But as Hickey explained, she’d already ‘outed’ herself a decade earlier, telling close friends at the age of 21 that she was gay, before deciding she’d made a mistake.
“I guess I was just a bit young. I had a few doubts so I went back ‘in’, and once you’ve made that decision it makes it very hard to acknowledge it again. It doesn’t matter how many people tell you you are – and people did, or assumed that I was – I spent about 10 years convincing myself and everyone around me that I wasn’t gay,” Hickey told the Star Observer.
Those 10 years form the basis for Hickey’s latest show, Turns Out I Do Like Sundried Tomatoes – its title a playful nod to the litany of stereotypically lesbian traits Hickey had ignored in herself for so many years.
It wasn’t a passionate love affair or a dramatic life change that finally made Hickey face up to her sexuality. Rather, the tipping point came with a call from fellow comedian and ladygay Hannah Gadsby, after Hickey agreed to perform at a comedy night her friend was hosting.
“Hannah called me up the day before the gig and told me the theme for the night was ‘Boy or Girl’. I hung up the phone and thought, ‘I guess I’ll just come out then’. That was literally when the realisation happened.”
That her first instinct was to head to a comedy club and share that lightbulb moment with a room full of strangers is surely a testament to her fearlessness as a performer.
“Well, I was very nervous. I was more worried about whether the material would be funny. I used to tell a lot of dick jokes – I think I might’ve been compensating for something – so I got on stage and told one of my dick jokes, and at the end I said ‘That’s bullshit. Truth be told I’m actually into girls’.”
The admission was met with a thunderous round of applause, moreso when Gadsby returned to the stage and confirmed that yes, those present had just witnessed Hickey’s official coming out.
“It was surreal. I had to go for a drink afterwards with my friends and start telling them, after I’d already told 100 strangers in a room,” she chuckled.
Those ‘dick jokes’ are symptomatic of the constraints facing queer comedians who stay closeted on stage. Just look at American comic Wanda Sykes – before she came out, her brilliance was hampered by rather hollow material about bad boyfriends and relationships. Now, free to talk about what’s actually going on in her life, she positively soars.
“It shows, it really does. I’ve always been honest in my comedy, but now I’m more honest in myself, whereas before I felt like a caricature of myself. I feel freer and more comfortable – I’m me on stage now.”
INFO: Geraldine Hickey, Happy Endings Comedy Club, Feb 11,12,13,14,15,17. • mardigras.org.au