Huffington Post 2009

I wrote this piece for the Huffington Post about Rick Warren being asked to speak at the Obama inauguration...

As a human being, and admittedly the kind of human being I am, I feel very offended that Rick warren should be asked to speak at the inauguration of a President whose very ethos enshrines the qualities of respect and equality.

I admire Barack Obama enormously, and on one level I admire his decision to reach out and bring such a divisive figure into his camp, for I believe that in order for real progress to be made in a rigidly bipartisan political system like America it is imperative to make the people we disagree with on some issues feel that we are eager to unite on those we do, instead of our political foes feeling ostracized and left out in the cold - allowing their more extreme opinions to only fester further in resentment and isolation.

Mr Warren, for a religious leader, is rather progressive when it comes to acknowledging the existence and engaging with the problems of poverty and AIDS (though I could do without his defense to charges of homophobia being that his church has helped people who have contracted the disease through gay sex. Does that mean he is pro drugs because he has helped people who contracted AIDS through sharing needles? Give me a break).

But of course he is rigidly anti-abortion (I refuse to say pro-life. It is another example of America’s need to disnefy the real world. Hello? If you don’t want women to be able to choose what they do with their bodies then you are anti-abortion. And people don’t pass, they die.  Just say it!), and his opinions about the LGBT community have been well documented of late.

In many ways Rick Warren is like a lot of people we know - friend’s dads or people we meet on planes that are pleasant but occasionally offer an opinion that gives you a startling glimpse into the darkness of their souls. Comparing same-sex relationships being legitimized with incest and pedophilia is a case in point.

I am in a same-sex relationship (fully legitimized, incidentally, by the UK government) and so I can understand how my comments here could be perceived as biased, a knee-jerk reaction to my relationship being placed alongside illegal acts, but bear with me.

I, like the majority of Americans, feel that gay people are unfairly discriminated against and it is time they were afforded equal rights.  I have heard the President-elect espouse these same opinions many times, and unlike some friends I have talked to over the last few days, I have no fears that he has altered these opinions in any way or that the invitation to Mr Warren compromises them and his desire to see them enacted into law.

Obama is very clearly showing his promise to be everyone’s President - from little, lefty queers like me to big, right-wing religious bigots like Rick Warren.

(And he is a bigot, go look it up in the dictionary).

But wait! I can see his point about gay marriage! Much as he misled his congregation about Proposition 8 with the fear-mongering notion that ministers would be arrested for not promoting some gay agenda if it passed, he does have a reasonable point that marriage has been defined in a certain way (i.e. not between two dirty queers) for many years (he claims five thousand but who’s counting?), and as we all know as we emerge exhausted from this last election, change is difficult.

I see his issue with it. And Mr Warren does seem to support equality for the gay community in all other ways, so it seems to be merely a semantic issue with the use of the word ‘marriage’.

If he, and many other millions of Americans, cannot handle the word ‘marriage’ in reference to two men or two women, and if that is the only stumbling block to him being able to embrace equality and the end of prejudice against gays, then fine! Fine, Mr Warren, keep your ‘marriage’!

I actually think the gay rights’ movement has shot itself in the foot with the insistence on this actual word. For me, the most important thing is that I have the same rights and protections as any other human being, whether I wish to enter into a legally recognized relationship or whether I wish to remain single.  And as things stand right now, I have neither.

I am not even actually ‘married’. I ‘entered into a civil partnership’. Of course everyone, even the man who conducted the ceremony called it ‘marriage’ but technically, legally it is a civil partnership – one incidentally that straight people can enter into too. So are we to believe that Mr Warren and his fellow Americans would feel comfortable if the US government followed the UK model (where the word ‘marriage’ was also a small moot point?)

Maybe - in the spirit of the new United States of Obamica - the gay community needs to reach out and say that if the end of a civil rights’ struggle rests around the interpretation of one word, then it is willing to forego that word and use another, or others.

But why should they?  Obama has shown his empathy for gay marriage by pointing out that his parents’ marriage was illegal in many states when he was born. (Incidentally he said 12, but it was actually 22 according to Politifact.com).  Would he have been fine with saying his parents entered into a civil partnership?  Maybe. But would he be fine with hearing that his parents’ marriage was akin to a brother marrying his sister or a paedophile marrying a child? I think not.

And that, finally, is what is so upsetting and insulting about the idea that Rick warren will be standing on the podium on this great day of celebration for a new America: because this whole thing is not about gay rights or policy or differences of opinion, it is about human decency and respect. Let’s face it, a generation ago Rick Warren would have made Barack Obama sit at the back of the bus, and now it’s the gays who are back there and we feel kind of lonely.

I Do

Ned Stresen-Reuter shot a video for our friend David Raleigh's single I Do!
The video is full of our friends and even our dogs, and we also asked people to use footage of their weddings from YouTube. 
We shot over a couple of days in August in NYC and upstate NY, and Ned and I cut it whilst on vacation on the island of Oronsay, Scotland.

The Real Cabaret

I presented another documentary for BBC4 entitled The Real Cabaret.  In it I interviewed some of the people who'd been involved with the movie and original musical (Liza, John Kander, Joe Masteroff) but also went to Berlin to find out about the real cabaret artistes of the time, and what fates befell them. I also visit the actual flat Christopher Isherwood lived which was where he had the inspiration to write Goodbye to Berlin, the book that Cabaret is based on.

Riverworld

Riverworld is based on the series of book by Phillip Jose Farmer.  I returned to Vancouver to shoot a cameo in this mini-series for my old friends at The Sci-fi Channel, RHI and Reunion Pictures. (I had previously worked on Tin Man with them).

 I play the Judas Caretaker, an alien (natch), who seems as confused about what is going on in Riverworld as everyone else!! Actually he knows more than he's letting on but as the whole thing is a sort of allegory for the afterlife and reincarnation, no-one really says what they really mean.  When it comes out, you'll understand.

Newsweek Grey Gardens Article

If you’re a friend of Dorothy’s, are you somehow duty bound to idolize Judy Garland? If you’re not the marrying kind, are you genetically pre-disposed to find Joan Crawford a role model? And if you bat for the other team why should the news that a 35 year old documentary was to be adapted into a drama have sent shivers of ecstasy and foreboding through your community? Well, that’s what happened when news first leaked out that Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore were to embody the sacred beings that are the Beales of Grey Gardens.

 

Grey Gardens is not a gay movie, but there is no question that it has a huge and loyal fan base amongst gay men, and little Edie is definitely a gay icon.

But why?  What makes one? Who decides? Is there a gay icon award committee?  And isn’t the slavish devotion to certain figures by a whole community slightly menacing and spooky?  Kind of fascistic?

 

I have always felt that one of the bad things about gay culture is its tendency to self-ghettoize. Of course at the same time I understand why that happens: we all want to belong. Most gay people, even today, will have lived some of their lives in an environment where their true selves are not tolerated at all – and let’s not forget every gay person in America is living in a country where their government does consider them to be worthy of the same rights as any straight person - so you can understand why suddenly being able to identify with your tribe is a joyous and liberating thing. But here’s my beef: By wearing the same clothes, having the same haircut, listening to the same music and having the same icons as your peers you are not just wearing a uniform but are also becoming it, and the creativity and above all individuality that once was associated with being ‘different’ is watered down or, at very best, homogenized.

 

Of course usually the characters that we take to our hearts are utterly individual, creative and march to their own tune. Perhaps they are a reflection of who we hope to be? Is that it? But which self-respecting gay man wants to be trapped in a racoon-infested mansion wearing pantyhose on his head?

No, it’s more than just that. If it was just staunch individuals that we vaunted then the gay icon net would have a much larger trawl.

 

I think it’s pretty simple: gay men of a certain age have a special affinity to people who, like them, have faced adversity, and who, like them, have had to fight to become the person they want to be. This adversity could be drugs, it could be even a fictional adversity in the movies a certain actress might play, it could be a smothering and undermining mother who will not let little Edie go back to New York and live her dreams. But our icons all tend to be vulnerable but strong in the face of adversity, and, of course, stylish in their fight.

 

And if that sounds a little puerile, remember how potent these icons can be: the Stonewall riots that sparked the gay rights movement happened the night of Judy Garland’s funeral. Talk about the straw that broke the camel’s back.

 

I mention gay men of a certain age because I have found that the type of icon has changed as the years, and, to a certain extent, the prejudices, have gone by. Nowadays, gay icons tend to be heavier on the fabulousness factor than the conquering adversity thing.  Kelly Clarkson’s battle with her record company to allow her inner rocker to shine through seems the biggest struggle that the Beyonce brigade have to contend with. Britney of course made a valiant attempt but is now firmly back in the bipolar closet.  So it is to the past we must look to see the women whose struggle is both a reminder of our own and an inspiration to keep up the fight.

 

At its heart the concept of holding people in high esteem who are strong, independent and spirited is a really positive thing, so why have we cornered the market on them?  Why doesn’t the straight world get in on the act?  Don’t straight people have to face adversity and long to be able to live lives other than their own, and to be a bit glam?

Sure they do! But maybe it’s a question of semantics.  If something has the prefix ‘gay’ it tends to be quite marginalizing. I’m sure there are lots of butch frat boys, preppy Wall St types or hip-hop brothas who loved Wonder Woman and understand the concept of someone having to keep something hidden about themselves, even though it is a strong and beautiful thing. However, we all know how unlikely they are to eulogize knowing that Lynda Carter’s alter ego is a defacto ambassador for gayness.

 

Which brings me to my last point… Can we stop the gay thing? I am bored with being defined by what goes on in my underpants.  I would like to advocate the increased use of the word ‘queer’. Queer isn’t just about where you put your genitals. Queer is about sensibility. So you don’t need to be gay to be queer, indeed some of the queerest people I know are straight. But they think outside the box, and they can appreciate those who don’t necessarily think the way they do. My mum is a bit queer. Obama is definitely queer. Edie Beale is very queer. I think if more people would realise and embrace their queerness, we’d all be the better for it.

 

At the end of the brilliant new HBO version of Grey Gardens, Little Edie is seen performing her raucous  and idiosyncratic cabaret act in a Greenwich village club, reveling in her new found freedom to be who she has always wanted to be. Here’s hoping we all get that lucky.

Scotland on Screen

I was asked by the BBC to host a documentary that goes to various parts of Scotland where movies have been shot, and examines how they have represented the areas and also how the locals feel about the films today.
We went to Mull for I Know Where I'm Going, to Glencoe for Braveheart, Cumbernauld for Gregory's Girl (where I toured round the locations with director Bill Forsyth), to Kircudbrightshire for Wicker Man and to Edinburgh for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

My Brilliant Britain

I was asked to make a half hour documentary for the UK channel Blighty about the thing I thought was most brilliant about Britain. I chose Scottish humour, and so went on a madcap journey round my homeland interviewing people (including my mum) about what are the ingredients of Scottish humour, how we use it and how it defines us in the world.  Below is the actual film that was broadcast, but first here's a little film I made with my flip video during the shoot.

Real Time with Bill Maher

I was a guest on Bill Maher's show in LA in late February. I had just returned from Australia and was a little woozy and so a little nervous because you need to be on top of it on that show, but I had a great time.  My fellow guests were the lovely mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom - surely set to become the next governor of California - and the very nice and chatty P.J. O'Rourke.  Bill was on great form as ever. I really like him.  I love how ballsy he is and, unlike his right wing peers, his opinions are backed up by research, fact and wit.

Web Therapy

Last Christmas I discovered Web Therapy, the internet series about an online therapist starring Lisa Kudrow, and I watched the whole season in one hilarious, satisfying gulp.  I love Lisa. She is a total genius, a really innovative and fearless performer.
We worked together on Romy and Michele's High School Reunion back in 1996 and have kept in touch so I emailed her to tell her how amazing I thought Web Therapy was.  She wrote back and said they were doing a second season and would I like to be in it? 
So about 6 weeks later I was in LA looking into a camera with Lisa's face projected onto it, trying my best to remain in character as her hilarious creation, Fiona Wallace, made me want to crack up, not to mention having to listen to Don Roos and Dan Bucatinsky, her co-creators, crack up in my earpiece.  It was a great day. 
Victor Garber and Dan Bucatinsky also appear in the episodes, in which I play a Scottish mogul, Austen Clarke, who becomes smitten with Dr Wallace.

I Bought A Blue Car Today 2009

I had wanted to do a concert for a very long time, but I had been terrified at the prospect of singing without the veil of a character. Every now and then when I was very brave, or had been emotionally blackmailed, I would sing a song at a gala or an event as myself, and really was amazed by the connection I felt between me and the audience.

In 2009 I was asked to take part in the American Songbook Series at New York's Lincoln Center, and I bit the bullet and said yes. Three amazing things happened:

1. I felt the fear and did it anyway!
2. I really enjoyed the experience of playing myself.
3. A whole new career doing concerts around the world opened up to me.

A couple of weeks after the American Songbook premiere, I flew to Australia and performed I Bought A Blue Car Today as part of the Mardi Gras festival. That summer, I recorded an album of the same name, which was released in the fall. In September, I took the show to the Vaudeville Theatre in London's West End and when I returned to the US, I played dates at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, at Dallas' 2X2 festival, the High Line Ballroom in New York City, as well as two week long runs at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.

At the end of the year I returned to Australia to perform again at the Sydney Opera House and the Brisbane Powerhouse. In all these concerts I was joined by my musical director, Lance Horne.

Ecstacy! Trojan condom commercial


My friend Ned Stresen-Reuter and I were approached by Trojan condoms to make another film for them, this time about a new condom called, wait for it, Ecstasy! In the meeting we had about it, I mentioned that the shape of the condom was somewhat curious, and Dan from the advertising agency said 'Yes, it's shaped like a baseball bat!'.  That was the beginning of a germ of an idea...
I thought something as ecstatic needed a theme with pizzazz so we wrote a 50s style musical.  Lance Horne helped us write the music and the lovely Ricki Lake came along and played with me.  We shot it at the Box in NYC and we all had a hoot.