The last time Fortune Feimster performed in Charlotte, she filmed her 2020 Netflix special Sweet & Salty. During the show, the Belmont-raised comedian and actor cracked jokes about herself, her family and her Southern upbringing, using true stories to walk the audience through her journey to queer discovery.
She also introduced us to her alter-ego, Brenda, an exasperated housewife from the South who loves turquoise, and Brenda’s husband Tim, who drives her up the wall more often than not.
Two years, a marriage and a pandemic later, Feimster returned to Charlotte on Feb. 5 and 6 to host three sold-out performances at the Knight Theater as part of her national 2 Sweet 2 Salty tour, which she has since renamed to Hey Y’all (one of Brenda’s taglines).
During her Saturday set, Feimster had the audience roaring with stories of elementary school in the ’80s, her rollercoaster of an engagement, how she realized she’s not a “butch” lesbian, and a health scare for her dog, Biggie, who made an appearance on stage.
In the lead-up to her homecoming shows, Feimster spoke with Queen City Nerve about how she looks back on her Belmont childhood, how she views her success and whether the love she expressed for Hooters in her Netflix special still stands.
Queen City Nerve: In Sweet & Salty you poke a lot of fun at growing up in the South and your childhood living in Belmont. Do you look back fondly on that time, and how do you think it shaped you?
Fortune Feimster: Oh, yeah, for sure. Like every kid, it’s difficult when you don’t really know who you are, and it takes a lot of getting it wrong before you get it right. So that certainly came with its challenges, but I think that would have happened anywhere. But I was lucky to be from a small town where people cared about me and knew me, knew my family, and it’s still a place where I love to visit, and I get a lot of support when I go home. So I’m very proud of my little town and just being from there. And that’s where I learned how to tell stories by watching other people. I feel like Southerners are very animated and love to sort of hold court at family dinners or whatnot. And you couldn’t help but pick that up, being around it your whole life.
This character you play on stage and on social media, Brenda, is she based on somebody you knew growing up?
Fortune Feimster: It’s kind of like five different people rolled into one. It’s just sort of like bits and pieces of different people I knew, people that you see kind of trying to hold it together at home. Their hands are full with their kids and the husband is not helping out very much, and that sort of love-hate relationship, I always thought that was pretty hilarious. It’s fun to play with the jewelry, the turquoise, the clothes, and it’s sort of poking fun at even my own mom, who loves lots of signs like “Live, Love, Laugh” and all that stuff. And it feels like that character has really resonated with people because they have someone in their life who’s like that, too, or they’re that person themselves.
I will say, when you do the voice, you sound exactly like my Aunt Ginny, like to a T. She also loves you.
Fortune Feimster: Oh, that’s so funny. Yeah. I love it when ladies come up to me and they go, “My husband’s name is Tim,” and I go, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” because now their wives are always going, “Timmmm.”
So you said that you still visit the area — that you come back to Belmont — do you ever go into Charlotte? And did you come here often growing up?
Fortune Feimster: Well, when I was growing up, even though Charlotte is 30 minutes away, it seemed like a whole other land, a whole other place. It was way more sophisticated than my little hometown. We would always go into Charlotte for various things. Like my family always had restaurants there that they loved, like the Open Kitchen, Barbecue King, all these old-school joints that my grandmother went to back in the day. We’d venture into Charlotte for that and obviously to fly, we used the airport. So I feel like we’re closer to the airport than most Charlotte people. And so, yeah, I would visit, but it wasn’t until I got older that I could really start appreciating it for the different places that they have there. The food scene has gotten way cooler and there’s some really neat places there, so I like coming back and doing shows there because then I get to sort of relearn Charlotte as an adult.
You talked about transitioning to a gluten-free diet in your special. Did you stick with it to now?
Fortune Feimster: The pandemic has really shifted a lot of things for a lot of people, and that was certainly one of them. I was doing so good, and we were on such a good roll, and then the world shut down, and the last thing you want to be is gluten-free in a pandemic. All that stuff kind of went out the window. So I need to start reeling it in again.
Are you planning on going to any Charlotte restaurants or any hot spots that anyone has told you to check out while you’re here?
Fortune Feimster: I’m currently in Asheville doing a show. I got so many recommendations for Asheville that I feel like not as many for Charlotte. So I got to ask people where the places are to go. Usually we like to order from a local restaurant between shows. We’ll have something on Saturday, and then we might go somewhere on Sunday before the show. So I have to figure out where the good spots are down by the theater.
Does playing shows in Charlotte hold more meaning to you than playing shows in other cities, or is it just like anywhere in North Carolina evokes this feeling?
Fortune Feimster: I definitely feel like a special connection in the Charlotte shows and then the Durham and Raleigh shows. Charlotte ends up having a lot of people that I grew up with, a lot of people from my hometown end up coming, so that’s really cool because a lot of those people have known me my whole life and they know my family.
And since I talk a lot about both of those things and myself as a kid and my family, I feel like it resonates a lot more with those audiences because they know them to be true. Durham and Raleigh, I went to school in Raleigh, so that tends to be a lot of college friends who knew me in that stage of my life. So that’s fun, sharing stories with them. But yeah, I definitely have a special connection, and those shows end up being really wild and fun, and I love it.
A lot of your comedy comes from your personal life, like you said. I know you got married in fall 2020. How has married life shaped your new material for 2 Sweet 2 Salty?
Fortune Feimster: I definitely pick up where the last special left off, and I talk a little bit more about my relationship and some background as far as the next step that we took in our relationship as far as getting engaged and getting married. I share the decisions that we have to make as dog parents and just how we are as adults.
You definitely see where I’m at in life now. So I like that sort of continuous journey, and it’s been fun. I don’t know. I’m sharing things about myself that people might not know or might not assume. So that’s been fun, just sort of peeling back more layers. So yeah, it’s been a really fun hour to tour with.
So you’re talking about things that people might not know about you, and now you’re coming back to Charlotte to perform, potentially in front of people you grew up with. How would you say you’ve changed since leaving Belmont, and in what ways are you the same Fortune Feimster they knew?
Fortune Feimster: I would think I’ve changed a lot since living there. I left Belmont when I was 18, went to college and would come home here and there. But those college years were very much like Raleigh years, and then I moved away at 22 out of North Carolina.
So, I would say I’ve changed a lot in that, one, I didn’t know I was gay then, so that’s the big change. I’ve grown up. I’ve become this sort of adult version of myself and met someone and I certainly think I’ve matured, or I hope I have, but still sort of maintain that silliness and positivity that people knew me for.
I think that’s kind of been with me my whole life. I would think if you ask people growing up, they would have probably said I was quiet sometimes, but then other times I would sort of have this burst of confidence and make people laugh and be silly. So they’re probably seeing a more confident version of myself, too, because to some people’s surprise, I was kind of shy back in the day.
So as a stand up, at least when you’re on stage, you’re not as shy.
It’s always the shy ones, isn’t it?
Fortune Feimster: Well, people forget that stand-up is a lot about observations. If you’re the one talking all the time, you’re not really taking everybody else in.
In your special, as you mentioned just now, you talked about not realizing that you were gay until after college. Did you feel so suppressed when you lived in the smalltown South that you didn’t consider it, or was it something else?
Fortune Feimster: It was more of a just not knowing. It seems like crazy now to say that you just didn’t know. But I kind of touched on that, too, where it wasn’t as prevalent. I didn’t know any gay people. I didn’t see it represented on television that much or movies. So I just didn’t know even what it — not that I didn’t know what it was — but I just didn’t know how it applied to me.
I think the biggest thing was that I knew something was missing in my life. Like, I felt this like missing puzzle piece is the best way I can describe it. I knew I wasn’t connecting with guys in the way that my friends were, but really, you kind of just put it on yourself. Like you just sort of assume that you’ve done something wrong or you’re not appealing, so that chips away at your self-esteem, certainly, when you’re not the object of someone’s affection in that way.
Once you come out and you realize that was the thing that was missing, there’s this peace that comes with this and you’re just elated, like it’s not me. This was the thing that was missing. And I feel like since coming out, I’ve had this joy of knowing that missing piece filled that part of me that was missing. So I definitely think that contributed a lot to just my happiness and feeling better about myself.
Who do you think you would be if you never left Belmont? Would you be Brenda?
Fortune Feimster: It’s hard to say. I’ve been in LA almost as long as I was in Belmont. I would imagine I would be, not Brenda — I would have hopefully realized I was gay — but I’m not sure what my profession would have been. I don’t think I would have been able to do comedy there, but hopefully I would have been doing something I enjoy and still making people laugh.
Selling out three shows in a weekend in Charlotte is a big deal. How do you feel about coming back to the city knowing you have this hometown support?
Fortune Feimster: It’s incredible. When I filmed my Netflix special, I had only done a handful of theaters in my career. I was still a club comic, and we had two shows that we had to fill — I want to say 600 seats each show. And I remember going, “Oh, man, I hope we can fill these theaters.” It seemed like a daunting thing at the time and so to be coming home and doing three shows — I think it’s like 3,500 people or something — I mean, it’s crazy, and it’s such a cool testament to the special and how it seems to resonate with people in the last two years.
And it allowed me the opportunity to move to theaters, and I’ve been all over the country, and it’s still going until the summer, and the turnout has just been blowing my mind. I had 2,400 people in Oklahoma last weekend and 2,100 people in St. Louis.
You just don’t expect that someone like me from a town of 9,000 [to] 10,000 people would somehow be on people’s radar like this. But that’s why I’m so grateful for Netflix and giving me that platform and allowing me to tell the stories that hopefully people found relatable in their own way.
So after the show, are y’all going to Hooters?
Fortune Feimster: You never know. It’s certainly been a trip seeing all these people come to the shows in their own homemade Hooters shirts. It’s just been a hilarious thing to watch.