There’s a moment near the middle of Fortune Feimster’s new hour-long Netflix stand-up special, Sweet and Salty, where she describes being paraded around a Hooters on her 18th birthday by a group of eight servers in white tank tops, banging drums, boobs aplenty, while her family cheers her on from the table where they’re eating four-dollar wheelbarrows of buffalo wings. She calls it “the gay Salem witch trials” with so much panic in her eyes that I had to pause to get my laughter under control. Feimster wasn’t out as a lesbian during that birthday procession. In fact, she didn’t come out until she was in her mid-20s and had moved to Los Angeles. She just knew she wanted to look at boobs so much that she absolutely should not look at boobs.
I learned all of that, and so much more, in Sweet and Salty, which is Feimster’s — long-overdue, but — first hour-long televised special, and she uses the opportunity to its full advantage, starting with growing up as a tomboy (“which was just a more acceptable term for ‘future lesbian'”) Girl Scout and aspiring debutante in a poor family in rural North Carolina, progressing through her date-free years at an all-girls college, and finally finding herself doing entertainment journalism in LA.
Sweet and Salty is trademark Fortune Feimster. It’s a comedic memoir, really — the show takes place in Raleigh and she’s introduced to the stage by her mom — in which Feimster gently and lovingly clowns on herself and her history. Her favorite target is, as always, her unknown-to-her lesbianism, and the way her intensity for the girls in her orbit in her youth and young adulthood manifested itself. She didn’t want boys to be in Girl Scouts, not because of any feminist thing, but because it was the only time she got her girl friends to herself. She hated all her college friends’ boyfriends without apology, even if she’d only met them for one single minute. “HE WAS WEARING A WATCH, WHAT A JERK!”
One thing that always strikes me about Feminster’s comedy is that it isn’t rooted in the era she came of age. I know, because I came of age at the exact same time, when lesbianism was the punchline. It was Ellen, it was the start of the WNBA, it was First Lady Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits, it was Friends. So much comedy in the late ’90s was comedians lobbing themselves softballs and landing lowest common denominator pot shots aimed celebrities, politicians and lesbians. There is a kindness and an elegance to the way Feimster tells jokes. She sets them up narratively and pays them off to great effect, especially when she has time to let her stories breathe.
The most meta moment of Sweet and Salty comes when Feimster opens up about gay people on TV and how seeing ourselves reflected on screen still really matters. She realized she was gay watching the truly terrible 2000 Lifetime movie, The Truth About Jane, and then all the puzzle pieces of her behavior fell into place in her memory. Feimster’s stand-up has centered on her gayness for over a decade. She’s played gay on The L Word: Generation Q and The Mindy Project. She became the representation she wanted to see in the world.
You can stream Sweet and Salty on Netflix.