On this day in comedy on November 20, 1956, Comedienne, Actress, Thea Vidale was born in Washington, DC
A waitress before friends convinced her to go into comedy, Vidale cut her teeth in comedy clubs in Houston, Washington DC and New York. She got her break in 1989 when she appeared in the cable comedy special “Rodney Dangerfield: Opening Night at Rodney’s Place” on HBO. Since she came up during a period of blatant misogyny, the neophyte powerhouse had to deal with sexist behavior from White, Black, and Latino male comics who didn’t want a woman to be funnier than them. She featured for Tim Allen, Brad Garrett, Jeff Foxworthy, to name a few and they were dumbfounded that she was not headlining.
They weren’t stupefied long. Soon Vidale was headlining clubs across the country and making guest appearances on every available televised stand-up show and sitcom that wanted laughter in big doses on the menu. Thea appeared on “Ellen”, “The Wayans Bros”, “The Drew Carey Show” and “My Wife & Kids”. Off camera she was opinionated, and some say slightly insensitive. Regardless, Thea got her own show on ABC bearing her own name. This was a first for an African-American female. The show “Thea” lasted one season and Vidale was back on the road where her onstage style was in-your-face and to the point.
An advocate for gay rights, Vidale made her first appearance for GLBT in 1999. It was the Philadelphia GLBT Pride Fest with comic Etta May. The city’s mayor officially named the day “Thea Vidale Day” & “Etta May Day”. Vidale went on to work events for the Adult Film Industry (the AVN Awards) and perform as WWE wrestler, Shelton Benjamin’s mother. This latter was mock, but when Vidale experienced real life heart problems her character was written out of the charade. She acknowledged things got tough for a while professionally; from the industry and peers alike.
Vidale discovered, as many who came before her, that ageism is also a negative for a Black comedienne. She observed that the industry tries to discredit you unless you’re a White male. “White men get to be funny for a long time. Black men get to be funny. For some reason, women as we get older, it seems they don’t want to hear what we have to say. I got a lot of sh*t to say.”
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
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