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Archive for the ‘Interview’ Category

Is It Okay To Make Fun Of Caitlyn Jenner?

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

Instinct Magazine
Is It Okay To Make Fun Of Caitlyn Jenner?
Instinct Staff | September 6, 2016

Boy Culture interviewed legendary comedy writer Bruce Vilanch, who had his own opinions on the joke and the response to it:

BC: Bette Midler recently took it on the chin when she was perceived as mocking Caitlyn Jenner for being trans.

BV: Personally, I thought that was insane. She wasn’t making a joke about transgenders, she was making a joke about the monetizing of transgenderism, which is being done by Caitlyn Jenner.

BC: I guess the waters are muddied because people want to mock Caitlyn, and she’s so famous for being trans.

BV: Exactly. Anybody who would make that leap is out of their mind. It’s not a joke about transgenders, it’s a joke about this person who will do anything to remain in the public eye—and who is not our friend, by the way. She’s more to be pitied than censured. There’s no accounting for the taste of some. You find generally in communities like in the gay community that activists have no sense of humor. They areso sensitive about everything. And to jump on Bette Midler is kind of like, “Excuse me? Where’ve you been for the last 50 years?” Well, you know, probably in Trinidad, Colorado, deciding what you wanted to look like, I don’t know.

That alone would get me in jail. That remark. You know, you’re not allowed to say anything!

Bruce Vilanch

Hollywood History With Bruce Vilanch By Nick Hardcastle

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

Loud and proud: Bruce Vilanch’s Hollywood history
By Nick Hardcastle
April 18, 2016


Upon meeting a legendary Hollywood personality it’s only fitting that we meet in a legendary Hollywood establishment. Musso and Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard. Since 1919, stars from Rudolph Valentino and Charlie Chaplin to Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall have been sipping martinis in its old worn leather booths or throwing back scotch in its infamous back room – a watering hole for some of the finest writers including F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, and Raymond Chandler. I arrive and Bruce Vilanch greets me as ‘Nick Hardcore’.

A regular here, Vilanch is instantly recognisable wearing his signature bright coloured glasses and a t-shirt with a cartoon image of Liam Neeson and the slogan ‘Carpe Liam’.

He has had a long and colorful history in show business and Hollywood. A six time Emmy winner, Bruce has also won a number of awards for his support of LGBTQI and HIV/AIDS charities.

He has written for the Oscars for 23 years as well as the Tonys, Emmys and Grammys. He has contributed to many Broadway shows including Peter Allen’s first, Up in One, and Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical. He is currently penning a new show based on the music of Petula Clark. He has been a long time gag writer for Bette Midler, Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg, as well as having worked with the late and great Elizabeth Taylor, Robin Williams and Joan Rivers. Whether he set out to be or not, Bruce Vilanch has been a pioneering gay voice in the entertainment business.

A New Jersey native, Vilanch spent five years in Chicago where he wrote for the Chicago Tribune and occasionally did stand-up comedy. There he met Bette Midler in the mid ‘70s. He thought that she was “funny and should talk more on stage” so he wrote some new material for the rising star and they’ve been working together ever since.

When he relocated to Los Angeles, his first gig was on a late night show called Midnight Special in 1978. There were many people who had appeared on TV before Bruce Vilanch who were gay of course, as well as gay characters in shows like All in the Family and even Australia’s Number 96, but you would be hard pressed to find an openly gay man who discussed his experiences on air before Vilanch did.

“I was completely open from the word go. It was very novel because it was one o’clock in the morning. But being openly gay on TV hadn’t become my schtick yet. I just never denied anything.”

“I was completely open from the word go. It was very novel but because it was one o’clock in the morning. But being openly gay on TV hadn’t become my schtick yet. I just never denied anything.”

Considering the cultural climate at the time, it was a bold move. In 1976 Elton John announced that he was bisexual in Rolling Stone and he was immediately removed from the playlists of many the major radio stations. “Those regional stations were where you broke records. So if some minister comes in to the local radio station in Kansas city and says you can’t play that cock sucker Elton John’s records anymore – you’d better believe he’s getting dropped off the playlist! Elton’s career was pretty much over there for a while – you can understand why it might have just been easier to say nothing.”

“So there was a lot at stake. Although no one ever told me that I couldn’t be out on TV. What they all did say was that I need to be sure. ‘Is this what you want to be known as? Because there are consequences – there will be no working with children and no big money endorsement deals and there certainly won’t be leading man parts because you can’t kiss the girl.’ But I got to be myself.”

At this point our conversation takes a slight deviation into ‘little people porn’ and ‘feeders’ but I assure him that the details are entirely off the record. I order another martini.

Vilanch’s mainstream profile rocketed when he became a regular panelist on the long-running game show ‘Hollywood Squares’ from 1998 – 2002, with his old friend and client Whoopi Goldberg. He says that this was the only time that he ever came under pressure about his sexuality on television.

“And that was only because I was graphic. I had to really fight to get some of my lines across,” he explained.

Producers would insist that there were other ways to get the laughs, and that Bruce should ‘go easy on the gay’.

“But this was coming from the same people who would say to Whoopi, ‘Go easy on the black. You don’t have to be so street’. The notes were always back-to-back. They never said to Gilbert [Gottfried] not to be so Jewish.”

At this time, Vilanch was becoming somewhat of a gay icon and it put him in a position to be able to counsel other LGBTQI people in the media. “I tell other famous people who come out that you really have no idea the affect you are having on young people who are unsure or conflicted – it gives them hope.”

He recalls a young man telling him that he used to watch Hollywood Squares with his grandmother and would be inspired, thinking, “Look at him – he’s so unafraid.”

Vilanch cites Ellen DeGeneres as another great example of that fearlessness in spite of the potential consequences. “When Ellen came out on her sitcom she was very courageous, but she was very smart. She said once she came out that they should cancel because now they would have to go in to storylines that the audience probably won’t like.

“The network thought the numbers were great, but sure enough the southern states cancelled the show and because she wasn’t being seen on the same amount of stations the numbers dropped and the show got cancelled. It took a while for Ellen to really come back from that.”

“I tell other famous people who come out that you really have no idea the affect you are having on young people who are unsure or conflicted – it gives them hope.”

But the landscape was starting to change, albeit, slowly. Will and Grace in particular became a huge hit. According to GLAAD, (formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), a US non-governmental media monitoring organisation, by the time the show had aired its final season in 2006 almost 2 per cent of regular characters on prime time broadcast TV were gay. While it was certainly not a fair representation of the population, it was a sign of positive change.

Now in 2016 more than 4 per cent of regular characters on prime time are identified as LGBTQI. Guest characters and LGBTQI personalities in non-scripted television are also starting to be represented in more significant numbers. In the last year alone the number of regular LGBTQI characters counted on cable increased from 64 to 84, while recurring characters increased from 41 to 58. In 2015 for the first time, GLAAD counted LGBTQI characters on original series that premiered on Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix and found 43 series regulars and 16 recurring queer characters across 23 series.

In 2016, Vilanch says that it’s much more difficult to say if someone’s sexuality really affects their media career as much as it did in previous decades, as each case is individual. “There’s still no leading man action hero who has come out and said he’s gay. We’ve had a few pro sports people but no huge major figures. When that happens maybe things will really change because we’ll finally have an example where the audience will have to believe whether say, James Bond is still James Bond when the actor playing him is openly gay. Can they buy him shagging Pussy Galore when they know he wants Balls a Plenty? That hasn’t been demonstrated yet.

“We have people like Neil Patrick Harris, Lance Bass and Melissa Etheridge and Portia de Rossi, who are big stars doing great things – but it’s unlikely you’ll see them as action heroes.”

At this point Vilanch accidentally spills come creamy salad dressing right on Liam Neeson’s cartoon face on his t-shirt. Make of that what you will.

As talent, humour and fame can be powerful aphrodisiacs for some people, I finally ask Vilanch if he thinks that being on TV has increased his sex appeal.

“I was only ever a lust object for creepy people– chubby chasers,” he replies.

When I insist that humor is the sexiest quality in any person, he cuts to the chase, “I would love to say it’s the case… but I find that they’ll laugh with you, but they’ll go home and fuck someone else. But humour sustains in a way that physical beauty doesn’t… at least I still have my card to play. ‘Snap!’”

Great New Interview With Bruce Vilanch

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

We’ve Got Bruce
Saturday Aug 16, 2014

4-27-2013 3-56-01 AM

When it comes to Hollywood insiders, few come close to Bruce Vilanch. Over his thirty-year-plus career, he has worked with virtually every major talent in the entertainment industry: Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, Elizabeth Taylor and (famously) the late Robin Williams. He has also been writing special material for the Oscars since 1989 – a collaboration that has had its ups-and-downs, but also given Vilanch an insider’s view on the film’s industry’s biggest party. He is also no stranger to other award shows, having written for the Emmys, Tonys and Grammys. Or Broadway, where he starred in “Hairspray” after taking it on the road.

Vilanch may be best-known for his stint on “The Hollywood Squares” on which he appeared for four seasons as well as being the show’s head writer. He has been in numerous films (including having made his film debut in “Mahogany” with Diana Ross in 1974). He has even been the subject of a documentary film – “Get Bruce” – which has one of the most star-studded casts in history. For Vilanch, they were his friends.

He’s been a tireless supporter of LGBT causes over the years, including being one of the first to take part in benefits for AIDS in the 1980s. It was from those experiences that he found himself working for the Oscars. And speaking of awards, Vilanch has won some six Emmy Awards for his writing.

That he one of the funniest celebrities in Hollywood is no secret. Part of what has made his solo dates, such as the one that comes to Club Café on Saturday, August 16 at 8pm, so endearing is his ease at making good-natured fun at not only Hollywood royalty, but himself. “I am frequently mistaken for Shelley (Winters) by people that don’t know she’s dead,” he said recently in a freewheeling conversation this week from Saugatuck, Michigan, where he was performing.

EDGE: So what are you wearing?

Bruce Vilanch What am I wearing? Hmmm. A t-shirt with an actual photo of Batman and Robin kind-of embracing. It’s a still from the old show. And they have this expression on their faces that make it seem they’re fascinated with each other. So the caption reads, ‘Batman and Robin: Let’s Hook Up.’ You look at their faces and you think, that’s what they’re really thinking. They’re in love with each other. Look at those expressions! And is there anything better to wear in the Provincetown of the Midwest?

EDGE: Speaking of Provincetown, did you hear that a ferry was nearly capsized by a wave this week?

Bruce Vilanch Really? No. But are you sure it wasn’t a convention of Shelley Winters impersonators just hoping to get capsized? If it was, I would be one of them because I am frequently mistaken for Shelley by people that don’t know she’s dead. They think she still slinks amongst us.

EDGE: Did you know her?

Bruce Vilanch Yes. She was a great actress and a hysterical person. Literally a hysterical person – when I would see her she shout, ‘my God… you’re all sweaty? What are you doing?’ Every meeting was an Academy Award winning performance. Most people didn’t realize she was a bombshell when she was a kid. Or realize how great she really was. She was one of the prime movers of the Actors’ Studio with Brando and James Dean. And a lot of her really good work was on stage… And on screen? There’s always ‘South Seas Sinner.’

Maybe I could do a one-woman show about Shelley Winters. When she wrote her book it was all about her many affairs and everyone she had an affair with was dead, because she didn’t want to write about anybody that was still alive because they would deny it. I think she could have called the book ‘Fuck Shelley and Die.’ My show will be like that. ‘Shelley Winters, Killer Pussy.’

EDGE: What are you doing in Boston?

Bruce Vilanch: What can I plug? How can I get them in? Tell some rude stories about Justin Bieber? I don’t have any of that. I do have stories about my life and times – my illustrious career in show business and all the bizarre people I met and all the backstage stories. It’s funny and dishy. Funny and dishy. (Slipping into a professional phone voice) ‘Funny and Dishy… could I direct your call?’

I don’t know what I am going to say and I’m not so sure what I say now would look good in print, so it’s a good idea not to say anything. But I’ve done 23 Academy Awards shows and everyone has trooped through that extravaganza, so there are stories about plenty of them.

EDGE: You dished James Franco when he did the Oscars – will you mention him?

Bruce Vilanch: Yes. Sure. Why not? I’ll get in trouble again. They’ll never ask him back, so why do I care?

EDGE: Have you started to work on next year’s Oscars?

Bruce Vilanch: Oh, no. Not yet. It starts around October when the producer comes in and gets active and figures out how he or she wants the show to unfold. And then the host comes onboard and it gets deeper as it goes along. Most of the show is written after the nominations come out in January because you don’t really know what you are going to talk about. It doesn’t make sense to prepare stuff about movies that get shut out; and you don’t know who is going to actually appear on the show until after the nominations come out and people sort out their feelings. Whether they want to be on the show or exercise the ritual taking of umbrage because they or their friends were not acknowledged. There use to be the honorary awards, but they made the show so long, so they moved them to separate event – the Governor’s Award – in November that I wrote this year and show excerpts on the awards.

EDGE: Do any of the celebrities as the Oscars take umbrage with the jokes you write?

Bruce Vilanch At first, yeah. A lot of times. But first you have the gauntlet of their people – their manager, their agent, their publicist, their holistic pet psychiatrist, their gardener, their Pilates instructor. Everybody has an opinion. Then they get back to you with what they want changed. By the time it gets to the show, they’ve signed off on anything, so it’s rare if somebody goes off-book on the night of the show. The spontaneous moments come from the winners, who can be depended upon to do something ridiculous because they’re over-excited. And the host commenting on what’s going on during the show. That’s where the spontaneous moments come from.

EDGE: How did Ellen’s selfie-seen-round-the-world happen at last year’s show?

Bruce Vilanch I don’t know. I wasn’t on the show last year because it was all Ellen and her staff. She has ten dedicated people that write her show every day and they did the Oscars. I did Ellen’s first time in 2007 and we did a version of the selfie that year, so I suspect whoever had the idea to do it again watched the show that year.

She did it with Spielberg. She had Spielberg take a picture of her and Clint Eastwood. It was the exact same bit. All that was missing was the dozen stars chomping to be in the shot, which they knew would be seen around the world. So you don’t get to see poor Liza, who was too short to get in on the thing. But on the other hand we got a nice full face of Lupita Nyong’o’s brother, who oddly didn’t capitalize on that. I would think his people would have had him all over the place; but somewhere good taste prevailed. Either that or she said, ‘this is my night. Stand back.’ Maybe she let him wear all her dresses.

EDGE: Every year there seems to be different producers of the Oscars, but you remain a constant with the ceremony. What’s the key to your longevity?

Bruce Vilanch It’s like inventing the wheel every year, yet every year it looks pretty much like the year before; because it’s the nature of the beast. It’s a format to which you must adhere, that makes the show pretty much like every other show. New producers come in and say they’re going to change all that, but they can’t. As they go along they realize it’s a big, unwieldy piece, and it helps to have people around that have done it before; which is why you end up doing it for 23 years. That and various relationships you have with performers – hosts and what not – they want you to be around with them.

EDGE: You’ve also been involved with the Grabby Awards…

Bruce Vilanch Yeah. I’ve done them many time. Of course, they’re porno, and I love the porno business… and the people in it. Fascinating to me. But how I got initially – a lot of those award shows were the first AIDS fundraisers because a lot of the people involved in them was affected by the disease at the beginning. They weren’t raising money and wanted to find a way to raise money, and it was an easy way to do it. And it was an industry willing to chip in. So I ended up getting involved in it because it was a fund-raising device, and then, of course, once I got to the picnic I didn’t want to leave until I had every corn on the cob.

EDGE: What do they look for with a good host for the Oscars?

Bruce Vilanch They’re always looking for someone peaking at the box office at the moment, but what really helps with the ratings is a good year at the movies. It hasn’t been a good summer, but they’re not the kind of pictures the Academy pays attention to except for technical awards. And the year is back-loaded with the stuff they want to win awards, so people haven’t seen anything that will be talked about on the show next year. They’re have been a couple that will get included; but most of the stuff reveals itself in October. I just saw a trailer for “Into the Woods” that comes out on Christmas Day with that tornado movie.

EDGE: You mean, ‘Into the Storm?’ Wasn’t it hilarious when the storm hit that international airport in the middle of nowhere and started picking up 747s…?

Bruce Vilanch I loved that. Suddenly it was ‘Sharknado.’ I want to do a politically-aware disaster movie and call it ‘Ralphnado.’ A group of left-wing lawyers get picked up by a tornado and become Ralphnado, crashing into corporate America.

EDGE: Wasn’t it a terrible movie?

Bruce Vilanch Yes, but I love terrible movies. I use to go with a group to the movies every week back when going to the movies was a ritual and we’d go see a piece of shit movie. That was back when going to the movies was more of a rituals, and we’d pick terrible movies, like ‘Killer Fish’ starring Karen Black or ‘The Lonely Lady’ with Pia Zadora. So we decided to go to a movie and see ‘Into the Storm’ at the Mann’s Chinese Theatre. It wasn’t on the big screen, but on a smaller one; and it was heaven. We were half the audience – there were six of us and the audience was 12; so we could talk out loud, that was if you could be heard over the tornado. There was girl that was like Sandra Bullock and I said, she was going to have to take over the van but won’t be able to go over 50 because there is a bomb on it. They should have borrowed anything from every other action movie ever made.

EDGE: Didn’t the high school principal in the film look like President Obama?

Bruce Vilanch He looked exactly like Obama. It was hysterical – is the subtext of this that Obama winds up a high school principal? Is this what we are suppose to take from this? Is this a right wing moment here?

And the girl in the Helen Hunt part – the weather expert – she was a little bit too old for it and had a little too much work done to be that woman and pretend to be the mother of that baby. It was just enough to put it into The Asylum territory.

EDGE: And the vice principal, who was the movies hero, didn’t he look like Mitt Romney?

Bruce Vilanch Now that you mention it, yes. About him. He was this single guy raising two boys single-handedly and working as a vice principal at the school, but found time to get to the gym. He was really built under the white shirt and tie, which came in handy when he had to move Volkswagon buses off of people and stuff like that. This man knows how to multi-task! At least they spared us how he ended up with the weather expert. Here they were – he’s a single dad with two kids, she’s a single mom with a baby; I thought they were going to end up together, but they didn’t, which violates a cardinal rule. But then there will always be a sequel because they’re always be a tornado somewhere.

EDGE: My question is, why do people live there?

Bruce Vilanch I get the same criticism from people about living in LA. Why do you live where you know there’s going to be a fire followed by a mud slide; which is true. We all know that, but it’s nice while it lasts. Like people say, why do you build where there are coyotes and bears? They build these subdivisions in the hills, then wonder why there are coyotes roaming the streets. They’re surprised – ‘oh, gee. Isn’t this LA?’ It was, until they built out there.

I am waiting for the movie about the wild packs of coyotes invading the suburb. It’s perfect for The Asylum, but they’re too busy doing ‘Mega-Octopussy.’ Oh, what is the one that’s they’re doing? ‘Pteracuda’ – it’s a pterodactyl barracuda combo that can fly and swim. And the only thing that can get it is ‘Sharktopus,’ which is a shark and octopus combination, which cannot fly, but can do a great slither.

EDGE: What is The Asylum?

Bruce Vilanch The studio that makes all those movies for the Sci-fi Channel. Leading up to ‘Sharknado 2,’ they ran a week of all those movies. The giant piranha one, ‘Mega Piranha.’ They’re cautionary tales about creating creatures in a lab. ‘Mega Shark’ was created to get rid of submarines – it can bite through the hull. And, of course, ‘Mega Shark’ goes wild and attacks Acapulco and chomps his way through the hotels.

EDGE: Have you been going to the movies this summer?

Bruce Vilanch Of course. In fact, my new drag name is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I couldn’t resist her – she was too perfect. They’re carrying on out here that it’s been a terrible summer because not enough people went to the movies. I went to watch Helen Mirren in ‘A Hundred Foot Journey.’ It was a wonderful movie and I had a huge meal afterward. It sent you out looking for a French place or an Indian place or a really cute Indian boyfriend that can make a hollandaise sauce.

Bruce Vilanch appears Saturday, August 16, 2014, 8pm, at Club Cafe, 209 Columbus Avenue, Boston, MA. For ticket info, visit the Club Cafe website.

An Interview With Bruce Vilanch

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

Park Me
An Interview with Bruce Vilanch
By Kevin
July 1, 2013


In Los Angeles, traffic and parking are part of the daily grind and everyone’s got a fun story to tell.

We’ve noticed that parking often merges with LA culture, whether it’s a viral video of Larry David getting stuck, or a clever tune about the happenings in the Whole Foods parking lot. When we can, we like to seek fun and notable locals to get their own perspectives on the rituals of parking around town. Nobody’s more fun than West Hollywood’s own Bruce Vilanch.

Vilanch, a six-time Emmy award winner and head writer of The Oscars since the year 2000, was kind enough to chat with us about his experiences. He’s a prolific comedy writer, so we knew we were in for some witty responses about parking, particularly within “The Biz.” We hope you enjoy Bruce’s unique responses as much as we did!

What’s your favorite thing to do on a LA Sunday?

I’m a Jew! We like to eat Chinese food and go to the movies. We would do that whether we were in LA or Baghdad.

What’s the best restaurant for a first date?

(Laughs) Any place that has flattering lighting. Angela Lansbury’s dressing room would probably be a good spot.

Do you have a particularly interesting/humorous parking story you’d like to share?

Parking on the Fox Studios lot used to be heinous until they built a new garage. I used to park in Natalie Wood’s space. She’d been dead for years, but they’d never gotten around to re-assigning it. Odds are she wouldn’t be coming in on any given day, so who would notice? She had also been a friend, so I felt like she was urging me on from above. “Don’t be a schmuck,” I could hear her shouting in her daisy clover voice. “Park!”

One day I pulled into Fox and the name Saul Turtletaub was painted on the curb. He was an esteemed comedy producer, not one of the teenage ninja turtletaubs. I turned right around and went to Warner Brothers.

Larry David coined the term “pig parker” for someone who takes us two spaces while parking. Have you ever been guilty of this?

Never. I would not want to incur the satirical wrath of Larry David, unless there was real money in it.

Have you ever had a confrontation/meltdown with someone over a spot?

Life is too short to get worked up over a parking space. I always remember Clint Eastwood’s spot at Warner Bros. He’s got a sign in front of it that has his name in large letters and, beneath that, the legend: don’t even think about parking here. I’ll bet that scared Meryl out of her Italian accent.

Bruce Vilanch Talks Gay Comedy And More…

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

Comedian Bruce Vilanch on being more than a gay caricature
By Josiah M. Hesse Thu., May 16 2013 at 8:34 AM

4-27-2013 3-29-19 AM

Comedy writing pioneer Bruce Vilanch is bursting with gayness. One of the first openly gay comedians, he’s known for his continuing role on Hollywood Squares and as a head writer for the Academy Awards show, as well as writing jokes for Bette Midler, Elizabeth Taylor, The Brady Bunch, Donnie and Marie, and Lily Tomlin. (He’s also one of the criminals responsible for the atrocious Star Wars Holiday Special, but we’ll get into that later.)

Vilanch will be featured this Friday at Tracks Gay Comedy Night with Chuck Roy and Hippie Man. In advance of that appearance, we touched base with this iconic joke machine to chat about gay history, Comedy Central roasts and, inevitably, that awful Star Wars movie that everyone has tried so hard to forget about.

Westword: Even though it often gets overlooked for places like San Francisco or New York, it seems that Denver does have a significant place in gay history. Did you ever come through here when you were on the road in the ‘70s and ‘80s?

Bruce Vilanch: I was there when I toured with Bette Midler, and every show we did was a gay pride show in one way or another. We played Red Rocks in ‘73, and Fiddler’s Green—all the outdoor venues, because it was such an outdoor act. So yeah, I’ve seen it evolve over the years. But you’re right: Everything lives in the shadow of San Francisco.

With so much of gay history being routed in the entertainment world of bars and cabarets, was there any standup comedy in there, particularly during the years you were coming up?

Not really. There was some, but not very much in the ‘70s and ‘80s. There were a lot of cabaret performers, who had a very gay style. I wrote for a lot of them; many were drag queens. Like Waylon Flowers, who had a drag queen puppet. But when the big comedy explosion happened in the ‘80s, it was such a straight thing. So many people were still in the closet, and those clubs were a bastion of heterosexuality. The jokes were about dating girls and all that, so it was hard for a gay comic to be popular. But there were a few who broke through. Jason Stuart was one of the first ones.

Looking back, there was a significant amount of homophobia in the jokes that were popular at that time, like Sam Kinison’s AIDS jokes, or even Bill Hick’s bit about lesbians. Do you think that kept a lot of gay comedians in the closet?

Yeah, they were scared it would be a hostile environment. They didn’t want to be a part of it.

You still see some of that today in places like the Comedy Central roasts.

Yes, but many young people today aren’t bigots, because they don’t see people through the same lens. They don’t see the humor in it. So it’s slowly dying away. Now that an NBA player has come out, it’s more difficult to make those kinds of jokes. There will always be jokes about “types,” jokes about ethnicities, women, men—you can’t bleach the humor out of everything in the world, and someone will always be offended by something. But one of the things that is going away is the time-honored joke about being mistaken for being gay. Because what does it matter now?

But you were an out comedian a time when that did mean something. I was just listening to an interview with David Sedaris, and he was saying that in 1960s North Carolina it was literally the worst label you could have, saying he saw someone on TV he thought might be gay, but then assumed that person wasn’t because they wouldn’t allow a gay man on television.

Well, I grew up in New York, so it wasn’t the worst thing. New York was more sophisticated and more diverse. In North Carolina it might’ve been the worst thing, because that was the Bible Belt. The last bastion of homophobia is religious bigotry. The last argument left against same-sex marriage is religion. So if you come from a place like the South, in the era where David grew up, then of course it was the worst possible thing. But I came from New York, where being a Nazi was worse. Hands down.

When you started writing for movies and doing Hollywood Squares, was there complete comfort with being an out comedian?

I inherited what I call what I call Paul Lynde’s chair. There was always a gay presence on Hollywood Squares—but it was known as “the wacky neighbor,” “the eccentric uncle,” it was always unspoken. We all knew that these guys were gay—like Richard Simmons, Rip Taylor, Charles Nelson Reilly—they all did a certain kind of gay character. But they never referred to their sexuality. I was one of the first to actually talk about it, talk about guys I was dating.

I got in a lot of trouble with that, a lot of the affiliates in places like Texas didn’t want to hear any of that. I would get feedback from the producers saying that the guy who runs a station in Waco, Texas, called saying, “He’s very funny, but why must he be so gay?” But those were usually the same people who called about Whoopi and asked, why must she be so black?

That’s part of the reason Ellen DeGeneres’s sitcom got cancelled. She’d told the network that as soon as I come out, who am I going to date on the show? I’m going to have to start dating other women. Why don’t you just take the show off the air after the coming-out episode, because you’re not going to be happy. And they said no, that the ratings were too great. Well, exactly what she prophesied came to pass—six months later they dumped the show. And it was for all the reasons she said they would.

Beyond your character, you’re known primarily for writing jokes for other comics. And while I don’t want to say there’s a specifically gay personality type, there often can be a kind of gay comedy style. Did you inject any of that flavor into the jokes you were writing for straight comics?

Probably. But it wasn’t deliberate. It was probably just the mindset I was in. Some of the things I wrote for Whoopi had a certain gay slant. We had one joke on the Oscars after she’d dressed as Queen Elizabeth, and she said, “Sorry, I had to get out of that costume. You can’t rush a queen—if you’ve ever had you’re hair done, you know you can’t rush a queen.” So it was a joke about how all gay people are hairdressers. It was a joke in quotes. I’ve done that here and there.

I certainly did that when Bette was starting. The voice that the Divine Miss M had was the voice of a gay man. Which was what made her so entertaining, among other things. You didn’t hear a woman speak like that—you heard a lot of men speak like that, if you were paying attention. One of the reasons she was attracted to that, was it was about being on the outside looking in. As a woman she was on the outside looking at all the beautiful people saying, “I’m beautiful too, you just don’t know it yet.” And that’s a very traditional gay thing, and a traditional Jewish thing: I can’t be a part of your world, so I’m going to create my own world.”

You’ve also written a lot for Robin Williams, and it seems like that gay flavor of comedy works very well for him, too. Even though he’s a straight male.

That’s true, he does have that attitude. I was going to say he’s pansexual, but that’s not quite right—he’s Peter Pan-sexual. He adopts all kinds of attitudes. And when he suddenly spews them out they’re fully formed characters. You know exactly who that guy or that woman is that he’s doing, but he’ll only give you two lines. It’s an entire character in two lines, and then he’ll move onto the next one—that’s his genius.

There’s one thing I want to touch on that has nothing to do with gay culture, it’s more for my own personal curiosity: You were involved in writing The Star Wars Holiday Special.

God yes, and proud of it!


Sure. I’m writing a book write now, and I’m thinking of titling it: How I Wrote the Three Worst Television Shows in History. There’s The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, which is a work of rare art. And there are so many vying for third place. They tend to be the ones I hear the most about from people. They look me up on IMDB and say, “Oh, my god, you did that? That was so awful!”

As a big Star Wars geek, one of the many failures that stands out to me about The Holiday Special is the idea—whoever was responsible for it—that a family of wookies could be entertaining in a domestic setting. I mean, the first twenty minutes of the film has no English dialogue, it’s all wookies grunting at each other. Who thought a wookies could carry a movie with lead roles?

That was George Lucas’s idea. I’ll probably tell the story on Friday night. George had about ten stories ready to go, and six of them he sold off as films, and The Holiday Special was the last one left in the pile. I don’t think even he thought it was going to be done anywhere.

He buried it forever, but then people put it on the Internet. So a whole generation of kids who had grown up watching the first three movies on their VCRs discovered there was this thing they never knew existed, that was done before many of them were probably born. And they looked at it and said, “Holy shit! What a desecration—how could he!” And they went after him for it. Chatrooms were lit aflame.

Bruce Vilanch will perform with Chuck Roy and Hippie Man at 8 p.m., Friday, May 17, at Tracks, 3500 Walnut Street. Tickets are $20: for more information visit

Video: Bruce Vilanch Tells All Interview Part 1

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

You and Me sits down and talks to comedic writer Bruce Vilanch, about working with Bette Midler, being starstruck, and losing weight on Celebrity Fit Club.