Bruce Vilanch: So GLAAD to be gay
by Sarah Toce
Bruce Vilanch is the comedy host with the most. The New York native has written for the Academy Awards show for 21 years and has more clout in the entertainment industry than feathers on Bette Midler‘s boa. On June 5, Bruce will be hosting the 21st Annual GLAAD Media Awards in San Francisco. He sat down to chat with us about comedy writing, gay marriage and his upcoming visit to Chicago!
Windy City Times: Hi Bruce! Thank you so much for chatting with me today. I’ve been a huge fan of your work for about 20 years ( since I was 7 years old ) watching old Bette Midler specials. When all the other kids were singing “Humpty Dumpty,” I was reciting Sophie Tucker jokes. Bette is the reason I am in the entertainment industry. Your writing is impeccable and I am very humbled to be chatting with you today.
Bruce Vilanch: [ Laughs ] Then my work here is done. I can go back to the Mothershipâ€”the other planet.
WCT: You are gearing up for the 21st Annual GLAAD Media Awards in San Francisco, Calif. What can you tell us about the event?
Bruce Vilanch: Well, GLAAD gives these media awards out in stagesâ€”kind of like cancer. They do the first one in New York, which is a lot of theatre and journalism. Then they do the next one in Hollywood, which is a lot of movies, television and music. Then they do San Francisco, which tends to be more political and local kind of stuff. There’s a taste of everything. There will be an award given out to Cybill Shepherd. That’ll be fun because it’s San Francisco and everyone in this town is so aware and the town is so outrageous anyway. So, it’ll be a nice opportunity to do some political material and Cybill Shepherd jokes. God knows we need them.
WCT: You are also hosting the event, correct?
Bruce Vilanch: I am hosting, yes! They just moved the venue. Apparently the St. Francis was being struck by unionized hotel workers. There was a flash mob action in the lobby of the St. Francis. It was clear that the GLAAD Media Awards team was going to have to get out of that hotel and move to the Marriott Marquis.
WCT: You’ve been involved with the Academy Awards as a writer for some time now. How do you keep things fresh and interesting for the audience?
Bruce Vilanch: I’ve written for the past 21 Academy Awards shows! I also hosted the GLAAD Awards a few times in L.A. and New York. I’ve appeared at the GLAAD Media Awards in San Francisco, but this will be the first time I’ll be hosting them.
WCT: As a comedy writer, how is preparing for the Academy Awards telecast different than the Grammys or Emmys?
Bruce Vilanch: It’s all what’s appropriate for the occasion. They are very specific; the Oscar show is about the movies but because it’s the Oscars and it’s so big, it’s also about what’s happened in the past year and how it was reflected in the movies. So, that’s a very specific kind of thing to write. The GLAAD Media Awards are about what’s happened in gay history in the past year and how it was treated by the media. They are two different areas and you’re pretty much shown what you need to focus on. So, then all you do is get out there and say, “Here I am and I’m funny, dammit!” That’s when you really listen and kind of rely on those old reliableâ€”beyond the fart jokes! Thank you!
WCT: You are extremely relatable in your stand-up act. I saw you in New York years ago and you chatted with the audience about old stories like you were in the next cubicle or something.
Bruce Vilanch: No kidding! Wow. What cubicles have you been hanging out in?
WCT: The gay ones, of course! Do you ever get tired of being relatable?
Bruce Vilanch: I love being relatable. I have almost no relatives left, so why not be relatable? My relatives have almost all gone to Florida and disappeared.
WCT: Two men were just convicted in Malawi for marrying. Did you follow that story and, if so, what are your thoughts about gay marriage?
Bruce Vilanch: Did they forget it was a crime there? My first thought was, “Well, it’s Malawi! It’s a Third World country and it’s probably a right-wing dictatorship. Why would they think that they could get married there?” Then I thought that perhaps they were doing it on principle. Any place where homosexuality is a crime, when you stand up to the government, you’re going to be in trouble. So, in that case, they’re marriage martyrs. It’s hard enough getting married in California. To try to get married in Malawai..why would you do it unless you were trying to make a statement. The hill that we’re climbing there is obviously much higher than the one we’re climbing here, but we’re still climbing a hill here. Obviously, I feel bad for them, but they certainly seemed to have bitten off more than they could chew.
WCT: Have you ever bitten off more than you could chew in a routine?
Bruce Vilanch: The most famous example was when we did the Friars Club roast with Whoopi Goldberg and she came out with Ted Danson. He came out in black face roasting her. We all did that thinking that we were doing the private Friars Club event where they were used to outrageous behavior. We then discovered that the Friars Club had opened it up to the public and they had no idea what we were doing. They thought it was going to be like a Dean Martin roastâ€”really benign. When it started, we knew that we had bitten off more than we could chew. When you walk out there in black face, you’re kind of committed. You can’t run in back and put on the cold cream. He was stuck. He was branded as a racist, which was hilarious because he was going with Whoopi Goldberg. It’s like, what part of “I am not a racists did you not understand?”
WCT: Oh, Lord! Poor guy! So, darling Bruce, when will you be in Chicago next?
Bruce Vilanch: I’ll be in Chicago on Memorial Day Weekend on the Grabby Awards. They are happening at Park West on Saturday, May 29. I will be in town!
See www.grabbys.awardshowhotel.com for more information.