Award-winning comic Etta May lays it on thick
"You know, when I was going to school, culottes were sexy," Etta May tells me, and I'm tempted to believe her. This is a generously proportioned woman who shows up for her stand-up act wearing polyester pants, floral blouses, a kerchief, and cat-eye glasses. Really, bring on the culottes. "When I walk on stage I look like somebody they got stuck behind in a Wal-Mart check-out line. And you always kinda wanta know, what on earth is in that woman's head?"
Parental concerns for one thing. I'm not 100 percent sure that I buy Etta May's Deep South accent, one reason being that when she talks about her teenage daughter's attitude, her low twang slips seemlessly into Paris Hilton hauteur. "I can imitate my daughter," she assures me. "Her and all her little girlfriends talk this uppity talk that they learned in public school." What public school is that, I ask. My child is learning how to talk like a bad-guy extra in Law & Order.
"I think that's the Jerry Springer syndrome or something," Etta May says. "Young kids want to think they're ghetto kids. I want to know why they're punching holes all over their faces. My son looks like he was attacked by a nail gun, like someone from Home Depot opened a can of whupass on him."
Etta May does not consider herself a comic with a message, but she does bemoan the loss of the front porch culture she enjoyed growing up. "We're getting into a society today, if you don't want to talk to anybody, you can get through life pretty well," she clucks. Take the grocery store for example. "Now you have the 'you-scan' machines, you don't even have to talk to a person there. What are they gonna make us do next? 'You-stock?'" Worst of all, the clerks are no longer the repository of crucial neighborhood gossip. "Who's on their period ... who bought the pregnancy test ..."
But she's a model parent who's serious about challenging southern and economic stereotypes. "I actually spoke at career day for my oldest boy's class. They had a doctor, a dentist, a lawyer, and me, which was weird. They told us to bring a visual aid, you know. The doctor brought a skeleton, which was cool. The dentist brought a giant tooth that opened. The lawyer brought another lawyer to represent him. I brought a bottle of tequila and a guy named Chuck." She was a role-model superstar. "Even the doctor and dentist wanted to be a comic. I think the lawyer is suing me for pain and suffering."
She's also a humanitarian. Her upcoming date at Trinity University's Laurie Auditorium will raise funds for the Texas State Association of Fire Fighters. "We need them more than ever," says Etta May. "It's real important to get the community together and support their departments." •
By Elaine Wolff