We got Bruce!
Vilanch, that is. One of the most celebrated joke writers in the business has descended on San Francisco to mine local news nuggets, gobs of gossip and salacious stories to share on the Marines Memorial Theater stage at 8 p.m. on Sunday, April 13, for the Big Gay Comedy Show, a benefit for Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation.
“It will be a lot of comedy with a couple of cabaret performers thrown in, but they’re funny: Shawn Ryan and Jason Brock. San Francisco is such a uniquely comic town. You get really political comics like Marga Gomez, and then you get really artistic people,” Vilanch said.
Big Gay Comedy Show will also feature B.O.O.B.s, Leanne Borghesi, Shann Carr, Cassandra Cass, Ali Mafi, Katya Smirnoff-Skyy and Kitty Tapata.
The red bespectacled, wacky T-shirt adorned Vilanch is currently “casing the joint” to gather up-to-the-minute material for his portion of the show.
“I have a week to get to know all of that, which is more than usual. I will probably tell stories. That’s what I do,” he said.
After more than four decades in the business—writing for every conceivable awards show including a bunch of Oscars—Vilanch has more celeb, behind-the-scenes tales than Kathy Griffin. His “almost famous” life is chronicled in the documentary “Get Bruce,” which is now streaming on Netflix.
But while he’s made a sweet living writing funny lines for other performers to say on stage,
ilanch’s passion is performing. He’s probably best known for his years on “Hollywood Squares” and for performing in drag as Edna Turnblad in the Broadway and touring productions of “Hairspray.”
“I’ve been looking for the kind of stuff to do that Nathan Lane always gets to do because he’s the master of it right now,” Vilanch said. “The singing and dancing fat guys is what I would love to do. More acting. Playing a woman is one thing, but to get them to accept me as a straight man will be even more interesting.”
Vilanch is getting his chance with 42nd Street Moon’s revival of the Cole Porter musical, “Du Barry Was a Lady,” in which he plays a swanky nightclub men’s room attendant who wins the lottery, gets slipped a Mickey Finn and thinks he’s King Louis XV. Burt Lahr originated the role in 1939.
“Since I’ve been compared to the Cowardly Lion in looks alone, I thought it was time I brought one of Burt Lahr’s other roles out of the closet and see what I could do with it,” Vilanch said. “He was so brilliantly funny. I was a huge fan of his.”
The musical runs at the Eureka Theater April 30 to May 18.
“It’s lyrically wonderful. The stuff that I get to sing is all comic patter. The most famous is ‘Friendship, friendship, just a perfect blendship!” That was written for him and Ethel Merman. People think it was written for Lucy and Ethel, because ‘I Love Lucy’ did it a couple of times,” Vilanch said.
With Disney now in control of the future of “Star Wars,” one of Vilanch’s old projects might see the light of day. He was a writer on the much-maligned “Star Wars Holiday Special” that aired one time only in November 1978.
“Oh, my God, I have the script. I save the script to everything. Occasionally, I will go back and look at that thing and say, ‘Oh, my God, we actually did this. We really did this.’ I think there was a prop I took. I think I got a mug from the cantina on the planet Tatooine, where the aliens and Bea Arthur had a big number,” Vilanch said.
Corey Andrew has been interviewing comedians and writing about comedy for the last decade and a half. He recently published the book, “Laugh Lines: Conversations with Comedians.” Corey was a writer and performer with Midwest sketch troupe, The NonProphets, before moving to the Bay Area with his family several years ago. If you have ideas for future columns about comedy, you can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/coreyshame.