Bruce Vilanch: This Pride Season, Be Prouder, Outer and Gayer Than Ever

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Hollywood Reporter
Vilanch Will Kick Things Off May 22, 2019 With A Reading Of The Play “Dear Harvey” About Harvey Milk
By Seth Abramovitch
May 21, 2019

Bruce Vilanch, Photo by: Dia Dipasupil
Bruce Vilanch<br >Photo by Dia Dipasupil

The Emmy-winning comedy writer and La La Land’s unofficial gay mascot kicks off a summer of free love with a live reading of “Dear Harvey,” a documentary-style play about Harvey Milk staged at WeHo’s City Council Chambers.

The City of West Hollywood is supersizing its LGBTQ Pride this year with 40 days of events and activities, culminating in the LA Pride Parade down Santa Monica Boulevard on June 9. To kick things off, a staged reading of Patricia Loughrey’s documentary-style play Dear Harvey — about Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official — will be held at WeHo City Council Chambers on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. It’s free to attend. Among the cast members are RuPaul’s Drag Race star Gia Gunn and Bruce Vilanch, the Emmy-winning comedy writer and La La Land’s unofficial gay mascot. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Vilanch, who weighed in on those “hating” fundamentalists, the “adorable” Pete Buttigieg and the one celebrity he calls “the Statue of Liberty for gay people.”

Hello, Bruce! Happy Gay Pride season.

It’s starting earlier than ever.

What do you have in store this year?

I’m just doing the thing on Wednesday night at the West Hollywood City Council Chambers. We’re reading a play called Dear Harvey, which is the history of Harvey Milk, and it is mostly an oral history. His story is very compelling, obviously. I mean, Sean Penn won an Oscar for playing his story, so it’s a great history lesson.

It’s a nice way to kick off the whole Pride thing to remind people of the more recent history that eventually led to where we are now, with marriage equality and fighting the last bigots on the earth, the religious ones.

Just when you thought you were out, they pull you back in, or something.

Yeah, well, that’s the nature of religion. It’s like the world’s oldest profession. It’s always there and will never go away. It has to be dealt with. But when you look around you realize that it is the only voice left that is bleating in the wilderness and hating gay people. It’s only countries that are ruled by fundamentalists and fundamentalist factions elsewhere of religions that cause all this trouble, and I think a lot of that is surfacing again with the abortion argument.

They seem to have their sights set on overturning Roe v. Wade. Do you think the same-sex marriage ruling could be overturned as well?

I think that they probably have the same feelings about that, but Roe v. Wadeis more important to them. I mean, there are more women than there are gay people and they’ve been working on that one longer. It would be, I think, difficult to overturn marriage equality because, what is it? It’s become common and no one is getting hurt. With abortion, they frame it as surrogate murder as far as they’re concerned — and that’s powerful to people who don’t pay attention. So this is all lighthearted and fun.

You probably have a t-shirt for this occasion somewhere.

Yeah, or will be working on one. I mean, I’ll get those nuns with their darning needles. Get them started again. They make all my stuff.

What do you think of Pete Buttigieg?

I think he’s adorable. Actually aside from that, my own personal lusty feelings, I think he’s wonderful. He’s so smart and he has an answer for everything and it all makes sense and he also just doesn’t lose his cool. I mean, they come at him with all the usual stuff and he just kind of looks at them and says, “You’ve got to be kidding, let’s talk about what’s real,” and I love that.

Do you have other plans for this Pride season?

It’s tough for a gay icon because I have to go to lots of parades and wave and show up and remind people of the history of things. It’s just important to be out there. Visibility is the most important thing and that’s what Pride really is about. It’s about reminding people that the only way that we’ve secured our rights and the only way that we will maintain them is by being visible, and Pride is a physical manifestation of that.

You have been out there waving the rainbow flag a lot longer than most people.

Yeah, well, I’m a lot older than most people. But I have been from the beginning. I was never really in.

Over the years, did you find yourself trying to convince other people in show business to come out? 

I don’t know if I tried to convince them. I mean, I wanted to be there for them if they wanted to. I had always felt that what we didn’t need was a bunch of people who were terrified being forced out of the closet. Who needed to see another bitter, unhappy homosexual? So I would say if you feel that way stay in, and when you feel differently then come out when you’re ready to do it.

Have you seen Rocketman?

No, I haven’t. I’m looking forward to it.

Do you know Elton John?

I do and he had a rough time because when he first announced that he was bisexual back in the early ‘70s, he was dropped from a lot of radio stations and it was around the time that I forget the album, maybe Captain Fantastic[and the Brown Dirt Cowboy] came out. It was No. 1 and then suddenly it was off the charts because back then radio was how you got your songs played and a lot of those radio stations in smaller markets were run by people who were besieged by right-wingers and homophobes. And pastors of their churches say, “How can you play this guy’s music when he’s a sinner and all that?” And rather than fight that they just dropped his records, so he felt the brunt of all of that and that’s when he was forced into that marriage, which convinced nobody.

But he kind of weathered the storm because he was Elton John and eventually, I mean, he became like the Statue of Liberty for gay people. I mean, he’s a symbol. I mean, he’s a Knight, for Christ’s sake! He sang at the Princess of Wales’ funeral and he runs a foundation for AIDS services and things like that. So he has obviously rebounded and he’s sort of symbolic of what happened. And that’s a great story.

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