Minneapolis’s LGBT Redneck Amanda Costner Talks Surf Ninjas, Garth Brooks, and Redneck Repurposing

On a recent Saturday night, I found myself in the basement of Spring Street Tavern at Comedy Club Underground, waiting for the show to start. Amanda Costner, also known as LGBT Redneck, was hosting a live comedy show to celebrate the release of her first album. Free album download cards were scattered across the tables, and the crowd was markedly different from what you might expect at a comedy show: predominantly female and over 20. Amanda’s friends promptly kicked off the show, starting with the phenomenal Shannan Paul (who offered some thoughts on gentrification in North Minneapolis, as embodied by her ex-husband) and continuing on through such other local talent as Laurel Pear, Phil Kolas, and Colleen Kruse. Philippe Gallandat emceed the event, even providing an opening duet with Amanda to engage the crowd in a French drinking song. Lottery tickets at the door offered the opportunity to win a Star Wars game, a Reba McEntire album, or an LGBT Redneck T-shirt. (Tragically, I won none of these items)

At the end of the night Amanda Costner herself took the stage, guitar in hand and accompanied by Colleen Guice on the drums. Costner performed each of the songs from the new album, LGBT Redneck, with short interludes in between songs to accommodate instrument switches and exposition. Costner’s music is confessional, personal, and hilarious. The opening song, “Coastin,'” describes her new novel:

It’s not finished yet
But it will be
It’s about me
How many pages have I done?
Not many
But lots of character descriptions

The rest of the songs are equally poignant and self-deprecating. “Play It Cool” fully captures the struggle of containing how very much you are into a new crush or dating partner, while “Should We Hook Up?” outlines the potential pitfalls in canoodling with a good friend.

After the show, I asked Amanda if she would answer a few questions, and she was kind enough to oblige.

A woman sits on a dumpster, wearing cowboy boots and holding a guitar. She looks directly into the camera while preparing to play a song on the guitar.

Courtesy of Amanda Costner

Lydia Karch (TCG): What was it like growing up in Oklahoma? You were a preacher’s kid—any good preacher’s kid stories?

Amanda Costner: I loved growing up in Oklahoma. I was always going around “bragging” about being a redneck and using “ain’t” as often as possible—with my English school teacher mother in the background screaming at me, “There’s no such word as ‘ain’t!'” Claremore, the town I grew up in, has this amazing gun museum that I was pretty into. It made me proud to tell people, “Garth Brooks used to live 45 minutes from here!” Being a preacher’s kid was one of the absolute funnest things about my childhood. From the time I could walk, I was doing theater, music, and teaching on stage at my dad’s church. Being the preacher’s kid made me feel like royalty.

One of my early memories performing in church was doing a solo in the children’s Christmas musical. We have it on tape somewhere: I spent the whole solo picking my wedgie. I’m singing about the birth of Christ and digging in my butt for my underwear simultaneously. My favorite thing about growing up a preacher’s kid was just having this extra love and support from all these people you see every Sunday. We would build water slides out of garbage bags and water hoses. I felt like the church was my playground.

TCG: What was your geekiest hobby as a kid?

Amanda: I was over-the-top into Surf Ninjas, The Three Ninjas, and any other ninja-related child product. After Surf Ninjas came out I carried a Sega Game Gear around with me everywhere and tortured my sister trying to pressure her into play-fighting with me. I would be playing Sonic the Hedgehog on my Game Gear and throwing round-off kicks into the air like it was nothing.

TCG: When did you decide you wanted to do stand-up comedy?

Amanda: I first tried stand-up right after I quit playing golf professionally, back in late 2011. I had had a rough year mentally, and also physically as far as my professional golf career stood. Riding in my car one day I just kinda had this revelation: “It’s over.” Quitting golf was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through. But choosing comedy was the easiest. I’ve always loved being a hot dog. It didn’t take much time for me to realize I belonged in dive bars late at night and not in the great outdoors at ungodly early-morning hours.

A woman stands in the middle of an empty street, holding a guitar. She is wearing a fedora and sunglasses, unsmiling.

Courtesy of Amanda Costner

TCG: How did you settle on the name LGBT Redneck?

Amanda: Right around the time I was deciding on the album title was when I’d started referring to myself as an “LGBT redneck.” I loved the idea of combining two facets of my character that society sees as opposites. I’m sure some of the people I grew up with think the idea of a gay redneck is insane. And Lord knows my girlfriend wishes I’d give up my damn affection for guns and red meat. But that kinda makes up who I am. Plus it just makes me giggle thinkin’ about southern rednecks covered in rainbows hangin’ out with the LGBT community. Maybe one day that image won’t be funny—that would be pretty cool, actually.

TCG: How do you come up with the topics for your original songs?

Amanda: All the songs I perform are based off of things from my real life that have happened to me. One of my favorite early comedic lines I’ve written is in the song “Coastin’,” and it refers to my fear that I won’t be able to, ahem, please the ladies after finding out I’m gay. That wasn’t some line I thought would get laughs. Literally the only thing that kept me up day and night after I realized I was gay was the fear that I didn’t know what the hell to do if I ever got a woman in bed. There’s another line in the song about having started a novel but not having written anything other than character descriptions, which was, and still is, absolutely true.

One time after I’d broken up with a girl who I’d been seeing, I literally texted her, “Oh well, at least I’ll get three or four good songs out of this.” It was an asshole thing to say, but it was true. I’m never disappointed when messed-up things happen in my life—it always leads to interesting lyrics.

TCG: Can you talk about how you were able to assemble such an amazing lineup of friends for your album-release show?

Amanda: One thing I’ll say about both the Twin Cities comedy community and the Twin Cities music community is that they have been very warm, inviting, and embracing when it comes to me doing my silly little comedic songs. I sat down and made up a list of all my favorite comics in town. I thought about who would fit in with the “LGBT Redneck” theme, and I was lucky enough to have those people accept my offer to perform at the show. Shannan Paul kills every set she performs; she’s at the top of everyone’s list. I had seen Colleen Kruse and Phil Kolas perform multiple times and liked their style. And Laurel, Connie, and Philippe are also all performers I met in the arts community that I consider good friends. My thought process was basically, “Who do I think will make people laugh and have fun with the crowd?” Luckily I had a lot of friends to choose from.

The comedy/geek scene is strong here in the Twin Cities. The fact that one of the most popular shows in town, Boy Kisses, is held at a gaming store, is not lost on us comedians. If you show up early to Club Underground for Monday Night Comedy Show, you’ll probably walk in on an ongoing D&D game, which is kind of amazing. My favorite thing about the geek scene here is the amount of support given to friends and fellow geeks. Some of those geeks end up becoming your family.

A woman sits on a dumpster, holding a guitar. She is wearing a backwards baseball cap and sunglasses. She strikes a pose, nodding at the camera, while preparing to play the guitar.

Courtesy of Amanda Costner

TCG: What would you consider your most redneck quality?

Amanda: In order to survive in the redneck community, rednecks learn early on the skill of “repurposing.” This is a skill that has stuck with me. Old sweatshirts become cut-out sweater vests, milk cartons become flower pots, stained T-shirts and underwear are used as cleaning rags, fast-food to-go water cups don’t leave the restaurant with water—they leave filled with 12 ounces of ketchup or hot sauce. Sometimes the word “redneck” can be interchanged with “person who’s very skilled at being poor.” Also I love doing donuts when there’s snow on the ground, and nobody else up here seems to appreciate how much fun that is.

TCG: And what would you consider your most geeky quality?

Amanda: Studying the history of blues and rock and roll is definitely the area I most geek out in. If I’m hanging out with friends or my girlfriend and a Jimi Hendrix song comes on, I just have to start rattling off everything I’ve ever read about him. Same thing with Robert Johnson, Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, or any musician I admire. Usually the people around me are like, “Shut up so we can listen to the music!” My other most geeky quality is how into the game Don’t Starve I am. It’s such a tedious game, and the sole point is survival, but I’m hooked!

TCG: Where can our readers find you next?

Amanda: On May 6th I’m playing a gig at Palmer’s Bar! I also host trivia at LUSH every Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m.

TCG: Any parting words of wisdom for the Twin Cities geeky masses?

Amanda: Don’t forget to give your geek partners-in-crime a big fat hug the next time you see them. We’re all enriching each other’s lives simply by being our geeky selves, and that is a beautiful thing.

To find out more about Amanda Costner and where she’s performing next, check out her website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed. Find her new album on Bandcamp.

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