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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Deeper Dish with Lea DeLaria

I became a fan of comedian/actress/singer Lea DeLaria in three stages:

In March 1998, I had the great pleasure of seeing her as "Marryin' Sam" in the Encores! concert of the musical, Li'l Abner, in which she led the ensemble cast in the rousing number, "Jubilation T. Cornpone", and sang "I'm Past My Prime" with the lovely Alice Ripley. The show was a lot of fun and, of course, Lea was an absolute hoot.

I later saw her in the 1998 film, Edge of Seventeen, in which she plays the fabulous Angie, who helps her young employee and friend embrace his gay sexuality. It's a charming movie, and Lea pretty much steals every scene she is in with her wonderful performance.

And then in 2001, I discovered that Ms. DeLaria is an amazing jazz singer when she released Play It Cool, a brilliant CD of theatrical tunes that I immediately fell in love with. Her versions of "Losing My Mind", "All That Jazz" and "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" are terrific, but my personal favorites are "I've Got Your Number" from the musical, Little Me, and an exhilarating cover of Tom Waits' "Straight To The Top" from the play, Franks Wild Years.

However, long before these three memorable moments in Lea's career made me a devoted admirer, she was already famous as the first openly gay comic to appear on a late-night talk show. Her "I'm a big dyke!" declaration on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1993 led to her hosting Comedy Central's Out There, the first all-gay stand-up comedy special later that same year. And since then, she's recorded two comedy CDs, Bulldyke in a China Shop (1994) and Box Lunch (1997); written a book called Lea's Book of Rules for the World; appeared in the 1997 Shakespeare in the Park production and the 1998 Broadway revival of On the Town as well as the 2000 Broadway revival of The Rocky Horror Picture Show; played the recurring role of psychic Madame Delphina on the daytime soap opera, One Life to Live; and released two more jazz albums, Double Standards (2005) and The Live Smoke Sessions (2008).

Lea DeLaria is a no-nonsense groovy gal who always tells it like it is and makes me laugh, so I am thrilled to have her here on the Dish to discuss her career and answer a few pop culture questions.

Let's begin with your music. If I asked you to sing your favorite song from each of your three jazz CDs, which ones would you choose?
My favorite song on Play It Cool is "Cool".  It is so smoky and Greg Hutchinson is playing his face off on the drums, but my favorite one to sing is "Welcome to My Party" - although everyone else loves "Sweeney Todd". "Call Me" hands down on Double Standards, and on The Live Smoke Sessions, it's "Love For Sale" - I love singing it because people stamp their feet and scream and yell when I do.

Is there a song you love that you haven't recorded yet?
"What's New Pussycat?"

What is the most memorable and/or funniest moment you have had while performing onstage?
Oh, so many - like when the folding bed got stuck in Rocky Horror and I ad-libbed, "Somewhere in a theater not far from here a helicopter is landing. But at Rocky Horror, we can't get the bed off stage", or in On The Town in the Park when a bug as big as a Buick flew down my dress and crawled around my boobs just as I was singing the only ballad in the show.

I think the best and funniest moment has to be from a show I performed with Sandra Bernhard and Scott Thompson (The Kids in the Hall). We were all on stage in front of a SRO crowd at The Beacon Theater.  Sandy had on this very hip and trendy chainmail halter top.  Well, it was indeed very hip and very trendy but also very heavy, so in the middle of the song, it fell off leaving her tits exposed.  Scott and I just looked at each other and removed our shirts as well and we all three stood there topless as the crowd gave us a standing O.

You've appeared in some interesting film, television and theatrical projects over the years. What's the first thing that pops into your mind about:

The Arsenio Hall Show?
Proud to be the first openly gay comic on TV in America.

Matlock (1994)?
Being taught how to "rock into a shot" by Andy Griffith.

Li'l Abner?
The duet with Alice Ripley.

On the Town?
Stopping the show with "I Can Cook, Too".

Edge of Seventeen?
My best film acting to date.

In high school I was:

My favorite comfort food is:

The last good book I read was:
The Road by Cormac McCarthy

When I was growing up, I never missed a television episode of:
The Dean Martin Show, The Monkees, The Judy Garland Show, Star Trek, Combat, The Flying Nun, The Twilight Zone, The Carol Burnett Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, Jeopardy, Johnny Quest, Speed Racer and Lost in Space - Dr. Zachary Smith was the gayest character EVER on TV.  Every time Will would bend over near Dr. Smith, the robot would start yelling, "WARNING, WILL ROBINSON! WARNING!"

Today I never miss a television episode of:
Modern Family, Law & Order, Law & Order SVU. Medium. CSI, Countdown, Two and a Half Men and Jeopardy.

If I was stranded on a desert island for a year, I would want to listen to:
David Bowie's Greatest Hits, Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool, Charles Mingus' Mingus Ah Um, anything from Jonathan and Darlene Edwards, and the original cast recording of Candide.

If I could go back in time to see any Broadway show, I would see:
Zero Mostel in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

If I could star on Broadway in any role in any musical or play, I would be:
Mama Rose, of course.

If I could have anyone in the world - living or dead - be a guest at my dinner party, I would invite the following three people:
A 19-year-old Lauren Bacall, Cyd Charisse from Singin' in the Rain, and the man who invented the Roofie.

2010 marks your 28th year in show business. If you could go back 28 years and give your younger self a wise piece of advice, what would it be?
Stay in the closet and lose weight, become famous and then come out.  That way everyone will worship you.

What's next for Lea DeLaria?
I am doing a show with Judy Gold entitled The Judy and Lea Show: It's The Loudest Show On Earth!, which is running in PTown in August.  I'm also working on a new musical, Sunrise At Hyde, which tells the story of how the love letters between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok got into the FDR Museum. Tony winner Cady Huffman is playing Eleanor and four-time Tony nominee Mary Testa is the woman who runs the museum. I am loving this musical.

Thank you, Lea, for getting Deeper with us here on the Dish. To learn more about Lea DeLaria, her music and her upcoming performances, check out her groovy website at You can also become a friend on her MySpace Music page or on Facebook.

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