Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Kathy Najimy


Actress, activist and ally at Feinstein's

Kathy Najimy
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Fans of Kathy Najimy will get a special treat next week when the actress known for dozens of film and TV roles shares a special San Francisco edition of her one-woman show Lift Up Your Skirt at Feinstein's at the Nikko.

Talking by phone from her home in New York City, Najimy discussed her acting, activism, and aspects of balancing her convictions with being a popular actress, speaker and producer.

Longtime fans know Najimy from her duo feminist comedy play with Mo Gaffney, The Kathy and Mo Show, which was an Off-Broadway Obie Award-winning hit in New York that was also adapted into two HBO specials.

And of course, movie fans recall her roles in the Bay Area-set Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg, and the Disney favorite Hocus Pocus (which costarred Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker). Some fans might be surprised by her numerous voiceover roles in animated films and TV shows, in particular the role of Peggy Hill on King of the Hill.

But first, we discussed Najimy's upcoming show at Feinstein's, which, she wanted to clarify, is not a cabaret show.

"There is music, but I won't be singing," said Najimy. "I wouldn't want the cabaret crowd to expect Audra McDonald. Feinstein's was kind enough to let me bring my in-progress show to San Francisco, since they said they're interested in works in progress. I don't sing, so I'm a little nervous to mislead."

It's difficult to imagine the successful actress being nervous, since she's been up front about confronting homophobia, sexism and animal rights abuses for decades. Born and raised in San Diego, Najimy, 57, is married to comic rocker Dan Finnerty of the DanBand. The couple have a daughter, Samia.

Proud of her Lebanese heritage, Najimy has visited her parents' home country when her daughter was eight and her mother eighty.

"Beirut was so beautiful, the people are so generous," said Najimy. "We had the most wild fun Lebanese blast!"

Parts of Najimy's show explore her private life, including her early fascination with Bette Midler, who became a mentor, and eventually Najimy's costar.

Being a fan of Midler is only one of many connections Najimy shares with her gay fans. A longtime supporter of LGBT rights, Najimy has been a stalwart, volunteering, performing and speaking at many gay rights events and benefits. She's even adding a monologue to her Feinstein's show, a character excerpt as "Aunt Maddie" from The Kathy and Mo Show about marriage equality.

Kathy Najimy in a sexy ad for PETA's "I'd rather go naked than wear fur" campaign.

Najimy performed earlier versions of the show at Icons nightclub on Fire Island in August, and earlier this year in Australia as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.

"The show is snippets of my two-hour solo show," said Najimy, who added that her activism is part of the work, but she finds a balance that keeps it entertaining.

"I would find it hard to write anything that isn't colored by my activism," she said. "There are a lot of thoughts and questions about my feminism and gay and lesbian rights. I also frequently do keynote speeches where I talk about things I care about. I can't not talk about my life."

An honoree as Woman of the Year from Ms. Magazine, Najimy is working on projects related to her feminism, in particular co-producing an upcoming project about the early years of the Women's Movement, and a Broadway show with Gloria Steinem.

Kathy Najimy's PETA ad in San Diego.

Among her causes are animal rights, which won't feature in her Feinstein's show, but are part of the full show. In one scene, said Najimy, "I share my relationship with a conservative man who hunts. We ended up riding in a car together, eating snow cones and connecting on a level I never expected."

Californians may be familiar with Najimy's support for the PETA campaign (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) against the caging of animals and sea creatures, specifically the Orca whales who are forced to entertain audiences at Sea World. More than twenty whales have died at young ages at Sea World parks since 1986.

"Dan Matthews [PETA's Senior Vice President] and I have been working together for 20 years," said Najimy, who posed for the sexy ad campaign, "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur."

"Dan just called up about Sea World, and I agreed to be part of a campaign," said Najimy. "As a kid, I always felt a little bit of unrest at zoos. Now, as an adult, I can look and see what should be prevented. Big two-ton whales should not be in a fishbowl."

The fact that the ad featuring Najimy was placed at the San Diego airport –then abruptly censored– got the attention of CNN.

"It wasn't because of my involvement," said Najimy. "The San Diego Airport refused to put up the poster. It ended up getting much more attention than ever."

Kathy Najimy speaking at
A Night of New York Class

In March 2014, PETA and the ACLU sued the San Diego airport for refusing their ad. The airport relented and allowed it to be displayed for one month in May.

Najimy is careful to point out that her perspective might not be as extreme as some of her colleagues in animal rights activism. But she questions any use of animals as entertainment, from circus elephants to the camels used in the Radio City Music Hall Christmas shows.

"Let's find a way to be more compassionate," said Najimy. "In no instance is any animal happy to be performing. You don't need camels. You have Rockettes. They do not belong in a storage room backstage."

Even game shows have become useful for Najimy's favorite causes. Her prize-winning participation goes back to 1981, when Najimy's family competed on Family Feud. She also competed on the original $25,000 Pyramid, and more recently, appeared on Celebrity Cook-Off , making vegetarian recipes. Her bigger victories were on CBS' Gameshow Marathon in 2006, where her $100,000 winnings went to Girls Best Friend, a young women's empowerment organization. Najimy won $50,000 on The Weakest Link (proceeds went to the Feminist Majority Foundation), and her $100,000 winnings on Celebrity Poker Showdown aided V-Day, which works to prevent violence against women and children.

Kathy Najimy doing voice work as the character Mary in Disney/Pixar's WALL-E.

Najimy shared a larger perspective of her activism, from animal rights to human rights, particularly in the current times of large-scale protests against police abuses taking place nationwide.

"I think we're all on a road, and we are offered challenges and enlightenment," said Najimy. "There's not a line in the road, as if half are wrong and right. It's a constantly evolving path. Consciousness rises and falls. I love when compassionate movements rise. That's something that I get excited about."

It may be a forced segue, but the fact that Najimy smartly uses her fame to voice her opinions is a contrasted by her success as a voice actor.

Her extensive on-screen acting includes hit TV shows (Veep, Veronica's Closet, The Big C, Numb3rs, Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives and many more), films (Sister Act I and II, Soapdish, and the upcoming Disney TV film Descendants ). Najimy can also be heard as the voice of dozens of uniquely whimsical animated characters with names like Dipsy, Legba, and Bingette Bunny.

Kathy Najimy's character "Peggy Hill"
on King of the Hill

Among her most prominent voice-over roles are Mary, the sympathetic human in WALL-E , and as Peggy Hill in the hit animated TV series King of the Hill.

"People rarely know that I was Peggy Hill," said Najimy. "They say, 'It doesn't sound like you,' and I say, 'Good, then I did my job! Very few people know it's me, and that's great."

King of the Hill ran from 1997 to 2010, and Najimy praised the show as being one of her favorite roles. "It had a really great cast and scripts." Najimy said the cast worked together and apart to record the episodes. "If I was doing a play in New York, we would record separately."

Kathy Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker in Hocus Pocus

Najimy said of her role as Mary in the 1993 witchy Disney comedy Hocus Pocus , "Halloween is crazy with great Hocus fans. They keep asking me if there will be a sequel. I tell them to ask Disney."

Getting back to her current show, Najimy said, of visiting San Francisco, "It's been a while. I have a lot of history, with Sister Act being filmed there, and we did The Kathy and Mo Show at the Eureka Theatre and Theatre on the Square. I have so many fond memories, and I love the activist/artist vibe. 'Different' has a different definition there. Some of the world is your tribe and some aren't. Most people in San Francisco "are my tribe."

"I've never had a bad time with an audience there," she added. "The things I talk about, San Franciscans are interested in. I'm excited to return for a million reasons, and to have a good time."

Kathy Najimy performs Lift Up Your Skirt at Feinstein's at the Nikko, January 9 (8pm) and 10 (7pm). $45-$60. Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St. (866) 663-1063.

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