Kathy Najimy finds the funny in feminism and talks about Bette Midler

Kathy Najimy finds the funny in feminism and talks about Bette Midler
By Lynda Sturner / Banner CorrespondentPosted Sep 7, 2018, at 9:11 AM

Kathy Najimy finds the funny in feminism and talks about Bette Midler

When Kathy Najimy was growing up in a working-class neighborhood in southeast San Diego, her parents, immigrants from Beirut, had no extra money for acting classes.

“I didn’t have the kind of body that someone usually expects of someone going into show business,” she says. “So I would put on plays in my backyard and make all my friends in fifth grade do Bette Midler revues.”

Those childhood plays of Najimy’s have evolved a bit, and now she’s written and starring in a show, “Lift Up Your Skirt,” that will be at the Art House for one night only, on Sunday.

“The first 30 minutes spans my life from 14, and it’s all about growing up in San Diego and my relationship, both real and imagined, with Bette Midler,” says the 61-year-old Najimy. “It’s not the story of my life — it’s stories from my life. It’s a combination of serious things, political things and funny things. I’m a feminist and LGBT activist, so it’s sprinkled with that.”

The show also mines her career. “I’m bringing back a character from ‘The Kathy & Mo Show,’ called Maddie,” Najimy says. “She’s my alter ego. The great thing about playing her is that she can say things that I can’t say. She brings an innocence and a newness to this political stuff that I can’t say without sounding like a keynote speaker.”

Najimy wrote “Lift Up Your Skirt” four years ago, and there was interest in it being produced on off-Broadway. “I had to decide whether I wanted to do a run, and I decided that I didn’t,” she says. “I loved the show, but I wasn’t willing to give up four or six months of eight shows a week to take away from the other projects that I’m doing.”

Those projects, all politically driven, include a documentary on the 54 percent of women who voted for Donald Trump and a show about Gloria Steinem that opens in New York off-Broadway this October.

Najimy was working on a series about the women’s movement when she decided on a shorter format and came up with “Lift Up Your Skirt.” With Brian Nash at the piano, the version that is coming to Provincetown has been updated to include current affairs. Watch out, 45 — she’s fearless.

Not skirting the issues

What: “Lift Up Your Skirt,” written, directed & performed by Kathy Najimy

When: 6:30 pm Sunday

Where: The Art House, 214 Commercial St., Provincetown

Admission: $50-$150 at provincetownarthouse.com

She first came to Provincetown to film the movie “Bear City 2.” The producer brought her here and back to New York on his private plane. “I got to know the pilot well,” she says, “and I started asking him how to fly a plane, so he would let me do the takeoffs and landings.”

Najimy met Mo Gaffney in the 1980s, and they wrote “The Kathy & Mo Show” together. “We did it at little gay bars in San Diego and ended up at a theater,” she says. “Then we moved to New York and did it at 1 a.m. at [the restaurant-cabaret] Don’t Tell Mama.”

“This was before the internet,” Najimy says. “I would call everybody and say, ‘Come to our show!’ and [Second Stage artistic directors] Robyn Goodman and Carole Rothman came and moved it to their theater. We had a run there, then it became an HBO special. Those were such rich, creative years. I loved it and it did everything for me. It was actually the writing that I’m most proud of.”

After “The Kathy & Mo Show,” her career exploded, and she’s been working on television (“Veronica’s Closet,” “Veep”) and movies (“Sister Act,” “Hocus Pocus”) ever since. When asked which medium is her favorite, she says, “The ones that have the best scripts. I was lucky enough to be on a series for 14 seasons called ‘King of the Hill,’ and every Wednesday for 14 years, I would get delivered to my house in L.A. a great, really funny bundle of fantastic scripts. And that was wonderful.”

No matter what the medium, there are some things she can’t abide. “I don’t do material that makes fun of women or groups of people,” Najimy says. “I’ve never taken a part where it had a description of the character: I’m just plain human and not any kind of look.”

She appears on game shows to raise money for causes. “I’ve been a political activist pretty much forever,” she says. “When I was 14, I realized that there was a difference between how girls were supposed to be and treated and how boys were treated and supposed to be, and I thought: not fair. I also saw my mom, who spoke five languages and graduated college at 19, have no options for her life other than to marry and have kids. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I would have liked for her to have had more options.”

Fighting sexism means everything to Najimy. “First and foremost, I’m a feminist,” she says. “And basically, that stems from a belief that all people and creatures deserve equal opportunity, rights and respect.”

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