‘Almost Famous’ wild Oscar writer Bruce Vilanch hits the valley
By Register Staff
Wednesday, February 15, 2006 1:12 AM PST
Bruce Vilanch is bringing his unique brand of comedy — and hairstyle — to Yountville’s Lincoln Theater for one night this Saturday.
He’s Jewish, gay and blonde and he’s written for some of the biggest names in entertainment. He’s also the comedic mind behind many of the Oscar, Tony, Grammy and Emmy productions, he is currently writing his 16th Oscar show. But with all of these great comedy credits, you probably remember seeing Bruce Vilanch as the wild “center square” on “Hollywood Squares” — almost famous, as he likes to say.
Vilanch will donate portion of the proceeds of every ticket sold to his show this weekend to Napa Valley HIV prevention and education programs.
His one-man show, “Almost Famous,” is about his life in and out of show business. “You’ll hear tales of derring-do, some of them a bit risqu, and a few names of people I’ve worked with that you might recognize,” he said.
Vilanch has written for Bette Midler and Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Robin Williams — Oscars’ host Billy Crystal.
He even made the “Hollywood Squares” seem not so, well, square, while he was in the famous center square.
Being one of the most highly-sought comedy writers in Hollywood is just one of Vilanch’s roles. Back from his recent turn playing Baltimore housewife and superstar Edna Turnblad, on tour and on Broadway, in the smash musical adaptation of John Waters’ cult film “Hairspray,” Vilanch is more than delighted to share his unique and provocative perspectives.
He loved everything about playing Edna but the pantyhose. “Few people know that (pantyhose) were invented by Nazi scientists on the last day in the bunker,” he concluded, “along with the Stairmaster.”
Vilanch is also currently starring on the third edition of “Celebrity Fit Club” on VH1. Similar to “The Biggest Loser” which has aired on primetime television, “Celebrity Fit Club” features teams of celebrities such as Chastity Bono who along with Vilanch compete to lose weight and learn about diet, fitness and nutrition. “We finished taping just before Christmas,” said Vilanch, “It was a hundred days of hell. Reality television — it’s unreal!”
Asked if he’d be brining his personal trainer to this mecca for food and wine, Vilanch said, “My personal trainer used to travel with me but he got stuck in the overhead compartment on Southwest and is now living completely on peanuts.”
Therefore, he said, he will be interviewing (with tongue firmly implanted in cheek) several hundred new trainers while he is here. “Bring wine. And plenty of cheese,” he added.
Vilanch’s career as a celebrity bon vivant began when he was writing features for the Chicago Tribune, and schmoozing with whatever celebrities or semi-celebrities were in town. That’s how he met then-struggling nightclub singer Bette Midler and the two became fast friends. It was Vilanch who gave Midler some helpful career advice: “You’re pretty funny. You should talk more on stage.” When recently asked about his favorite celebrities, he said, “I’ve been working with Bette Midler for 35 years, which is difficult, as she’s only 32. So she would have to be the all timer.”
What does a comedy writer go through to script the entertainment for the Oscars? “You do it with a syringe and a needle and, oh, I’ve said too much,” Vilanch admitted, adding he finds out who got nominated, who’s going to show up, what people will be thinking about and then has to figure out how to look at a year of world history filtered through the prism of movies that we’ve seen, “Then you try to avoid Britney Spears jokes,” he added.
This weekend, however, the Napa Valley will be treated to pure Vilanch, entirely on his own. When asked about how it differs to write material for others versus himself he said, “It’s like designing an outfit for Anna Nicole Smith. There are a couple of things that you can’t ignore, and people like them a lot, so you have to come up with a new and appealing way to showcase them.”
So, what can we expect to hear, see and experience from Bruce Vilanch while he is here in our own valley? “I do a great impression of Robert Mondavi trying to keep his wine down at a Passover Seder” he said.
Bruce Vilanch: Almost Famous
Saturday, Feb. 18
100 California Drive, Yountville
Tickets, $28 to $38
Call 944-1300 or go to