Clad in a sweater set and black slacks, the five-foot-nothing Deirdre Flint looks more like a kindergarten teacher than a rabble-rousing musical comedienne.
She's an angry chick singer/songwriter, sort of - a raw combination of innocence, hope, and feminine angst, using her guitar like a claymore to cut to the funny bone.
"I know. I don't look like I sound, right?" says Ms. Flint, reading the situation as she sits in a Barnes and Noble cafe.
It is hard to believe this is the same woman whose powerful performances leave audiences, who range from teenagers to parents, weeping with laughter - and occasionally grief - over her wry observations of social injustice and personal failings.
Flint, who releases a new album, "Then Again," this month, has written such ballads as the "Bridesmaid Dress Song" about the horrors of seafoam-tinted taffeta. She also sings a mock honky-tonk love song to "Food" belting out: "Strudel, man, you rock! Fondue, what can I say? You're food on a stick/ you're dipped in chocolate or cheese/ no human being on Earth can give me that kind of pleasure."
The honky-tonk is a prop - Flint is not a country singer. She barely fits into the slot earmarked as folk. The Philadelphia singer's sound slips though styles depending on what joke or story she is telling musically. On her first album, "The Shuffleboard Queens," released in 1999, her styles range from a Bruce Springsteen sendup in "Fishlands" to a rockabilly Middle Eastern in "Introduction to Belly Dancing." And her ballads "Did You" and "Grandma's House" could make airtime on any pop station.
The result of her music is a fiercely loyal following that spans housewives, college professors, teens, drag queens, and more men than you would ever suspect.
As she tosses away her coffee cup and the detritus of a muffin, she looks like a typical suburban latte sipper. But a moment later, she is up to her armpit in trash - struggling to keep the swinging flap on the receptacle from bopping her in the head as her feet start to leave the linoleum.
She comes up panting, but triumphant, brandishing a metal fork. Her enormous eyes become wider as she realizes she has impacted the room. "Sorry, sorry," she yelps at the staring sippers around her. "I was a waitress once. Really hated it when people threw away the silverware."
Flint grew up in Valley Forge, Pa., often working in her parents' factory, filling tubes with the popular sealant "Aquamend - the Boater's Friend." She earned a master's degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania and taught elementary school in South Korea (1998-99), returning to teach in New Jersey and Pennsylvania while studying guitar. She still substitute-teaches occasionally in one of Philadelphia's roughest city districts.
In 1997, she began taking guitar classes in order to write funny songs about history because "I thought it would help with my teaching," she says. Instead, she found she had more to say with music.
Her song "Cheerleader," which has found airtime everywhere from Lilith Fair to high school talent shows, renders a pointed commentary, an anthem for a modern-day, conflicted feminine culture:
"Oh I've got a master's/ I've got a car/ I volunteer and I can play the guitar/ but I'd trade it all in the bat of an eye for a polyester skirt ridin' up my thigh/ life must be great, like a permanent date, when you're a cheerleader/ the fun doesn't end and your hair is your friend when you're a cheerleader."
"OK, here's the thing," she says, leaning conspiratorially across the little table. "I was a cheerleader. (Pause) The parents complained so much when their daughters got left out that they decided to let everyone be on the team. We were the sorriest looking squad on the planet. I was a cheerleader and a loser. How does that happen?"
In her songs, Flint finds the laugh in every loss. She says she is single and proud of it - yet chagrined over her failure to achieve lasting love and commitment.
"I'm from the 'buck-up' school," she says. "When something happens, I exaggerate it to "ludicrosity." By the time I'm done, I feel better."
Flint's new album "Then Again" romps through an eclectic smattering of influences. In "My Old Boyfriend's New Girlfriend," Flint belts out a number worthy of alternative band The Cucumbers, crying: "She looks good in black/ she looks good in white/ she looks good in Lycra and anything tight/ she's my old boyfriend's new girlfriend/ I've got the funny feeling he won't be coming back."
Conversely, in the plaintive "Kenya," she laments the incompatibility of a materialistic, modern babe who owns stock in the companies that her Birkenstock-wearing activist boyfriend boycotts.
Fortunately, the couple shares a yearning to visit Kenya: "I want to find neat earrings. He wants to find his soul," she sings.