Comedian Paula Poundstone on Comedy, Raising a Black Son, and her LGBT Fans

Comedian Paula Poundstone will be in Louisville on October 17th, bringing her stand-up comedy to the Kentucky Center for the Arts.

We spoke with her this week about, among other things, her enduring popularity with gay and lesbian audiences. She said in the 80s, comedians were making lots of jokes with gay people as the punchline, but she never did. “”I think I just didn’t alienate people as much,” she explained.

But it might also be something about her, personally, that resonates. “My sexual orientation has always been very much in question,” she confessed. “And by the way, with me too!”

Paula’s son and her oldest daughter are black, and she says it was Trayvon Martin’s death that made her realize she’d have to have The Talk with her own son. During our conversation she reflected on how she’ll never really be able to share his experience of being black in America. “All I can do is listen to his lies about homework,” she chuckles, “and keep feeding him.”

We also talked about what colon cancer awareness has in common with talking about race, and why you should always, always listen when someone tells you they have a bear in their bed.

In our Juicy Fruit segment we cover the return of Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood‘s addition of a gay couple to the cast. Why do we see so little of Milan interacting with the rest of the cast? Are they shooting them differently than the other couples?

This week’s show also features some important etiquette information to keep you from acting a fool at the drag show.

Silence is Our Enemy, Sound is Our Weapon: Janelle Monáe on Resistance

Fall is in the air, and that means IdeaFestival, and jokes about pumpkins and white people. Luckily, we cover both on this week’s show.

One of our favorite human being/androids, Janelle Monáe, came back to Louisville this week for IdeaFestival, and brought along some folks from her Wondaland Arts Society. We caught up with them in the green room just before they hopped a plane out of town (she had to perform at Madison Square Garden a day later – no big deal).

jm ideafestWe talked to the artists about their recent visit to a drag ball in New York, and about “Hellyoutalmbout,” the police brutality protest anthem that’s been ringing out from rallies and marches all summer long.

“We wanted to use it as a vessel, and as a tool,” she says of the song. “We’re speaking out against the abuse of power because we believe that silence is our enemy, and sound is our weapon.”

(As people trying to make a difference through the power of radio, we couldn’t agree more.)

In Juicy Fruit this week, America lost its warm fuzzy feelings about the Pope when it was revealed that he met with Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis during his recent U.S. visit. Since we recorded, the Vatican has downplayed the visit and said Davis was just one of many in a greet line.

Elsewhere in Christian news, a 5-year-old girl was barred from returning to her school in southern California, because she has two moms. A spokesperson for the privately-run Christian school told KGTV in San Diego, “The Bible says homosexuality is a sin. We don’t condone any sinful lifestyles.”

And Azealia Banks said the LGBT community is like the “white KKK’s.” Banks has been criticized by gay activists recently for her use of the f-word slur. We talk about how her black and queer identity plays into her troubles with the press.

And finally, what’s up with white people and pumpkins? A article looks at the political history and symbolism of the seasonal food. Did you know pumpkins had a political history? See, you learn something new every week on Strange Fruit. Happy Fall!

Naveen Jain Wants to Develop an HIV Vaccine… and Give It Away

Naveen Jain is the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Immunity Project, a non-profit dedicated to developing an HIV vaccine and giving it away for free to anyone who needs it.

Jain said it was his father’s illness that brought his attention to the flaws in the pharmaceutical industry.

“As we were going through this process with him, and he was seeing countless doctors and specialists along the way,” Jain said. “It became very clear to me that the way we treat people in our society today — in terms of the pharmaceuticals and treatments that we provide for people — are not often actual solutions. Often times they’re Band-Aids. And I think that’s really screwed up.”

Jain will be in Louisville this month for IdeaFestival, and he speaks to us this week about his work.

We also meet Dr. John Hardin, of Western Kentucky University. Hardin was one of the co-editors of a recently released volume called The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia. Started in 2008 and published by the University Press of Kentucky, it features more than 1,000 entries from about 150 contributors, telling the story of black Kentuckians, from frontier days to the present.

And in our Juicy Fruit segment, we talk about Viola Davis’ amazing speech at the Emmy Awards, and all the groundbreaking black women of TV who were recognized for their work, at long last.


Reading, ‘Riting and Race? Raising Confident Kids of Color

The suspension and arrest of Ahmed Mohamed had just hit the headlines when we recorded this week’s show. The gifted ninth-grader from Irving, Texas, built a digital clock at home, and brought it to school to show his teachers. His English teacher saw the wires (and presumably Ahmed’s skin, and name) and assumed it was a bomb.

Police were called, and despite Ahmed’s unwavering insistence that his invention was a clock, he was suspended from school, arrested, and taken out in handcuffs. “I felt like I was a criminal,” he told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. “I felt like I was a terrorist.”

Since our time in the studio, public support for Ahmed has been swift and abundant, much of it bearing the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed. He’s been invited to visit MIT, the Mars Rover project, Facebook, and even the White House.


Many kids of color get an abrupt and ugly education in racism the first time they are profiled. It happened to Ahmed this week, and it happens frequently to young black men who are hassled (or worse) by police and other authority figures.

But since African-American studies aren’t usually taught until the college level, students Ahmed’s age can be ill-equipped to talk about race and deal with the realities of contemporary racism. Dr. Duchess Harris, African-American Studies professor and Department Chair at Macalaster, would like to change that.

Dr. Harris co-authored a book called “Black Lives Matter,” aimed at 6th-12th graders, and she joins us this week to talk about why it’s important that kids of different races learn about race and racism while they’re young.
girlscanbeRight here in Louisville, a 10-year-old girl is doing her part to educate her peers about self-esteem. Olivia Allen noticed that as she and her classmates became pre-teens, fewer and fewer girls raised their hands or spoke up in class. “I kind of realized that some girls just lose their confidence around the age 10,” she explains.

She held an event in Louisville called “I Can Be: Girls Confidence Conference.” About 60 girls showed up to the conference, along with Mayor Greg Fischer, arts administrator Barbara Sexton Smith, and 2013 Ms. Kentucky, Ashley Miller, who talked to attendees about the importance of believing in yourself.

Olivia, and her mom Anitra Allen, join us in the studio to share how the conference came about, how Olivia deals with discouragement in her own life, and what she wants to be when she grows up (she listed at least half a dozen career goals, and we believe she can achieve every single one).

Does Plea Bargaining Hurt People of Color?

“When the Negroes were freed and the whole South was convinced of the impossibility of free Negro labor, the first and almost universal device was to use the courts as a means of reenslaving the blacks. It was not then a question of crime, but rather one of color, that settled a man’s conviction on almost any charge. Thus Negroes came to look upon courts as instruments of injustice and oppression, and upon those convicted in them as martyrs and victims.”–W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903)

That’s how philosophy professor Dr. Brady Heiner opens his article, The Procedural Entrapment of Mass Incarceration:Prosecution, Race, and the Unfinished Project of American Abolition. The passage from 1903 seems eerily informed by today’s mass incarceration, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the over-policing of black neighborhoods.

Dr. Brady Heiner

Dr. Brady Heiner, University of California Fullerton

We’ve talked before about how African Americans and Latinos and over-represented in the prison population, and the reasons why are complex. But Heiner focuses his work on a particular one we admit had never occurred to us: plea bargaining.

Plea bargaining is when a defendant is facing multiple serious charges, and rather than go to trial (and possibly be convicted of all of them), they choose to plead guilty to a lesser charge, forgoing a trial. Heiner says this forfeiture of due process does more harm than good – especially to people of color accused of crimes.

We knew plea bargaining was widespread (as does anyone who’s ever had speeding reduced to “faulty equipment,” or watched any lawyer show), but we had no idea the extent of the practice: 95% of criminal convictions never go to trial.

Heiner will speak at UofL this Monday afternoon. He joins us on the show this week to offer some radical suggestions for upending the system, and to answer a big question: What would happen if every defendant demanded a trial?

In our Juicy Fruit segment this week, we take on the comparisons between Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks (yes, people have really made those comparisons). And we scratch our heads at an unlikely Davis apologist: Madonna’s openly-gay brother, Christopher Ciccone.

We also learn some secrets of top chefs (that bread on your table at dinner is probably left over from someone else’s table at lunch), find out what graysexual means, and have a rousing debate on the health and safety of the 5-second rule.


Violence Against Black Americans, from Lynching to Police Shootings

Poet and activist Lance Newman joins us for Juicy Fruit this week, where some stories from this week lead to a broader discussion of violence against black Americans. We talk about the through line of retribution against African-Americans who are perceived as not knowing their place. Emmett Till, Malcolm X’s father Earl Little, lynchings, the massacre in Rosewood, Florida–all were incidents of white supremacist violence that went well beyond just murder. (We do describe the details of some of those killings on the show this week, so if you can’t listen to that, you’ll want to skip from minute 7 to minute 17 of the show.)

The over-the-top nature of how the murders were carried out and what was done to the bodies was intended to terrorize other black people and let them know they could be next.

Dr. Story draws a comparison between historical violence to today’s police shootings to point out that the need for a Black Lives Matter movement goes far beyond just the events of the past few years.

And our colleague and friend at WFPL, health reporter Ja’Nel Johnson, has a huge project out this week looking at racial disparities in health care. It’s called Sick & Tired, and she joins us for our feature interview to tell us about some things that were brought to light in the project–though they weren’t necessarily news to Ja’Nel herself.

“This is my life. This is my parents’ life this is my sister, my uncles, my aunts, my friends. These are the everyday struggles,” she explains. “Really I just want to try to educate other people who may not understand and realize that there are still people in this country who do not have fair access to healthcare because of race, because of their income, or educational levels, or other things like that.”

Sick & Tired is a four-part series. On our show this week, we listen to the feature about violence as a public health issue. You can listen to the whole series here.

A First-hand Account of the Fairness Arrests; Fashion Designer Frances Lewis

Three Fairness leaders were arrested Thursday morning at the Kentucky Farm Bureau’s Ham Breakfast & Auction. Fairness and ACLU folks were at the event in silent protest of anti-LGBT Kentucky Farm Bureau policies, as they do every year. Friends to the show Chris Hartman, Carla Wallace, and Sonja DeVries were lead out of the event in handcuffs and have been charged with failure to disperse (with an extra change of disorderly conduct for Chris).

Amber Duke from the Kentucky ACLU was there, and she stopped by our studio later that afternoon to tell us what happened. This story is still developing, because Chris & friends are considering filing suit against the Kentucky State Police. Keep an eye on our twitter and facebook and we’ll keep you posted as things progress.

Our other guest this week is Louisville-based fashion designer Frances Lewis. Her work will be featured in an October 16 event called Borrowed Time: A Fall Fashion Experience.

Since we had a fashion designer at the mic, and since it’s that time of year again, we asked her expert opinion about the perennial problem of offensive Halloween costumes. This year’s early frontrunner is a “Call Me Caitlyn” outfit mimicking what Caitlyn Jenner wore on her Vanity Fair cover.

We also wished our attorney friends luck as they pursue $2 million in legal fees from the commonwealth. Governor Beshear has said he doesn’t find that amount reasonable.

And the story of the book club women who were thrown off the wine train for laughing too loudly leads our hosts and guest to reflect on instances of microaggression, and times when they’ve been targeted for taking up space while black.

What’s it Like to be LGBT in Rural Communities?

We’ve always been proud of how cutting-edge Louisville is on LGBT rights issues (and can often be overheard bragging that our Fairness law included transgender protections even before New York’s did). But what about the rest of Kentucky?

Ashlee Davis delivers opening remarks at the Rural LGBT Summit in Lexington

Ashlee Davis delivers opening remarks at the Rural LGBT Summit in Lexington

We went to the Rural LGBT Summit this month in Lexington to find out. The USDA has been holding these summits throughout the country, both to shine a light on issues faced by rural LGBT Americans, and to make sure those same folks know about the assistance they can get from the USDA. We can’t deny our status as city slickers (though we temporarily daydreamed about gay farmers), so the summit was a great learning opportunity for #TeamStrangeFruit.

Jai and Doc co-hosted a panel featuring folks who are “champions of change” in their communities, and we bring you an excerpt of that conversation in this week’s show. Stay tuned to our Soundcloud page for the whole thing.

Also in this week’s show, we go about as far from rural as you can get: Broadway, in New York City, where Hedwig and the Angry Inch is closing early after a poor reviews of Taye Digg’s performance in the title role. Are white audiences resistant to a black man playing an iconic part like Hedwig? Did Broadway fans turn against him after he reportedly broke Idina Menzel’s heart? Or… was he just not good in the show? We discuss.

One artwork that seems like an unmitigated success is “Hell You Talmbout,” the protest anthem released last week by Janelle Monáe and the Wondaland Arts Society. The verses of the song recite the names of black victims of police shootings. Half vigil, half battle cry, it’s already finding its way into protests all over the country, and we listen to a group of trans rights activists adapt it to commemorate trans victims of violence.

And finally, “Straight Outta Compton” came out, and it made a ton of money. We haven’t seen the film yet, but we talk a little about claims that it erases the abuse of women perpetrated by its subjects.

What’s Next for County Clerks Who Refuse to Issues Marriage Licenses?

It’s back to school time in our part of the country, and this week we’re full of nostalgia about our favorite parts of going back to school (cute Trapper Keepers and lunchboxes, of course!). We also bring you the story of Courtney Holmes, a barber in Dubuque, Iowa who’s making back to school a little easier for low-income families. He’s offering free trims to kids with just one stipulation: They have to read to him while he cuts their hair.

Doc is going back to school this month too, returning after her sabbatical to her position at the University of Louisville. UofL was recently named the most LGBT-friendly college in the South by Campus Pride Index. We love the atmosphere of acceptance on campus, but wonder why coverage never seems to include the student activists and professors who make the school welcoming specifically for LGBTQ students of color.

And Kelly Osbourne, last mentioned here when Giulia Rancic said Zendaya’s dreads probably smelled like patchouli and weed, is back in our newsfeeds this week. She was co-hosting The View, when the conversation turned to Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant positions.

Osbourne said, “If you kick every Latino out of this country, then who is going to be cleaning your toilet, Donald Trump?” Rosie Perez and other co-hosts were quick to object, while the audience seemed stunned into silence, and Osbourne was quick to back pedal, saying “Come on, you know I would never mean it like that.”

“She probably considers herself to be an ally to people of color,” Jai says. “[But] true allyship comes in your ability to say, you know what? I messed up. And I apologize. As opposed to saying, ‘But I’m one of the good guys!'”

And finally, there was progress this in the case of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who’s refusing to issue any marriage licenses because she says she’s religiously opposed to same-sex marriage. On Wednesday, a federal judge ordered Davis to start issuing licenses again. But on Thursday, she was still refusing to comply, citing her intention to appeal.

WFPL’s State Capitol Bureau Chief, Ryland Barton, joined us this week to talk about what could happen next, and help parse out some of the technical aspects of the conflict.

Sharpe Suiting Designer Leon Wu

Suit designer Leon Wu says a person’s first suit can be a milestone. “Historically, a father will bring in his son,” Wu says. “It’s like a coming of age sort of thing.” But what about a person who didn’t grow up as a boy?

Wu can relate. “Ever since I was five I would envision myself as a more masculine person,” he explains. “Growing up I was happy getting my older brother’s hand-me-downs. I didn’t need to go buy any ‘female’ clothes.”

Wu is the founder and CEO of Sharpe Suiting, a clothing company catering to masculine-of-center folks who want to look dapper in suits custom-tailored to every type of body. He joins us this week to talk about their work, and what it’s like to work with trans-masculine populations. “Whenever somebody transitions or they decide to adopt a certain type of gender representation,” Wu explains, “it is in a sense like another puberty.”

Also this week, we meet Louisville Public Media’s new executive editor, Stephen George. We chat about diversity in newsrooms and news coverage, and why it seems like we only see black neighborhoods on the news when it’s about crime. “It often gives people a very wrong idea about what’s happening in certain parts of this community,” George says.

In Juicy Fruit, we bring you the story of Jesse Jacobs, a 32-year-old gay man who died in police custody in Galveston, TX. Jacobs had been taking Xanax for over a decade to treat severe anxiety disorder. But after he turned himself in to serve a 30-day sentence for DUI, jail personnel wouldn’t give him access to his medicine. He started having seizures (a known effect of sudden Xanax cessation) and died a few days later. Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochessett insists Jacobs died of “natural causes.”

And we take a look at The Advocate’s list of 10 Tips on Growing Older for LGBT People under 40. Some make perfect sense (build a support system and be part of a community), while others left us scratching our heads (don’t drink, and prepare to die alone if you don’t have kids?).

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