Kristine Levine brings debut Fat Whore to 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe

From pornclerk to stand-up with a difference: this girl from Portland's seen it all

comments

This article is from 2012.

Kristine Levine

Kristine Levine has had a life that would break the strongest of people. The Portland stand-up tells Brian Donaldson how she channelled death, desolation and divorce into vibrant comedy

They’re not backward in coming forward in Portland, Oregon. Once dubbed among the greenest cities in the world, boasting over 90,000 acres of green space and more than 70 miles of hiking, running and biking trails, its citizens take a fierce pride in those facts. Or as stand-up comic, devoted mom and former porn clerk Kristine Levine puts it, ‘if you don’t recycle here, you are an asshole, it’s the least you can do. When I fuck up my recycling, I get nasty notes left for me; they’re very aggressive about that here.’

With the US branded as one of the major polluters of the world, it’s reassuring to know that there are some pockets of that country which take environmental concerns seriously. ‘I’m a native Oregonian and we’re all loggers and outdoorsy people, so I guess we’re down-to-earth and love trees and rivers,’ reckons Levine. ‘We’ve seen other cities pay no attention to their environment and we think if we’re not good stewards of it, we’re going to lose it. But we don’t want to tell people how great it is, so darn that show Portlandia.’

Levine made her TV debut on this offbeat narrative cable channel sketch show, which included odd goings-on in a feminist bookstore, the kidnapping of a celebrity cat and obsessives hell-bent on making a new episode of Battlestar Galactica. It certainly earned a speedy reputation, attracting cameos from the likes of indie cults Joanna Newsom and Miranda July to credible mainstream stars such as Steve Buscemi, Aimee Mann and Tim Robbins.

‘It shows how weird and quirky Portland is, a real bubble of utopia,’ reckons Levine. ‘When I go outside Portland I get recognised for being in the show; when I’m here, not so much. A lot of people here like to pretend that they’re too cool for school and we like to pretend that we don’t have jobs and don’t have television and we’re into art and literature. But I know everyone watches TV here.’

A possible long career on television speaking other people’s words might appeal to Levine, but it’s clear that her real calling is on stage telling her own real life story. The only problem is deciding just what to leave out of a one-hour Fringe show. Dubbed a ‘biting, brutal cross between Lenny Bruce and Roseanne Barr’, Levine has been married three times, was abandoned in an unwelcoming Egypt by one husband and witnessed another one run off with a woman he met on a Star Trek website.

At the end of one of her many tethers, she dropped into a porn store in Portland to enquire about work. ‘No one would choose that job, it kind of chooses you. I had no money or education at all, no marketable skills whatsoever but we were hungry so I just walked in. The manager looked at me and obviously thought, “what’s this stay-at-home mom going to work here for?” and said, “can you do it for six months?” Thirteen years later I was still there.’

And over the course of those 13 years, Levine had first-hand experience of being threatened on a regular basis, finding one man so high that he had pulled out his own eyebrows and even discovering a customer’s still-warm corpse. Throw in tales of child molestation, alcoholism, abortion, crack addiction and attempted suicide and you wonder how Levine could find humour in anything.

Enter one Doug Stanhope. At the age of 29, Levine thought she might like to transfer all this bleak life-stuff into stand-up comedy but was gripped by such stage fright that it made her feel as though, ‘I’m about to go to the gallows and in a minute I’m going to die’. Still, she managed to hold it together long enough to perform at a comedy showcase in LA, after which she held a party in her hotel room. ‘This little man in a hat shows up at the door and asks for one of my friends,’ Levine recalls. ‘So, he goes over and dry-humps her and I start laughing my ass off and taking pictures and he goes, “hey fatty, do you want some of this too?” Well, no I didn’t. But after that we kept in contact and he came to Portland and asked me to host a show. Afterwards, he got all excited and said, “wow, you don’t suck.”’

Stanhope has helped guide her career and is now co-producing Levine’s Edinburgh debut, Fat Whore. Presumably, along the way he has passed on wisdom gleaned from his years in stand-up? ‘The two pieces of advice he gave me were, just have fun because if the audience doesn’t think you’re having fun then they’re not going to,’ she says. ‘And the other is, don’t ever worry about what other people do and where they are in their career; none of that matters.’

Her burgeoning comedy and TV career allowed her to finally quit the porn store but this doesn’t mean she is immune to the setbacks of normal life. ‘I had my electricity cut off the other day and I had to go to the welfare office to get some help. Just after I had raised my hand to the question, “who has had their electricity cut off?” this little Mohawk Mexican kid comes up and says, “if you’re on TV, why are you here?” Well, because it’s “deep” cable and doesn’t really pay that well. But my life is just so different now and I guess that’s a happy story.’

Kristine Levine: Fat Whore, Assembly Rooms, George Street, 0844 693 3008, 3–26 Aug (not 13), 10.15pm, £10 (£9). Preview 2 Aug, 9.15pm, £9 (£8).

This article is from 2012.

Fat Whore

  • 2 stars

Thirteen years as a Portland, Oregon sex shop worker has taught mother of three Kristine Levine several things including: how to quickly dispose of a dead body, some sights can't be unseen, it probably goes in your bum. Doug Stanhope says, 'Most comics use things like rape, abortion or child molestation as punch lines…

Comments

Post a comment