The Kilduff File: New Normal Comedy
Regina Stoops give you permission to laugh at acronyms.
Photo by Carolyn Zalewski
Initially comedian Regina Stoops comes across as the prototypical suburban mom. Happily married with three boys and digs in Pleasanton, Stoops fits the bill. But her lifestyle is quite a bit different from her neighbors’. She’s also a lesbian and the mother of an autistic son. Throw in being a devout Catholic from Normal, Ill., and as Stoops likes to say, “There’s not enough room on my bumper for all the stickers I need.” She started doing stand-up on a whim on vacation in the late 1990s, which led to her act of mostly lesbian and gay jokes. Then marriage and becoming a stay-at-home mom put her comedy career on the back burner. Now she’s doing gigs often on the autism community.
Paul Kilduff: You are the consummate suburban mom. Do you drive a minivan too?
Regina Stoops: I do. On the surface, I’m seemingly normal. But when you dig deeper, I’ve got these other facets that have colored and accented my life.
PK: What is the general reaction when people find out a little bit more about you?
RS: The reaction, so far, certainly in Pleasanton and the greater Bay Area and beyond, has been overwhelmingly positive. Nobody is protesting in front of my house or anything. I think particularly when you get into the special needs community and you’re around parents and caregivers and teachers and people who are in that world, they’ve long ago kind of stopped judging people because they’ve got a child who’s special needs or because they’re gay or lesbian. They’re just too busy trying to get through their own day and take care of their own stuff.
PK: Why is the focus of your comedy fundraisers for groups helping kids with autism. How did that come about?
RS: When I started before I had kids years ago, I was doing a lot of gay, lesbian [events], a few conferences, film festivals, because that was my shtick. That was kind of, I don’t want to say the focus of my life, but it was kind of my community, my people. Then I fell in love, have a partner, now a wife—I think. We don’t know. They keep changing the rules. Our straight friends are mad because they keep having to buy us gifts. My parents gave up. They finally just came up with an invitation that said the parents of Diane and Regina, although they still think it’s just a phase, grudgingly invite you to attend the whatever they’re calling it ceremony. Then I stopped doing comedy because we had kids and I was the stay-at-home mom. Diane kept a career path. So when we started having kids, I had three children under the age of 4 that I was taking care of, one of whom was special needs. I really stopped doing the comedy just because I was too busy. A friend of mine was on the board of a nonprofit, PAR (Providing Autism Research) 4 Kids Sake; they do comedy nights at Tommy T’s, and so she asked me, “Hey, do you want to do five minutes for an opener? I know you used to be a comedian.”
I said, “OK, sure.” So I wrote just a few things about special needs and then just did some mom stuff and just really enjoyed it. It’s a crazy world having a special needs kid. There’s a lot of joy; there’s a lot of fear; there’s a lot of stress. You almost need to be given some permission to laugh about it. Pleasanton has a lot of parents that want their kids to go to Yale and Harvard and Berkeley and they’re pushing their kids.
PK: You guys are definitely high achievers out there.
RS: We laugh because for our kids, our milestones are different. It’s like, “Hey, I’m just really thrilled that my kid can get his shoes on and his coat on. I’m really excited that we were able to go to the grocery store without a meltdown today.” I do this whole long thing about how the first time I went to a support group I had no idea what was going on. It’s all confusing acronyms. Parents are like, “Oh yeah, my son, he’s PDD-NOSOD, but I think he’s really ASD. He gets services from RSVEB; he goes to SOI. He’s in the CHSDC class. He qualifies for OT and APE. We just had his IEP where we talked about his FAPE.” OMG, F’in A.
PK: How do you deal with people who say you’re making fun of autism?
RS: If you’re in the club, as in I’m in the club because I have a son who’s special needs, you get some license and some leeway. But if you get someone who stands up there who doesn’t have a connection making fun of people with special needs or calling people retarded or all that kind of stuff, that’s not going to be seen in a good light. It is funny when I do some of my autism stuff in front of an audience that has no connection to special needs that I’m aware of. It’s almost like they’re not quite sure if they’re supposed to laugh at those jokes because it’s not politically correct. I do this bit about my son; this is typical of kids who have autism. He likes to memorize odd bits of information. I swear he’s memorized every picture in the Pleasanton Middle School yearbook and can pretty much tell you who’s who. I do this bit about I’m not sure how he’s going to turn that into a lucrative career path. If he ever went on Jeopardy for Autism Week, it’d be great, because he’d be like, “OK, Alex, I’ll take World War II airplanes for $100, Foods I Won’t Eat for $500, and Entire Movie Scripts I’ve Memorized for $1,000.” Anybody who’s a parent of a kid with autism just totally gets that, and they’re OK with me, because they know that I have lived that experience so I’ve earned the right to say that. That’s the audience I really want to get to. It’s kind of like Andrew Dice Clay should not be doing women’s book clubs. And I shouldn’t be doing college campus frat parties. That’s not my audience. I would not be funny and not because my jokes aren’t good, but because that’s not my audience.
See Regina Stoops’ Laugh Out Loud for Rita, a benefit for the Sandra J. Wing Healing Therapies Foundation, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24, Tommy T’s, Pleasanton. For more info and tickets, go to HealingTherapiesFoundation.org.
For more Kilduff, visit the “Kilduff File Super Fan Page” on Facebook.
This report appears in the October edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.