Civil and LGBTQ rights activist David Mixner performed his latest show You Make Me Sick to a sold out theater on Monday night at Florence Gould Hall in New York City, a performance he said marked his retirement from public life after 60 years of activism.
Like his previous shows From the Front Porch, Oh Hell No!, 1969, and Who Fell Into the Outhouse, You Make Me Sick combined storytelling, music, and commentary to highlight his extraordinary life experiences and dealt a powerful, personal punch. But You Make Me Sick differed from the others as a denunciation of the U.S. health care system, and drew from his own multiple travails in the wards and emergency rooms of NYC hospitals.
Mixner, whose service to the anti-Vietnam war efforts, campaign to defeat the Briggs Initiative in California, and opposition to President Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy are just a few highlights of a singular six decades in advocacy, has also fought through serious health issues over the years which have brought him near death several times and continue to plague him with recurring, traumatic daily “episodes” that cause his body to erupt with inflammatory symptoms his doctor has thus far been unable to explain.
Mixner related his macabre health care tales — battles with sepsis, Dilaudid drips which caused him to hallucinate an attack on the hospital by North Korean soldiers; a gruesome “eyeball scraping” after which he was forced to lay face down for days — with ribald, jaw-dropping humor and a spiritual lucidity. He wove his stories into a condemnation of the health care system which has left him in the humiliating position of asking his friends for financial help, reminding his audience that there are many others less fortunate, without the privilege of the access he receives. “They die,” he whispered to the silent and riveted crowd.
“This will be an emotional and difficult evening for me,” Mixner had said before the show, yet the longtime activist appeared to be uplifted by the many friends and prominent individuals who were there to see him (and thank him) and he name-dropped several. Among them was friend and former NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who at one point playfully broke the fourth wall, yelling, “you’re full of sh*t,” a jibe to which Mixner quipped back, “the Irish are here tonight.”
You Make Me Sick, like Mixner’s other shows, benefited The Ali Forney Center, the nation’s largest LGBTQ homeless youth shelter and services organization, based in New York City. The show featured Fred Ebb Award winner Will Reynolds, Stephen Barry, Megan Osterhaus and Iris Beaumier. In honor of his decades of public service , songwriter John Bucchino wrote two original songs that premiered in the show.
Here are the show’s last few emotional moments (apologies for the shaky camera work).