me, personally. Like Popeye says, “Iyam what Iyam,” and I’ve been me since I set foot on stage in the late 80s. Oh wait, no there is one difference, gay comedy is dead. And by that I mean you used to be able to get up and tell coming out jokes (I didn’t, but still) and people would laugh. Now, seriously, you better have waaaaaaaaaay more than that. There are almost no gay jokes that haven’t been told at this point so, I’m sorry, unless your coming out story has Golda Meir in it somewhere, it’s probably not going to be all that entertaining.

B: That is so true. Used to be you could just be “gay” and it was a novelty. Now I’ve found the gay audiences much more discerning, which is good, cause it keeps the riff raff out of the circuit. You are part of a rare breed-the FUNNY performer that is also a producer. There are a lot of folks who produce, just to tie themselves to funnier people, but you are hysterical! Do you think your years as a lawyer made it impossible for you to only perform?
MC: Ha! A first time question!. But expected from someone like you Becker. The rare hybrid yourself!  Almost IMPOSSIBLE after 21 years in the biz ! Thank you.
Oh, answer the question? Right. Uh, yes being a lawyer. That and the ADD. You know, it’s nice to be able to control the environment in which you (and others like you) work. Producing involves paying attention to detail and taking care of the performers. Maybe it also has to do with my being Italian and growing up amongst the Jews. Guilt and plenty of it! Plus I’m a Capricorn. We like to take care of people. Also, Lea DeLaria gave me my start and I think she forced me to produce our first show together in CT. You just don’t say no to Lea. So to answer your question, yes it was impossible for me to just perform for all of the above reasons.

B: You’ve been producing “We’re Funny That Way” for years, how did that begin?
MC: Geez, this will be year 15 coming up. We were actually the first queer comedy festival anywhere. It started when someone in Toronto approached me about doing a documentary on queer comics. We had a meeting and someone at the meeting suggested I produce a festival in Toronto. They had a huge budget, so it was easy that year. And we’ve been going ever since.

B: I recently took a trip to Massachusetts, and I can honestly say it felt better to be gay there. Everywhere we went, we just felt more accepted. Canada feels like that to me. An acceptance that is just built into society. Do you ever travel somewhere in the states and run into the less supportive of our citizens and get caught off guard? Like somehow the airport doubled as a time machine and you’re in 1973?
MC: LOL. Absolutely, and this is where even a current events comic like myself gets to mine the occasional queer travel story. Having said that, I am spoiled living in Toronto and I watch too much Law & Order so I’m instantly on heightened sensitivity the second my foot hits U.S. soil. I did NOT feel like that in Spain when I traveled there last year. Spain felt like Canada to me that way. Maybe it’s all in my head, but the fact is, I feel more comfortable where we are equal under the law, and try to (with the exception of the U.S. cuz I’m from there) spend my travel money in places where we are equal. They’ve earned it.

B: What should people expect from your show?
MC: Relatable stories that appeal to a wide audience because I’m THAT comic. Okay, seriously, some true stories and a bunch of current events-related spewage. With visual aids! Go Mac!

Wednesday, August 18th
341 Delaware Avenue
Buffalo NY 14202


Kristen Becker
is a comedian who started her comedy career in Toronto 8 years ago, and
since then has traveled the continent performing and producing shows.
She has opened for national acts such as Doug Stanhope, Josh Blue
(Winner of Last Comic Standing), and Ani DiFranco. Additionally, Kristen
beat out 60 contestants (all men) to win the 2006 Queen City Comedy
Competition. Becker was recently named “One of America’s Funniest
Lesbians” by CURVE Magazine, in a tie for #8 with Lily Tomlin. Locally,
Becker has been producing/hosting the Doin’ Time Stand-Up Comedy Showcase at Nietzsche’s every Tuesday in Buffalo for the last 4 years.

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