As a teenager living in West Texas in the late '90s, things didn't go smoothly for Kristin Key when she told her parents she was gay.
"My dad is a minister," Key, 35, told the San Antonio Current last week. "When I came out of the closet, it cost me my relationship with my family, so I took it back. I went back in the closet and decided not to talk about it anymore."
This was around the same time Key started her career as a stand-up comedian. For the next 14 years, Key never brought up the fact she was a lesbian. It took a near-death experience three years ago for her to decide she needed to be true to herself and tell her own story. She hasn't looked back since.
When did you know you wanted to be a stand-up comedian?
When I was a little kid, I thought about it. My parents were really religious, so they were like, "No, you don't. You'd have to perform in bars. You don't want to perform in bars, do you?" I was like, "No?" So, I kind of put it out of my head until I was in college.
Have you found your voice and know what kind of comedian you are?
Yeah, I feel like in the last couple of years things have changed a lot. I was in a car accident in 2013. The car caught on fire. It opened my eyes to taking more risks with my stand-up and not being so private on stage. Since I've been doing that, I feel like the laughs are bigger, and the moments I share with the audience are a lot more genuine.
Why did it take so long to talk about being gay on stage?
As the years went by, it just got easier and easier not talking about it. When I first started comedy, a lot of people told me that if I told people I was gay, it was going to pigeonhole me, and I was going to lose all my fans. I believed them.
How is your relationship with your parents today?
I think we've found a really good place where we're allowing each other to be ourselves. They still don't accept being gay as a Christian value, but we spend time together and are building on those things we do have in common. I would say they're probably proud of me for standing up for what I believe in.
Have they seen you perform?They have over the years, but they have not seen my act since I’ve been doing my gay material.
How do you think they’d respond if they did see it?
When they come see me, it’s usually in Tulsa or Oklahoma City because it’s near where they live. Once we get some [tour] dates in the books, I imagine they’ll come see me this year. I’m not going to change the material. I’m hoping it’ll be like when I do my material for audiences in the south. I’m always worried they’re not going to like it, but I’m always surprised how they like it because it’s funny. It’s not about being a gay joke, it’s about being a good joke. I think they’ll realize it’s a comedy show and enjoy the comedy.
What did you learn about yourself as a comedian during your time on Last Comic Standing and being around all those other comedians?
I was young at the time, so I don’t think I knew that I had any strengths. You go in happy-go-lucky. I learned I could write pretty well. It took me a long time to figure out what to do with that. As comics, we’re notoriously lazy. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve had a stronger work ethic. During that show, they would give us challenges all the time and they were really fun for me. I liked the material that came out of them. It taught me that if you put more effort in, you get more good things out.
You live in California now. June 7 is your state’s primary. Can you give us a little insight on who you’ll be supporting for POTUS?
I’m going to vote Democrat, but I’m still undecided. When [Marco] Rubio was still in the race, I really considered giving my vote to him to take a vote away from [Donald] Trump. More than anything I’m angry with Trump. As far as the Democratic candidates, I really don’t think we can go wrong with either. I’m just worried about Trump, not just because of what he talks about, but because of how angry and hateful his supporters are. Anything that angry and hateful isn’t good for the country.
Is there a specific LGBT issue you’re worried about more than others if Trump becomes president in November?
All of our issues would be in question. He would try and take away all the things we’ve fought so hard for like gay marriage and equality. Then there are those laws they are passing in states that give them the right to discriminate against the LGBT community. I’m hopeful that America as a whole is not going to be as hateful as Facebook seems to be.
A lot of businesses are starting to come together and demanding states like North Carolina change their laws or they’re not going to do business in the state any longer. Do you think hitting their pocketbook like that is going to ultimately be a way to create change?
I absolutely do. That really shows us their true colors. They’re saying it’s for religious reasons, but if you hit them in their pocketbook, you’ll notice that they care more about their state’s financial welfare first and foremost. I think it’s a great technique to say if you’re going to be jerks about this, then we just won’t play in your state. I heard Walking Dead might not film in Georgia anymore. You don’t want to mess with entertainment and gays.
If you got offered a stand-up gig in Georgia or North Carolina right now, would you do it?
That’s a tough one. I don’t know if I would right now. I want to see how it comes out in the wash. We’re in the early stages right now. We have a lot of people that live in those states that don’t believe in this [law]. Lawmakers are caught up in this rhetoric, but there are a lot of good people who still live in those states. I want them to still have a chance to see somebody that’s out. I want to try and make a difference and not just throw my hands up. I have a friend who moved back to Amarillo because she wanted to make a change from the inside. It’s a tough place to be gay there. That inspires me. People get mad at towns and ask, “Why hasn’t it changed?” Well, it’s because all the people that want to see it change leave. If the people that wanted change stayed, maybe it would change. If we want change, I don’t know if isolating those people from gay people is the answer. Plus, I’m a comic. I need the money and the work.