Uber Butch: An Interview with Lea DeLaria

Note: This post contains adult language and graphic sexual references. Enjoy!

I love my job as a writer. I get to write about being a butch lesbian. I get to share that with people. And, sometimes I get to do really awesome stuff -- like sit down to talk with Lea DeLaria. You may know her from her hilarious role as Big Boo in Orange is the New Black on Netflix, but Lea has been around long before OITNB. She has worked on TV, film and stage. She can sing. I mean really sing. And she does stand up. She is funny as hell. In fact, she has been doing stand up for over 30 years. She was the first openly gay comic on television -- guesting on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1993, where she also has the amazing distinction of saying "dyke," "fag" or "queer" 47 times in 9 minutes.

If you are not already a fan, Google her now. You can see some of her humor on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Find some of her work on YouTube. Listen to some of her music on Warner Chappel. Now. I'll wait.

On top of all of this, she is also a proud butch lesbian. Seriously, she has the word "BUTCH" tattooed on her forearm. If ever there were to be a Butch super hero, it would have to be Lea. Maybe we could call her Uber Butch...


Perhaps now you can imagine how damn excited I was to sit down with Lea and talk with her before her show at the Back Lot Bash in Chicago during the Pride celebration. We exchanged pleasantries and such in the green room, whereupon I promptly admitted my inner struggle.

I'm trying not to have a fan girl moment.

You can fan girl. Get it out and then we can go on.

I'm really excited to talk to you. For like the last 20 years, people have been saying, you look like Lea DeLaria.

Oh really, that's cool. All us fat dykes with chunky glasses look alike. [I'm flattered rather than offended to be called a fat dyke by Lea.]

Lea, but I'm like 5'10" and you're like...

Seriously, honestly, do you know the Bearded Lady in Provincetown? There's a very famous piercing place in Provincetown called the Bearded Lady. It's run by this girl Amiee [Ross], who's also kind of famous. She's like your size, 5'10" but three times bigger than you, and has a full beard. People come up to me in Provincetown and ask "Are you the bearded lady?" And I say, "Yes, I take my beard off at night." Because, honestly, all fat dykes look alike. That is the extreme to me. She literally weighs four times more than I do, is twice as tall as I am. And has a full beard. A full beard. Yet she tweezes her eyebrows. Which I think...

It's like having a diet coke and a piece of cake. You gotta choose your battles

You know I never thought of it that way, Tristan, you are right. For some reason, perfect eyebrows, and this big bushy beard.

It looks like you tweeze your eyebrows, too. Or somebody does.

Yeah, its because... I do the threading. Because I was in a musical [Mame] when I got this part [in OITNB]. I was playing Vera Charles and so I had to have perfect eyebrows. And when we filmed [OITNB], I had perfect eyebrows. So, now I have to have perfect eyebrows.

Got it. So how is that happening in prison? Do you have tweezers?

No, no, honey, threading, they did a thing about it in Season 1. They use dental floss or thread from clothes. Daya and her mother you know had that moment when she said to Daya, "I'll thread your eyebrows for you."

She's trying to make up for being a bad mom... [I comment that I want to rush... She graciously tells me that I've got time, go on.]

Keep going. We are fine. I'm not on till 8, how much prep do I need to say "cunt" and "fuck" like a thousand times?

Everyone wants OITNB to go on forever. In addition to working on the show, what is your dream project? You write, you do musicals, you do TV. If you could pick something...

If someone would write a Broadway musical for me to star in. I mean, what funny chick who can belt a D sharp and is my age doesn't want to play Mama Rose? But, I think what would be more interesting is if someone wrote a very specific part for me in a brand new Broadway musical. That would make me very happy. The other thing honestly, I am so easy to please. I don't want my own sitcom. I don't even want to be like the guest or second banana on a sitcom, I want to be third banana on a sitcom. I want to be the quirky next door neighbor that comes in, has two scenes, always has the really funny line, and leaves. I want to collect my paycheck every week. And go on my way. I don't want much out of life.

Like Kramer?

Yes, or the maid on Two and 1/2 Men. [We can't remember her name at that moment -- Conchata Ferrell]. As the estrogen leaves my body, so does my mind, apparently.

Tell me what you think happened to Little Boo.

What do you mean?

You said it got weird.

Well, come on!

You must have a back story in your head as you are shooting the scene.

You see, I'm not that kind of actor. I studied at the Improv. You know what I mean. Like I come to the world of acting through the world of comedy. My inner monologue is "Be funny. Make Money. Be funny. Make Money. Beer."

Beer. Did you say beer? Now you are talking my language.

Yes, beer. Sometimes boobs and beer.

Boobs and beer. That is a nice alliteration.

Yea, Little Boo was taken away. I gave her back, basically. Do people understand that Puppies for Prisoners is a real program in prisons in our country where they train service dogs? Little Boo was being trained as a service dog. They tend to give the dogs to prisoners that are more excitable, because it calms them down. And they found it's cheaper than medication. In fact, they are making money because they are training service dogs.

Which are really expensive.

The prisoners make, what? 11 cents an hour? But the prison itself is making more.

Wow, I didn't know that was a real program.

Absolutely. Absolutely. Everything on the show is real. They are really very strict that they don't do anything that you won't see in prison -- except of course a tunnel. That's fiction. But anything that they bring up in the prison, do you know what I mean? We can't have anything on our body that you wouldn't find in a prison. It's frustrating for me that I can't have pockets in my pants.

That's obnoxious.

And it's like, I can't even carry my phone. The boots that we wear are the actual prison boots that you wear. And they are a fucking pain in the ass.

But they look like good boots!

No. they cost 99 cents to make and everyone of us have back, knee and hip problems. Even the 20-year-old girls are like, "My back is killing me." Because of these fucking boots. I wear two pairs of socks and I put the gelling thing in there. I've done everything possible, but between the fucking cast chairs, that are directors chairs that are up to here [She gestures to her chest] and those boots, this fucking show is giving me sciatica. It's crazy. So it's all really, really real. We have technical support people who take care of all that. Consultants they're called. The first episode, I heard: "DeLaria! DeLaria, how do you fist? I have to fist." Because there was a fisting scene in the pilot. So, I actually demonstrated to Natasha [Lyonne] and Yael [Stone] how one would fist, and what they would have to do. Then I immediately went to the producers and said "Ok you have a military consultant, you've got a Russian consultant. I'm the fisting consultant. Where's my check? Where's my check!" Did you see the pilot episode where she is fisting her? You can't really see it, but she is obviously being fisted.

Yes, it was a nice surprise to see something so... relevant.

Oh, I know its nice to see penetration in any form in a lesbian situation. Because besides the fucking scissoring bullshit.

Oh my god, that was funny. "I told you scissoring was not a thing!" [A quote from season 2]

It's not a fucking thing! And, you know cunnilingus, which is great -- don't get me wrong: who doesn't like cunnilingus? -- But could we see a fucking little penetration once in a while?

I've seen you talk about the screwdriver scene a lot, of course, but I think the reason that it was the most interesting to me as a butch, was a lot of times butches aren't considered to be interested in penetration, and yet you embraced that scene so well.

I embraced it because I knew it was going to be hilarious, but I did tell them I had that concern. Because as a butch dyke, I know that most butch dykes are not into penetration. Especially tops, and obviously Boo's a top. So I said, "We've got a technical issue here!" But Jenji [Kohan, the show's creator] is hilarious. She was like, "I don't care, it's funny!" Like there is something that is happening in the third season that we have done in the first episode that is one of the funniest thing I have ever been asked to do in my life...

You are already shooting? I won't ask you about the thing.

We are already shooting, but I can't tell you.

I won't ask you. But thank goodness, because you know we already finished the second season.

Yea, of course! But I can't tell you [Because you'd have to kill us, I interrupt and we laugh], but I am being asked to do something that is possibly the funniest thing I've ever been asked to do. It's brilliant. It's the same sort of thing [as the screwdriver], but this time it isn't me, it is literally Piper. Literally Piper who is going, "You can't do that!" Again, Jenji is like "I don't care, its hilarious!"

And, I think I fuck you up by even saying what it is.

Are we going to see more of Boo? Are we going to see any of her backstory in flashbacks?

I am not at liberty to discuss that [There is a very knowing smile -- or maybe I just imagined that because I want it to be true so badly!] Sorry.

That's ok. We will wait like everyone else.

I'm really sorry. You will have to wait like everyone else. Especially, the press has to wait.

Right. I know, I am press.

You are press, you are fucking press.

I even put on a bow tie on for you, because I am press. Because I am a big butch dyke, and I write about fashion and bow ties and femmes, and beer. You said beer in your inner monologue, but you ordered a Heineken.

You don't like Heineken? In the summer, Heineken is lovely fresh, clean, brisk. I'm not a heavy beer drinker. When I was in England, I drank nothing but bitters and I gained about a thousand pounds. And by the way, farted uncontrollably. I don't know if you've ever had the good English bitters, but you will fart non-stop.

My wife calls it "wind" because she's Scottish.

I lived in London for 10 years and had a girlfriend there. I love a good English bitter. It is so refreshing.

You don't like IPAs?

I don't. They just aren't as good as the English bitters. I'm going to get in trouble. I know.

Heineken will be happy with what you said.

The closest I find in America in terms of that kind of stuff is the Sam Adams, it's really quite nice. But most of the little brew joints that you find that brew their own, their beers are too sweet. There is obviously honey in them. And I am like, what the fuck? This is sweet. [It's like she's shot an arrow through my heart.] But Heineken is crisp. Honestly, its like a Bud Light in the summer for me. Sometimes you just have to have a nice cold Bud Light -- it's like drinking water but you're getting a little buzz.

I can't drink Bud Light.

Oh, I can.

Just to show you that I did my research, you are inspired by John Coltrane musically, Lenny Bruce artistically. This is a very important question. Who inspires you fashion-wise?

That is a really interesting question. Well first of all, you know I am the face of Saint Harridan.

You are? I didn't know you were working with Mary [Going -- founder of Saint Harridan].

I am the face of Saint Harridan. Absolutely. It's a Saint Harridan suit I'm putting on right now. I wear their bow ties, I wear their suits, I wear their shirts. You know nicely tailored for me. Fashion wise, I like funky hip and then I am dapper. That is a word that I would apply to myself. I really like being a dapper kind of fun loving, gentleman when I am out doing my thing. My girlfriend works for V Files and V Magazine. Do you know V Magazine?

I don't.

Oh my god. And you write fashion? You need to google V Magazine right now. And V files.

Can I do it after we finish talking?

Yes, of course. That's good. She has to pick everything out, because that is actually her field. Chelsea Fairless is her name, and she is very well known in that scene in NY in the fashion world. So I have to say, who does me there? Its gotta to be my girlfriend -- who's in fashion. Sandra Bernhard is a really good friend of mine, and she says, "I'm so glad you met her! You always looked nice in a suit, honey, but your suits. It just wasn't quite right and you needed to work on your accessory situation and la la la." And I used to have a horrible shoe fetish and I stopped myself, and now Chelsea has reignited my show fetish.

Why? Why would you stop that?

I just bought these Mark Jacobs [shiny metallic silver slip ons]. In the last two weeks I've bought like six pairs.

I love shoes, though today I am not really representing. [White Adidas, Original Superstars 2, shell-toe]

Oh, bless your heart.

But I do have the socks. [Orange Polo socks]

Yeah, I love a good sock. I had orange polka dots on today, but it didn't really work with the Twiggy shirt.

It's time for our lightening round. I'm going to give you two choices, and I just want you to pick. Of course, you can riff as much as you want. But I am not going to explain. Ready?


Bow tie or straight?


Blonde or brunette?

[pause] Red.

Red? Ok, outside the box. Musicals or straight plays?


Favorite role?

So, I just need clarification on this...

That you have done.

Oh, Big Boo.

No, in a musical.

Oh, in a musical, Hilde, On the Town.

Favorite role that you haven't done, but would like to?

Mama Rose.

Mama Rose, from Chicago?

No, no, honey, Mama Rose is from Gypsy [She bursts into song...] "I had a dream. A dream about you."

"Baby," [I sing, beside myself.]

"It's gonna come true, baby!" [she finishes.]

I got you to sing! I was a musical theater student, so that's my first love.

You know I won the Obie and Drama Desk and the Theatre World for Hilde. So Hilde is the shit. Though I have to say doing Mame with Andrea McArdle was wicked fun. With Andrea McArdle as Mame and me as Vera, it was interesting because we really moderned it up. It was atypical casting so we really brought it to a different place. And since it was me playing Vera, in that last scene when we are trying to mess with the Upsons, Vera came out in full male drag, and when I made my entrance, it brought the house down. It was like oh my fucking god. Yeah, it was great.

Did you see Hugh Jackman's Music Man riff with LL Cool J and T.I. on the Tonys ? Did you like that?

Of course.

Beer or liquor?


Heineken is your favorite other than the English bitters?

No, I hate Heineken. [Her eyes twinkle.]

No, you do not. [She smiles.]

My absolute favorite beer is Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale.

Oh, that is so good. You know they have that here in this bar.

I cannot drink that before I go on stage -- it's too heavy.

London or Brookyln, I know you call yourself a "Nylon" [New Yorker/Londoner]

Are you kidding? London. My Brooklyn friends are going to kill me, but London.


It's time for Lea to eat and get ready for the show. After a couple of pictures, we start to leave. But not before Lea says, "Bring it in, bro," and gives me a big hug. Sigh. I know she didn't enjoy the interview as much as I did, but I made it through without fangirling out. Seriously, look at the smile on my face in that picture above. My wife took the photo, and either she was so overwhelmed by the butchness in her lens, or I am just too damn tall to get my whole mohawk into the frame.

We rushed down to our front row seats to enjoy her performance. I wrote a review of the show here. Suffice it to say that I have never enjoyed a comedy set like Lea's that night. It felt like she wrote it just for me. I did not stop laughing until long after she was done. Of course, it didn't hurt that she heckled me from the stage -- twice, both times about beer choices. At the VIP reception, Lea spent the better part of 5 minutes telling me I was tying my bow ties wrong. What the fuck?!? I didn't realize that she was teasing me until she actually told me so.

I think I might have a new mantra -- "Be funny. Make money. Be funny. Make money. Beer. And Boobs." Whether she is singing, making us laugh, or acting, Lea DeLaria is my new favorite super hero -- Uber Butch. I'll spend a lot of years trying to live up to her example.

It's very Butch to stand up and be yourself as Lea has done for more than 30 years. Be Butch.