– is Whoopi Goldberg gay –
Whoopi Goldberg, never one to give a flying you-know-what, has made a career out of not caring. When asked about her sexuality – a mystery to some since the 1970s, when Goldberg made a lot of lesbians laugh at San Francisco comedy clubs – she doesn’t understand the fuss. Don’t bother asking her what she thinks about marijuana. She just published a column about it. Whoopi adores a good blunt.
It makes sense, then, that one of Goldberg’s earliest comedy heroes is veteran standup Jackie “Moms” Mabley, the 20th-century trailblazer – and later, civil rights activist – known for a no-nonsense attitude, edgy humor, and dressing like your grandmother. Mabley, the first female comedian to perform at the Apollo, was also a lesbian, as discussed in “Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley” (on DVD May 20), a Goldberg-funded documentary featuring Joan Rivers, Eddie Murphy, Bill Cosby, and Kathy Griffin.
In a recent interview with Whoopi Goldberg, the comedian actress discussed how being a lesbian had no impact on Moms becoming “the funniest woman in the world,” long-running rumors about Goldberg’s own sexuality, and her commitment to the fight for gay rights.
How do you think a black lesbian like Moms managed to have such a following in the ’20s and ’30s, a time when homosexuality would’ve likely been a career breaker?
Nobody was considering it. You didn’t work if you weren’t funny. It didn’t matter what your sexuality was, who you were, or whether you were a man or a woman. Everything is overshadowed by humor.
You were an early ally of the LGBT community at a time when identifying as such was a much bigger risk. At that point in time, people would automatically assume an ally was someone who just did not want to come out of the closet.
(Laughter) That’s exactly what people thought! It was hilarious. “Uh, no,” I said. People just didn’t get it. You see bad or stupid situations, such as people arguing about who you care about, who you want to be with, and other trivial matters that have nothing to do with the realities of our world.
Nobody’s business was the reality of the world I grew up in. If you don’t do your job, I’m going to bitch. But I’m not going to bitch at anyone just because they’re gay or because they’re heavier than me.
It just seemed so stupid to me at the time that this was what people’s problems were.
As an ally and as someone with a long history in the movement, what’s your take on the role you played then and the evolving nature of being identified as an ally?
I’m not sure yet. Nobody could do anything to me at the time because I felt these were my friends and my people, and no one had the right to judge them. I don’t want anyone to bother me, so I defend everyone’s right to be themselves.
That’s always been my rallying cry. People seem to understand it now. They get it because they look at themselves and say, “This is how I am.” I know if someone is teasing me, I don’t want to hear it. I need to get up. Leave my stage.
People have long speculated about your sexuality, haven’t they?
Yeah! (Laughter) And it’s almost as if there are a lot worse things people could have accused me of – things that would be extremely upsetting! That is not among them.
It has never been. I was raised in the theater. I grew up in a neighborhood that was always full of gay people. Always! So I never understood why people were so upset about it.
Everyone is paranoid about everything. They’re worried that (people) will think, “Oh, somebody’s going to think I’m gay.” What’s the big deal? What will happen if they do?
Considering how long people have wondered how you swing, watching “Moms Mabley” made me think: Should a documentary be made about your life one day, how do you want people to characterize your sexual identity?
I don’t mind. I don’t mind! Because I’ll most likely be gone by then! (Laughs) With all of the amazing people who have come out, you’re not doing your job if you’re still talking about my sexuality – I’m the one you pick.
But don’t you think celebrities also play a role in the gay rights movement just by being themselves?
They now do. But there was a time when people said, “Oh, no, I’m not saying anything.” Someone is going to think I’m (gay).” It’s almost as if you’d be lucky if someone thought you were gay! That’s my reply to everyone. If that’s what has you worried, you’re worried about the wrong thing.
And Moms, despite talking about young men in her act, had a thing for the ladies.
Yes, she played a fantastic game.
She was all about living life on her own terms. Moms must remind you of yourself in that sense.
It’s crazy how similar she is to me. Thank you so much! Like her, I’m always looking for work, which can be difficult because I’m not conventional.
Many people wonder about many things, but if you don’t know by now, it’s because you don’t want to know. “Well, what do you think I am?” I ask people. “We think you’re gay,” they say. “If that’s what you want to think, OK!” I say.
I’ve played gay characters in films. I’ve done two: “The Color Purple” and the other one, which I always forget. People assume they know because they saw you in a movie, saw you do something, or heard you say something, and then they make assumptions. To be honest, I was relieved to be claimed.