Making a push for the Players
By Rebecca M. Alvin
Friday, September 1, 2006 – Updated: 11:39 AM EST
What do Bette Midler, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, and Cheech Marin have in common? Theyâ€™re all people who have had gags written for them by writer/actor Bruce Vilanch.
Most of these people hired Vilanch before he became a well-known icon himself, but once he appeared on the 1990s revival of “Hollywood Squares,” he came out from behind the scenes and into the spotlight. This weekend, he will be using his celebrity to raise money for the New Provincetown Players in a 3-night only one-man show called “Almost Famous.”
“I always wanted to act,” Vilanch confesses in a telephone interview. “I was just a late bloomer. It took me until I was 57 years old to concentrate on it fully … but I started as an actor and segued into writing.”
Vilanch, 58, has not only written for almost everyone in Hollywood (when asked, he canâ€™t even think of anyone he hasnâ€™t written for). He has also acted in small roles in a few films such as “Mahogany” (1975), “The Morning After” (1986), and several television movies such as “Love Can be Murder” (1992). But his main accomplishment as an actor was starring as Edna Turnblad in the Broadway musical “Hairspray,” based on the campy movie directed by John Waters, from 2004 to 2005.
“I am a big fan of theater,” Vilanch says. His love of theater is the reason he is doing the Provincetown benefit. “Any excuse to get theater going someplace,” he says. But also, he says he enjoys coming to Provincetown. Heâ€™s been here in the past, doing a show at Town Hall, appearing at the very first Provincetown International Film Festival, and also just for fun.
“The thing I love about Provincetown is its kind of like a theme park and the gay people are the rides,” says Vilanch. He also says coming here is different than making appearances elsewhere because he is more well-known in the gay community and when people come up to him on the street, they are “friendlier, because I am one of them.”
Fame and hobnobbing with celebrities were not always part of Vilanchâ€™s life, however. Growing up in New Jersey, he tells of the worst job he ever had, working on an assembly line at a factory that made vaginal cream. “I was in charge of putting caps on the bottles,” he says laughing. The job only lasted a few weeks, but he says “if you ever worked on an assembly line, you understand why people go on strike.”
Although his success has given him great opportunities to write for numerous award shows, including 17 years writing for the Academy Awards, he admits some jobs were less than heâ€™d hoped. Earlier this year, he was a participant in a reality television show called “The Celebrity Fit Club” on VH1. “They paid me to lose weight, which was paradise,” he says. “But reality television, the producing of it is absolutely nightmarish because they work as hard as they can to set up an unreal situation.”
Although heâ€™s no fan of reality television, he does admit, somewhat sheepishly that he is “addicted” to watching television. “I get a kick out of it,” he says, adding “I probably would read more if I didnâ€™t have it to look at, but I do!”
The show, which ran in New York a few years ago, is a semi-autobiographical performance in which Vilanch recounts his experiences in Hollywood as well as his earlier days and fields questions from the audience.
Asked what he finds funny himself, Vilanch says “pomposity deflated … any kind of dignified situation which is suddenly intruded upon by an undignified action.” He is not above laughing at someone slipping on a banana peel, but also admires more sophisticated humor, like that of George Carlin.
After Provincetown, Vilanch will be working on writing the next Comic Relief show. That series of shows, most popular in the 1980s, features comedians such as Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg performing to benefit an end to homelessness. This next show, the 16th version, will open Nov. 15 in Las Vegas, of all places. Vilanch says it will also be broadcast on HBO, as usual, but also on PBS for the first time.
If you go:
What:Bruce Vilanchâ€™s “Almost Famous,” in a benefit for the New Provincetown Players.
When:Friday through Sunday (Sept. 1, 2, 3) at 10 p.m.
Where:Provincetown Theater, 238 Bradford St., Provincetown.
Information / tickets:508-487-9793 or ptowntix.com