Bruce Vilanch returns to home state for comedy show
THURSDAY APRIL 25, 2013, 11:01 AM
BY VIRGINIA ROHAN
Bruce Vilanch is coming back to his home state to do a bit of “sit-down” comedy.
“I sit on a stool. It’s not like traditional stand-up. I tell a lot of stories about my life and times and the work that I’ve done,” says Vilanch, a native Patersonian who will be performing at Ramapo College in Mahwah. “I rarely do comedy clubs, because it’s a different energy. I come from a different tradition, I guess, although that sounds so dry.”
What does not sound a bit dry, though, is a topic Vilanch promises to do a lot of gabbing about — The Oscars.
Though he’s quick to note that he had nothing to do with this year’s telecast — which Seth MacFarlane helmed — Vilanch has been head writer for many other Academy Awards shows. “Twenty-three years’ worth of being backstage. It’s like 23 Super Bowls,” the Emmy winner says. “I talk about a lot of things we came up with on the spot. I talk about things that we almost did, but fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.”
WHO: Bruce Vilanch.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Berrie Center for Performing and Visual Arts, Ramapo College of New Jersey, 505 Ramapo Valley Road, Mahwah; 201-684-7844 or ramapo.edu/berrie center/index.html.
HOW MUCH: $25to $35; under age 17 $20.
He adds, “This year, there were no cooler heads. … the first half-hour of the show was all about how the host was bombing. It was an unusual choice.”
Of course, Vilanch notes, “I worked with James Franco, which was almost as terrifying.”
Franco and Anne Hathaway were widely panned when they co-hosted the 2011 Oscars.
“He was out of his comfort zone and he was next to Anne Hathaway, who is a precision instrument,” Vilanch says. “So, he made her look particularly robotic and phony, because he was so invisible, so not present. He was conspicuous by his presence.”
And then there’s Johnny Depp, another actor for whom he has written Academy Awards material. “He’s not difficult so much as … he doesn’t know who he is when he’s onstage and he doesn’t have a character to play,” Vilanch says.
Vilanch also plans to talk about his stint as head writer and celebrity square on “Hollywood Squares” (“It was six glorious years and we have many stories about that”) and — because he’ll be in Mahwah — about his Jersey childhood.
“I was a child model and a child actor,” says Vilanch, who was born in Manhattan but brought to Paterson at 4 days old. “I was just never a child star, or we’d be having this conversation in rehab.”
His mother, Henne Vilanch, now 93, lives in Hackensack. “She’s incredible. She’s absolutely staggering. She plays cards every day. She’s all there. And a Record reader,” Vilanch says.
On a visit home a few months ago, he went back to Paterson. “Somebody told me that they had reopened the Fabian Theater, which is where I kind of grew up watching movies. So, I went back to see it, and of course, that building is gone. They put up [a multiplex] on the site, and they called it the Fabian, which is amazing that anybody remembers. They probably all think it was [named for] the old rock-and-roll star from my childhood and not Jacob Fabian, leader of the Jewish community, who was in the movie business like one or two other Jews,” said Vilanch, who is also Jewish.
At Oscar time this year, Vilanch was performing on a gay cruise. During the actual telecast, he says, “I was on a ship between Australia and New Zealand, and the satellite signal went down, so I didn’t really get to see it until I got home a week later, by which time everything had blown over and the only one who made a clean getaway was Shirley Bassey.”
Asked to evaluate MacFarlane’s performance as host, he says, “I think he’s a great writer, but not a terrific performer, and to me, it had no sense of occasion. … I thought it was the wrong note. But they were doing cartwheels because the ratings were up.”
Vilanch believes that the big boost in viewership came from the fact that six of the nominated films were box-office hits. “People tune in because they’ve seen the movies,” Vilanch says.
It’s too early for Vilanch to know if he’ll be working on next year’s Oscar telecast, but if he does, he knows that he’ll face the usual challenge.
“It’s like reinventing the wheel every year, and like the wheel, it always comes out looking the same. But they carry on like they’re going to do it differently,” Vilanch says, noting that both the Academy and the network have “so many hard and fast rules in play … it’s difficult to make it much different from the year before, because you’ve got the same task. As long as the Academy won’t jettison any of the awards, it’s always going to be long and always going to involve a lot of people you’ve never seen or heard of. There are only four acting awards, as opposed to the Golden Globes that give like 24 acting awards. So, it’s never going to be that kind of a party. But it is the Oscars and it’s got 86 years of tradition and meaning … so it has that going for it.”