Out Front Colorado
Flamboyant and funny Bruce Vilanch
By Matt Kailey
Even if you haven’t seen Bruce Vilanch on stage, read his past columns in The Advocate or caught him on Hollywood Squares, if you watch the Academy Awards, you are familiar with his work. Vilanch has been writing for the annual extravaganza for the past 21 years, garnering Emmys along the way, as well as writing for a variety of other awards shows, television series and specials, and various stage and screen comedians and entertainers.
For the last few decades, Vilanch has been one of the most sought-after comedy writers in television. But this versatile talent is also a popular actor, most recently known for his Broadway and touring performance as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, as well as a recognized HIV/AIDS activist.
Now Vilanch brings his special brand of humor to Lannie’s Clocktower Cabaret in Denver for two shows only, on May 15 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
“It’s my one-man extravaganza,” says Vilanch from Boca Raton, Fla., where he is visiting his “sainted mother” prior to his “informal” tour. “I call it sit-down, because I tell stories and talk about my hysterical, ill-gotten career.”
The last time Vilanch was in Denver, he was appearing in the touring production of Hairspray.
“I had a great time when I was there and the town was fun,” he says. “And I’ve never held so many notes quite so long because of the altitude. And once you get used to it and once you stop collapsing on stage, you get tremendous wind.”
Other than that, he has only been through for “the ritual changing of planes at the teepee out in the prairie [DIA]. … It’s pretty funny. When you come from a distance, you think, ‘Oh, my god, the circus is in town! … But there’s something very theatrical about it. I have to give them high marks for attempting something very flamboyant.”
Flamboyance is something with which Vilanch is very familiar. His trademark look – a cascade of bushy blonde hair, wild glasses and screen-printed T-shirts – makes him instantly recognizable wherever he goes. How did he get his look?
“It snuck up on me gradually,” he says. “I was in deep rebellion because I had a very fussy mother … who always wanted me to look just so. But I was fat and ungainly and I could never look just so, so I decided if I could never look like something out of a magazine, I was going to look distinctive. And more than that, I was going to be comfortable. Because when you’re a fat kid, nothing fits. … I have all my own hair and a lot of it. And people are desperately jealous. So I decided that was a feature I had, so I was going to use it. And I had to wear glasses, and I thought if I’m gonna wear glasses, I’m gonna wear glasses that are fun, because I’m fun, damn it! And T-shirts were the most comfortable thing. … It became a look.”
And Vilanch became a character in his own right – just like the Oscar-presenting stars that he writes lines for. But the various stars’ ability to portray characters is often what makes it difficult to write for them.
“Most of these people work in front of the camera most of the time,” says Vilanch, “so they’re not used to being in front of a live audience, and a live television audience of 190 billion people or whatever they claim, so that’s the first thing – you kind of have to find a personality for them. Unless they’re stand-up comics or performers, they don’t have a stage persona of their own, so you have to come up with one for them – because they’re used to playing characters. You have to find the character for them to play, even to do this little thing.”
But then there are the other stars he writes for – the ones who do have stage personas, like Bette Midler.
“I started with her, and it’s been a fabulous ride,” he says. “I’ve been working with her for 40 years, which is difficult, because she’s only 32.”
He also, of course, writes for himself – which is what you’ll enjoy when you catch him at Lannie’s. If you don’t, you’ll wish you had. And Vilanch has his own wishes for his brief stay in the Mile High City.
“I could use the company of a Bronco or two,” he says. “I’ve met quite a bunch of Colorado guys, and they all could really hold their breath. And we know how important that is.”
Bruce on Bruce
Is there a dishy inside-Hollywood story you can tell?
I’m saving it for my book. Isn’t everybody saving it for their book? Aren’t you saving it for your book?
What are you most proud of?
Oh, probably having sex with ‘N Sync. … What I’m actually proud of is that, starting 25 years ago, when nobody would fund AIDS research or services for people with AIDS, we rallied the show-business community, and we started doing fundraisers and brought the disease to the public’s attention and filled in where government wouldn’t and organized ourselves into a kind of community, which now became the basis of the entire gay civil rights movement.
Do you have a partner?
No. I’m auditioning all the time. I’m holding open calls everywhere.
What are you looking for?
At this point, somebody with their own income.
Thoughts on Hairspray?
I can’t wait until it’s released to high schools, because every high school has got a fat girl who can really sing and dance and some fat queen who wants to do drag.
Get tickets and more information at www.lannies.com.