Lea DeLaria

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Lea DeLaria
Lea DeLaria at the International Emmy Awards.jpg
DeLaria in 2015
Born (1958-05-23) May 23, 1958 (age 64)
  • Comedian
  • actress
  • jazz singer
Years active1982–present

Lea DeLaria (born May 23, 1958) is an American comedian, actress, and jazz singer.[1][2][3] DeLaria is credited with being the first openly gay comic to appear on American television with her 1993 appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show.[4] She is best known for her portrayal of inmate Carrie "Big Boo" Black on Netflix original series Orange Is the New Black (2013-2019). She's known for her work on Broadway including the revival of The Rocky Horror Show in 2000, and POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive in 2022.

Early life[edit]

DeLaria was born in Belleville, Illinois,[1][2] the daughter of Jerry Jean (née Cox), a homemaker, and Robert George DeLaria, a jazz pianist and social worker.[2][5] Her paternal grandparents were Italian.[3] She attended kindergarten through eighth grade at St. Mary's Elementary School in Belleville[6] and has referenced her Catholic upbringing in her performances.


DeLaria's stand-up career began in 1982 when she moved to San Francisco and performed raunchy stand-up comedy in the Mission District.[7][8] Discussing her stand-up, Delaria says, "This is who I am, when I'm up there. This is it. I'm a big butch dyke. That's who I am. And I'm a friendly one. I'm a big butch dyke with a smile on my face."[7]

In 1986, DeLaria directed "Ten Percent Revue", a musical revue with songs related to homosexuality and most of which reflect pride in being gay.[9] "Ten Percent Revue" was performed in Boston, San Francisco, Provincetown, Philadelphia, and Atlanta.[10] Many shows were sold out.[10]

In 1988, DeLaria starred in "Dos Lesbos", a musical comedy about two lesbians dealing with the issues of living together.[11] The show received very favorable reviews nationwide.[12]

DeLaria starred in "Girl Friday: We're Funny That Way", a musical comedy, in 1989.[13][14]

When DeLaria appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1993, she was the first openly gay comic to appear on a late-night talk show. While appearing on the show, DeLaria said, "Hello everybody, my name is Lea DeLaria, and it's great to be here, because it's the 1990s! It's hip to be queer! I'm a big dyke."[15] DeLaria later said she had been told that she should not have used the term dyke on the air.[6] Hall later defended her, saying, "If she wants to call herself a dyke, that's her business."[6]

In December 1993, DeLaria hosted Comedy Central's Out There, the first all-gay stand-up comedy special.[4]

DeLaria is also known for her touring "musical comedy about perverts", Dos Lesbos (1987–1989), as well as Girl Friday, a comedy she conceived, wrote, directed and starred in, and which won the 1989 Golden Gull for Best Comedy Group in Provincetown, Massachusetts.[16]

DeLaria has released two CD recordings of her comedy, Bulldyke in a China Shop (1994) and Box Lunch (1997). She has also written a humorous book entitled Lea's Book of Rules for the World.

DeLaria appeared as Jane in the 1998 Off Broadway production of Paul Rudnick's The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, "a gay retelling of the Bible."[17] Entertainment Weekly said "a star is born with Lea DeLaria" of her "showstopping" performance as Hildy Esterhazy in the 1998 Broadway revival of On the Town.[18][19][20]

DeLaria subsequently played Eddie and Dr. Scott in the 2000 Broadway revival of The Rocky Horror Show, and can be heard on the cast recording.[21] DeLaria appeared in a number of films, including Edge of Seventeen and The First Wives Club.

DeLaria integrates musical performance into her stand-up comedy, focusing on traditional and modern be-bop jazz. In 2001 she released a CD of jazz standards called Play It Cool. This was followed by the album Double Standards in 2003,[22][23] and by The Very Best of Lea DeLaria in 2008.

In 2001, DeLaria was the voice of Helga Phugly on the short-lived animated sitcom The Oblongs. In 1996 DeLaria played the part of a woman friend of Carol and Susan in the Friends episode The One with the Lesbian Wedding. In 1999 DeLaria played the recurring role of Madame Delphina on the ABC soap opera One Life to Live, returning in 2008 as both Delphina and Professor Delbert Fina. She continued to portray Delphina on a recurring basis until 2011.[24]

In 2008, Warner Records released The Live Smoke Sessions, DeLaria's first recording focused on "timeless pop standards" such as "Down With Love," "Night and Day," "Love Me or Leave Me" and "Come Rain or Come Shine." She noted, "I styled this CD on the old school live recordings ... It is my hope that this CD will take you back to 1948 and the Village Vanguard. So please let me invite you to mix a cocktail and enjoy a smoke while you sit back and soak up the swing."[25]

In November 2008, DeLaria completed a tour of Australia, playing Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. She also frequently collaborates with comedian Maggie Cassella, most notably on an annual Christmas cabaret show in Toronto, Ontario which also sometimes tours to several other North American cities. In July 2010, her version of "All That Jazz" was used on So You Think You Can Dance. DeLaria performed in Prometheus Bound at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Since 2013, she has appeared in the Netflix Original Orange Is the New Black as the recurring character prison inmate Carrie 'Big Boo' Black.[26][27][28]

On December 2014, DeLaria voiced EJ Randell, the lesbian mother of Jeff in the Cartoon Network animated series Clarence.[29][30]

On February 14, 2015, DeLaria received the Equality Illinois Freedom Award for her work as "a cutting-edge performer who has used her talent to entertain and enlighten millions of Americans," said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois. On receiving the award at the 2015 Equality Illinois Gala in Chicago, DeLaria said, "As an out performer for over 33 years who has made it her life's work to change peoples perception of butch, queer and LGBT, it is an honor for me to receive such recognition from my home state. I feel I'm doing Belleville proud. Go Maroons!".[31][32][33][better source needed]

In 2017, DeLaria revealed about what went wrong with the butch lesbian stereotypes just because she herself is an androgynous masculine-presenting lesbian.[34]

In 2022, DeLaria returned to Broadway in the comic play POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive where she received positive acclaim from critics.

The U-Haul Joke[edit]

DeLaria is the originator of the U-Haul Joke[35] (see also U-Haul lesbian) which she began performing at comedy shows in 1989.

Question: "What does a lesbian bring on a second date?"

Answer: "A U-Haul."

Personal life[edit]

In January 2015, DeLaria became engaged to fashion editor Chelsea Fairless after two and a half years of dating. The two met through Fairless's friend, actress Emma Myles, who plays Leanne in Orange is the New Black.[36] In January 2017, DeLaria confirmed she and Fairless had separated.[37]


Comedy albums[edit]

  • 1992: Bulldyke in a Chinashop
  • 1997: Box Lunch (Rising Star)

Jazz albums[edit]

  • 2001: Play It Cool (Warner/WEA)
  • 2005: Double Standards (Telarc)
  • 2006: The Very Best of Lea DeLaria (Rhino/WEA UK)
  • 2008: Lea DeLaria – The Live Smoke Sessions (Ghostlight Records)
  • 2015: House of David (Ghostlight Records)

Guest vocalist[edit]

  • 2005: Din and TonicJanette Mason (Fireball Records)
  • 2006: Drawn to All Things – Ian Shaw Sings the Songs of Joni MitchellIan Shaw (Linn Records)
  • 2009: Alien Left Hand – Janette Mason (Fireball Records)

Theatre and film[edit]



Year Title Role Notes
1996 Rescuing Desire Sadie
1996 The First Wives Club Elise's fan National Board of Review Award: Best Acting by an Ensemble
1997 Plump Fiction Mr. Purple
1998 Homo Heights Clementine
Edge of Seventeen Angie
2006 Fat Rose and Squeaky Fat Rose Co-starring Cicely Tyson as 'Squeaky'
2013 Ass Backwards Deb
Dear Dumb Diary Ms. Bruntford
2016 Bear with Us Chief Ranger Stewart (voice)
2017 Cars 3 Miss Fritter (voice)
2018 Support the Girls Bobo


Year Title Role Notes
1993 Out There Herself TV film
Camp Christmas Herself TV film
In the Life Herself/Guest host 1 episode
1994 Matlock Det. Pat Jordan 2 episodes
1994–95 The John Larroquette Show Lorelei 2 episodes
1995 Tom Clancy's Op Center Capt. White TV film
Saved by the Bell: The New Class Miss Hearst 1 episode
Out There in Hollywood Herself Sequel to the 1993 TV movie Out There
1996 Friends Woman Episode: "The One with the Lesbian Wedding"
1997 The Drew Carey Show Jewel 1 episode
1998 In Thru the Out Door Various characters (also writer) TV film
We're Funny That Way! Herself Documentary
1999 Great Performances Herself/Performer TV series
1999–2011 One Life to Live Madame Delphina 31 episodes
2000 The Beat Kathy Unknown episodes
2001 Further Tails of the City Willie Omiak TV mini-series
The Oblongs Helga Phugly 7 episodes
The Job Kiki 1 episode
Cabaret Live! Herself/Performer
2002 Just for Laughs Herself/Performer TV Movie
2003 Will & Grace Nurse Carver 1 episode
The Award Show Awards Show Herself TV special
2004 Mercury in Retrograde Betsy Brick TV short
2006 Outlaugh! Herself/Performer TV special
2009 Ptown Diaries DeLaria TV movie
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Frankie Episode: "Transitions"
2012 Californication Debbie Episode: "Raw"
Submissions Only Auditioner #4 Episode: "Another Interruption"
2013 Dear Dumb Diary Ms. Bruntford TV film
2013–2019 Orange Is the New Black Carrie "Big Boo" Black Recurring season 1–3, regular season 4–5, guest season 6-7 (63 episodes)
2014 Awkward Tattooist Episode: "After Hours"
2014–2017 Clarence EJ / various characters (voice) 9 episodes
2014 Tellement Gay! Homosexualité et pop culture Herself Documentary
2015 The Jim Gaffigan Show Herself Episode: "The Bible Story"
2017 Baroness von Sketch Show Brina Episode: "Don't Make Me Send a Lawyer Up There"
Broad City Deb Episode: "Bedbugs"
Shameless Barb Episode: "Frank's Northern Shuttle Express"
2019 The Code Episode: "1st Civ Div"
Reprisal Queenie
2020 Ahead of the Curve Herself Documentary
Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts Molly Yarnchopper (voice) 5 Episodes


Year Title Role Venue
2022 POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive Bernadette Shubert Theatre, Broadway

Video games[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2017 Cars 3: Driven to Win Miss Fritter Voice


Year Title Role
2015 Theater People Guest
2017 The Naked American Songbook Guest
2017 Vulture Fest Live: Lea DeLaria Guest
2018 Ways to Change the World Guest
2018 Woman's Hour Guest
2019 The Horrors of Dolores Roach Cleats
2021 Marvel's Wastelanders: Hawkeye Raven/Mystique

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Work Result
1998 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical On The Town Nominated
Obie Awards Won[38]
Theatre World Award Won
2014 Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series Orange Is the New Black Won
2015 Won
2016 Won
2017 Nominated


  1. ^ a b "Lea DeLaria". Hollywood.com. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c "Lea DeLaria Biography". Film Reference. Advameg. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
  3. ^ a b ""You & A Guest" Interview: Lea DeLaria". Breakupgirl.net. July 15, 1999. Archived from the original on July 4, 2011. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
  4. ^ a b Cagle, Jess (December 10, 1993). "Trend: Gay stand-up comedians". Entertainment Weekly. Time Warner. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
  5. ^ "Robert DeLaria Obituary". Belleville News-Democrat. Retrieved June 21, 2015.
  6. ^ a b c Richmond, Dick. "Lea Delaria: She's Got Nothing to Hide". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. November 25, 1993.
  7. ^ a b "Lesbian Comic Delaria Is So Out That She's In", The Press of Atlantic City, March 7, 1994.
  8. ^ Guthmann, Edward. "'The Parker Posey of Queer Cinema': Stand-up comic Lea DeLaria is all over the lesbian and gay film festival", The San Francisco Chronicle, June 14, 1998.
  9. ^ Keating, Douglas J. "Musical Revue Looks at Gay Life". The Philadelphia Inquirer. October 17, 1986.
  10. ^ a b Crouch, Paula. "It's a pickle's life in puppet comedy". The Atlanta Journal. November 14, 1986.
  11. ^ Hicks, Bob. "Dos Lesbos". The Oregonian. January 8, 1988.
  12. ^ Hicks, Bob. "Talented Comedians Slighttly Offbeat", The Oregonian, January 7, 1989.
  13. ^ Valdespino, Anne. "A Latin American original brings her steps to OC". The Orange County Register, January 25, 1989.
  14. ^ Hunt, Phil. "'Girl Friday' Provides a Gay Time for All", The Oregonian, January 12, 1990.
  15. ^ Holden, Stephen. "Left-leaning Singing Comic Caught a Ride on Rising Star". The Times Union (Albany, New York).
  16. ^ Post, Laura. "Lea DeLaria". AllMusic. All Media Guide. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
  17. ^ Cagle, Jess (April 23, 1999). "The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told". Entertainment Weekly. Time Warner. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
  18. ^ Canby, Vincent (November 29, 1998). "THEATER; An Exhilarating 'On the Town' Spreads Some Joy". The New York Times. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
  19. ^ Cagle, Jess (December 4, 1998). "Little Me". Entertainment Weekly. Time Warner. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
  20. ^ Wontorek, Paul (June 4, 1999). "Handicapping the 1999 Tony Awards". Entertainment Weekly. Time Warner. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
  21. ^ "Lea DeLaria". Internet Broadway Database. The Broadway League. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
  22. ^ Reynolds, Nick (November 3, 2003). "Lea DeLaria Double Standards Review". BBC. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
  23. ^ "Double Standards". Amazon. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
  24. ^ Murray, Jesse (July 1, 2008). "Madame Delphina Sees All". SOAPnet. The Walt Disney Company. Archived from the original on March 14, 2012. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
  25. ^ "Lea Delaria: Live Smoke Sessions To Be Released 9/9". BroadwayWorld.com. September 9, 2008. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
  26. ^ "Tellement Gay! Une perle de la Culture lesbienne par Lea DeLaria". ARTE. Retrieved November 18, 2017.
  27. ^ "Tellement gay ! Homosexualité & pop culture - Inside | ARTE+7". June 24, 2017. Archived from the original on June 24, 2017. Retrieved December 6, 2019.
  28. ^ "Tellement gay ! Homosexualité & pop culture - Out | ARTE+7". June 24, 2017. Archived from the original on June 24, 2017. Retrieved December 6, 2019.
  29. ^ Rudolph, Christopher (June 7, 2016). "Cartoon Network's "Clarence" Features Loveable Lesbian Moms". NewNowNext.
  30. ^ Barquin, Juan (January 15, 2015). "Clarence Episode "Jeff Wins" Has Some Pretty Cool Queer Representation". YAM Magazine. Archived from the original on March 19, 2020.
  31. ^ "EQIL Honors Lea DeLaria with Freedom Award". equalityillinois.us. Retrieved June 21, 2015.
  32. ^ "BOOM". boom.lgbt. Retrieved June 21, 2015.
  33. ^ "EQIL Honors Lea DeLaria with Freedom Award". chicagoactivism.org. Archived from the original on June 26, 2015. Retrieved June 21, 2015.
  34. ^ Robertson, J.D. (September 28, 2017). "Lea DeLaria Reveals What's Underneath the Butch Struggle". The Velvet Chronicle.
  35. ^ Kelleher, Kathleen (January 31, 2000). "Couples' Emotional Bonding Can Take the Steam Out of Intimacy". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 6, 2020.
  36. ^ Corriston, Michele. "Orange Is the New Black Star Lea DeLaria Is Engaged". People. February 6, 2015.
  37. ^ Webber, Stephanie. "Orange Is the New Black's Lea DeLaria, Fiancee Chelsea Fairless Split, Call Off Engagement", Us Weekly, January 12, 2017.
  38. ^ "Obie Awards". Obie Awards. Retrieved January 22, 2014.

External links[edit]