Bitter and Better

GO chats with singer/actor Lea DeLaria

On the day after the opening night of her new show, Lea DeLaria Is the Last Butch Standing: Chronicles of an Old School Butch in a Post-Ellen, Modern Queer World, at 54 Below, DeLaria is tired but happy. Bright of eye, green of hair, she talked about her latest venture, one of many in a long career that has seen her perform in venues from Broadway to way, way off; comedy clubs, concert halls, jazz clubs, in recording studios and in front of TV and film cameras. And, of course, she invented the lesbian U-Haul joke.

She likes this venue, a new cabaret/supper club in the space below Studio 54: “It’s sort of like an uptown version of Joe’s Pub, but run by Broadway guys. They have people like Patti Lupone and Andrea McArdle, and they have people like me, Justin Bond and Jackie Hoffman.” DeLaria continues the run of her show on Aug. 6, at 9:30pm. Tickets range from $25-$35, with a cover charge of $25.

DeLaria has been working on The Last Butch Standing… for about a year, and played it in Toronto last summer.

“Now that I know the format, and the material, I want to continue working on it with a writing partner, and a good director who’s also a good editor. I think this is going to be a book musical,” she said.

What it’s about, she says, is evident from the title: “It’s a lot of stuff that could get me in trouble with the BLT community…I mean the GLBT, etc. community. By the time you get through all the letters, the parade’s over. Sometimes I hate modern gay people; so many of them want to be accepted so badly. I don’t need to be accepted: I demand your fucking respect.

“Everyone’s getting on the ‘It Gets Better’ bandwagon…like bullying was invented in the 21st century. We need to teach them not to be victims, to grow a sack, and fight back, because suicide is insanity. It gets better…but it gets bitter, too.”

It’s the “butches and nelly queens” who got the queer movement started, DeLaria says, and who are being pushed to the sidelines as the move toward the mainstream gains momentum. And she also makes a point of reminding us that the people that rioted at Stonewall and founded ACT-UP formed a movement that’s not just about being the same as straight people. It’s about being allowed to be who you are. She’s bitter because she cares.

The show combines DeLaria’s comedy with her music, and she notes that in NYC it’s drawn a mixed audience: jazz lovers, Broadway fans, gay men (“well, that’s pretty much the same thing”). In her opening show, DeLaria kidded with an older straight woman about her excellent rack, and accepted actress/singer Natalie Joy Johnson’s offer to sit on her face. She closed the show with her rendition of I Can Cook Too, from the Broadway show On the Town, in which she made a critically acclaimed appearance in the 1998 revival.

DeLaria’s collected her very mixed audience from her standup, film, TV and stage appearances, and over the last decade or so as a jazz performer and recording artist. She’s currently making a new album (her fifth), following The Very Best of Lea DeLaria, Be a Santa, The Live Smoke Sessions (a jazz dics recorded live at NYC’s Smoke club); Double Standards (jazzy covers of pop hits), and Play it Cool, her first jazz CD. The new one is House of David: delaria + bowie = jazz, and it’s (you guessed it) jazz covers of Bowie songs. She recently played a series of children’s jazz shows in London. Really.

DeLaria’s constantly working in one genre or another in the U.S. and England. Earlier this year she was seen singing “Bali Hai” in Icelandic while dressed in a Bjork-style swan dress in the off-Broadway play Out of Iceland. She’ll play a mom on the next season of Californication with David Duchovny, and after she finishes her run at 54 Below, DeLaria is headed out to Fire Island to perform with Sandra Bernhard on Aug. 18. The peripatetic performer will wrap up summer by taking Last Butch Standing… to the Crown & Anchor in Provincetown over Labor Day weekend.

The rest of the autumn and early winter sees her doing a series of jazz gigs in London, her home when she’s not in New York, and there’s always something on her horizon. She recently auditioned for both the parts of Little Red Riding hood in Into the Woods and the Grandmother in Pippin…but didn’t get cast as either.

“I was too old for Red and too young for Granny…I’m at that ugly in-between age,” she laughs. “I’ll just wait for the next revival of Pippin in 10 years. It’s a great part.” And when it happens, Broadway will get a butch grandma who can belt it out.

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