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Bruce Vilanch was born in 1948 in New York City, and raised by his adoptive parents Jonas and Henne in Paterson, New Jersey. He developed an early passion for acting and was a child model for Lane Bryant. After high school, he studied theater and journalism at Ohio State University.  

Post-college, Bruce joined the staff of the Chicago Tribune in 1974, covering youth culture. Through this job, he met Bette Midler, who asked him to write some jokes for her. He went on to co-write several entire shows for Bette from Divine Madness (1980) to The Show Must Go On (2008). In between, Bruce wrote for Bette’s TV show as well as The Brady Bunch Variety Hour and Donny and Marie, and helped veteran funnyman Paul Lynde develop jokes for his unforgettable role on Hollywood Squares.

In 1989, Bruce wrote material for the Academy Awards, scoring consecutive Emmy Awards in 1991 and 1992 for his efforts. In the 1990s, he was hired to help launch a new version of Hollywood Squares. Starting off as the series’ head writer, Bruce subsequently went on-camera ‘next door’ to Whoopi Goldberg. Overnight, Bruce became a phenom in his own right, breaking new ground as one of the first openly and uproariously gay comics on TV. To crown his comedic career, Bruce performed the role of Edna Turnblad in the 2004 Broadway production of Hairspray, reprising the role played in the 1988 film by Divine.

In addition to his acting and writing work, Bruce has served on the honorary board of Aid for AIDS, and hosted and appeared at countless AIDS fundraisers. He also wrote and hosted a fundraiser for the Los Angeles charity Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS), which helps people living with HIV/AIDS to care for their pets. In 1997, Bruce received GLAAD’s Stephen F. Kolzak Award for his outsized presence and charisma in support of the LGBTQ community.

On the day of Bruce’s interview, OUTWORDS had one question (besides all of the other questions we typically ask our subjects): what t-shirt would Bruce wear? The correct answer was a black t-shirt with ‘VERA CHARLES in MIDSUMMER MADNESS’ emblazoned on the front – a reference to Auntie Mame, possibly the most iconic queer film of all time. Bruce was, of course, funny – but he was also tender-hearted and fierce. We laughed, we cried, and we were inspired.
Mason Funk: [00:00:00] Where is it, in Central Hollywood or ...
Bruce Vilanch: It's in Hollywood and Highland, basically right around there.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. Start by just telling us who you are and spell your name out for us.
Bruce Vilanch: Wait, isn't that the movie's job? Excuse me so much.
Mason Funk: [crosstalk] for the transcriber, the person who will-
Bruce Vilanch: Oh I see.
Mason Funk: Just, sorry, one sec, we're going to close the door in there.
Bruce Vilanch: That's okay.
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] More. Oh I see. [inaudible]. This is just so when someone transcribes it without being able to see who's talking, they'll be able to attribute this rich material to the right person. No one's ever asked you that before, the old start with your name and spell it for us?
Bruce Vilanch: [00:01:00] Yeah, but then you didn't ask me that. You asked me to tell you everything about myself, to let them know who I was. I thought you meant I have to do the CV for you.
Mason Funk: Oh no, I just meant ... I must've [crosstalk].
Bruce Vilanch: You're like people on the elevator who say, "What have I seen you on?"
Mason Funk: [inaudible]. Just start with your name and spell it out.
Bruce Vilanch: I'm Amy Schumer and I'd like to discuss my vagina in some depth. In fact, my vagina is of some depth, which is why I'm a star. When I'm not working under that name,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:01:30] I work under Bruce Vilanch, writer, actor, comedian, stripper. You name it, you book it, you've got it.
Mason Funk: Good stuff, good stuff. Tell us a little about your family. Tell me where and when you were born. You mentioned your mom, your dad, and your grandmother. I'm curious about all of them.
Bruce Vilanch: I was born almost 70 years ago, if you can believe it, because I'm a blond and we never tell, in New York,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:02:00] in the heart of New York, New York. At four days of age I was adopted and taken to Paterson, New Jersey. That was the first step down. It was the beginning of the spiral. I was adopted by brilliant, fabulous people and I grew up in Paterson. My father was a doctor. My mother was a reformed showgirl. She had always wanted to be a singer and dancer, and instead she got married and became a doctor's wife.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:02:30] She became a singer and dancer in benefits and charity shows. That is something I have followed in her stead for years.I grew up there. I was a child actor. I was never a child star, or we'd be having this conversation in rehab. They encouraged me, because they realized that I had a good time when I was performing. I went to a professional children's camp, kind of like Fame, in the Berkshires. It was run by a man named Ted Mack.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:03:00] Ted Mack was the Simon Cowell of his dad. The Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour was a television show, and he's famous for being the guy who rejected Elvis because he was too sexy, but he took Ann-Margret, who lost to a woman who played Lady of Spain on the leaf. Ted encouraged me, and I just kept working.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:03:30] My parents always wanted me to have what they call something to fall back on. Since I started writing when I was in high school and I showed a talent for that and was involved in the school paper and that kind of stuff, they encouraged me to go to college with a journalism major and theater major combined, which I did. That was at Ohio State. After I left the Buckeye State, I had a couple of jobs in the Miami Herald, Detroit Free Press, and wound up at the Chicago Tribune,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:04:00] where I was covering features in show business and also doing commercials and acting and always never letting go of that.I met Bette Midler, who was just starting out. She was on Broadway in Fiddler on the Roof, and on her vacation, she came to Chicago to do her nightclub act. I did a story about her, and she called me the day after and she said, "It's a funny story. You're a funny writer." I said, "Well you're funny. You should talk more on stage." She said, "You got any lines?" That was the beginning.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:04:30] At the moment it's been 46 years of that, which is difficult because she's only 32.
Mason Funk: Do you happen to remember those lines you wrote for her?
Bruce Vilanch: They were mostly Chicago jokes. They were all topical, and very double entendre. There was Chicago, at the time they would name the buildings. The Hancock Building was Big John,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:05:00] and the Standard Oil Building was Big Stan, and Mayor Richard Daley wanted to have a building named after him, it would be the Big Dick. That wasn't the first one, but it was that kind of stuff.
Mason Funk: Mostly Chicago-influenced.
Bruce Vilanch: It was all for Chicago. Then she went back into the show, and when she started doing her real show, around the country, I would call journalists I knew in other towns. At that point I was the TV critic of the Trib.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:05:30] I would call people, other TV critics who I would meet on junkets and things, and I would say, "My girl's coming to Cleveland. What's happening?" I would do my homework, my due diligence, and she would come in armed with a bunch of stuff. It became one of the things that people looked forward to, because they were always astonished when you know anything about them. Since most of the shows that people get on the road are canned, they do the same thing every night, they were amazed to discover that here she had
Bruce Vilanch: [00:06:00] this raft of material that was concocted for them.
Kate Kunath: Sorry, I need to change that chair. You got a squeaker chair.
Bruce Vilanch: I do. I'm a larger ...
Bruce Vilanch: ... married him, and she was in it for three years. He left at some point.
Mason Funk: One thing I gleaned from your stories, your mother was not a frustrated former wannabe star. She was able to hold on to those parts that she loved while being a conventional housewife.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:06:30] Yeah. She wasn't Mama Rose. She wasn't doing it through me. She had a healthy love of all of that stuff. When I got well-known and she thought I could do something for her, she began nudging me to get her roles on things. She auditioned for a couple of things,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:07:00] but she wasn't an actress. She wasn't schooled in any of those skills, do it the same way twice, didn't know how to do that.I finally did get her a part on Law and Order. She was in the beginning of the show. She was the one who discovers the body. She was delighted. Then they told her how much it would cost her to join SAG, and she said, "What are they, nuts?"
Bruce Vilanch: [00:07:30] She said, "I'm gone by five after 10. I'm not paying that kind of money." That was the end of that. She stopped nudging me when she realized there were economic considerations.
Mason Funk: How about your dad? Was he just enjoying this from the sidelines?
Bruce Vilanch: He loved it. He loved musicals. He invested in musicals. He was a big fan of them. He was the quintessential tired businessman. He was the tired business doctor, doctor man. He was a core member of the Broadway audience. He saw a lot of musicals. He took us, took me to see everything.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:08:00] He was a core member of the Broadway audience. He saw a lot of musicals. He took us, took me to see everything.I think he just got a huge kick out of having these two eccentric characters in his house, in his life. He was 11 years older than my mother. She was 20 and he was already 31, 32 when he married her, so he knew what he was getting. He knew he was getting this crazy, volatile,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:08:30] theatrical person. I took after her a lot, although he was very methodical, and I have discovered as I've gotten older that I have a lot of his habits too.Doctors, if they're good, have a very acute bullshit factor, because one of the things that they are taught is patients aren't going to tell you necessarily
Bruce Vilanch: [00:09:00] the whole truth, and you have to have a second sight if you're going to be successful and effective. He had that. I don't know if I have it, but I will exercise that skill if it's there. It's gotten me out of a lot of situations, because god knows there's no bullshit in show business.
Mason Funk: It sounds like this was an adoption made in heaven [inaudible].
Mason Funk: [00:09:30] It just sounds like you fit them, they fit you, and ...
Bruce Vilanch: Yeah. We had all of the usual. My mother was also very controlling, and that was difficult. I was an only child, and so there was nobody to share any of it with. I had a lot of textbook things going on, but still, it was pretty great. I had nothing really to complain about, but of course we all find something to complain about anyway, because we're kids and they're our parents and that's the nature of it.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:10:00] At a certain point we have to hate them because they represent everything square, because we know what's hip.
Mason Funk: Then how about your grandmother? Whose mother was she? How did she fit in?
Bruce Vilanch: She was actually nobody's mother.
Mason Funk: Sorry, I was talking, so just start over.
Bruce Vilanch: Sorry. My grandmother was actually nobody's mother. She was my mother's stepmother. The three of us were not related by blood, but we were very alike. She married my grandfather when my mother was 16. My grandfather was fairly well to do,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:10:30] and my mother had charge accounts, and my grandmother thought this was a terrible idea and canceled them all, so they started off on the wrong foot, but they bonded after that, after a while. She was very, very bright. She ran the Attorney General of Manhattan's office.My grandfather was in the cigar store business. He had a tobacco place, a retail tobacco shop in Wall Street, and all of the big
Bruce Vilanch: [00:11:00] New York muckety-mucks were his clients. He was a character about town. He showed up in the columns a lot.She was really an incredible rebel and an activist. She believed in causes and she followed through. She could be a pain in the ass because she really was sincere in all of these things. After he died, the first thing
Bruce Vilanch: [00:11:30] they say is that after my uncle, my mother's brother, bought a chicken farm in South Jersey because he wanted to get away from everything, and so in solidarity, they bought a chicken farm in South Jersey. My grandfather retired and they raised chickens on this farm, which it went under so fast because he treated the chickens like cigars. He'd brand each egg. It was ridiculous. He had a good time. Then after a few years they ended that and moved to Miami.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:12:00] I would go down to Miami and see them. They lived on the beach, which was wonderful.After he died, she became a Katharine Hepburn character. She would go around the world on tramp steamers looking like something out of the Vietcong, black silk pajamas and flip-flops everywhere, and sent photos of herself here and there. It was a little touch of Auntie Mame. There'd be postcards from Mandalay and places, and her with the crew of the ship. She was pretty great.
Mason Funk: [00:12:30] Wow. Do you happen to remember any of the causes that she got behind?
Bruce Vilanch: There was a lot of Israel, a lot of Jewish things, a lot of anti-defamation. She was very big on that, and the women's branch of that stuff, B'nai B'rith. Then she was a big Democrat. She was a Stevenson Democrat.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:13:00] She was very anti-McCarthy. She was anti-Vietnam too, later on, and very vocal about it.
Mason Funk: Do you feel like, did you or do you draw inspiration from her?
Bruce Vilanch: Oh yeah. I draw a lot of inspiration from her, because she didn't give up. She kept to it. She felt that there was a responsibility, and not just because
Bruce Vilanch: [00:13:30] she had a good life and was privileged, but because she thought that we all had a responsibility to keep this democracy afloat. Partially I think that came from, she was born in 1899 and her parents had come over. She was born here, but her parents had come over, and everybody they knew had come over.They had all come over because they were escaping intense repression and death, and systematic repression.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:14:00] It was very meaningful that this country work, because it was the port of last resort. She had that. That was the gut spirit that she had and that all of that immigrant wave had that it's hard to understand today, especially when we have somebody in the White House who depicts immigrants as criminals.
Mason Funk: [00:14:30] Wow. When you talk about that spirit of immigration, I get excited and then I'm like, "Oh shit." For whatever reason, since day one, I went to Australia recently, and they have a really, really beautiful display at the Harbor in Sydney with immigrant names from all over the world carved. It's their version of Ellis Island. I just read it and the names and where they were from.
Bruce Vilanch: That's pretty amazing. The interesting thing about Australia, nobody came over on the Mayflower.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:15:00] Everybody traces their lineage back to a guy who used to shoplift, and was given the choice of going to jail or Australia, so nobody can be too high and mighty. They can try, but ultimately somebody is there to pull the rug out from under them, because they all know where they all started.
Mason Funk: I think that's why if someone has heirs, they're just so good at [inaudible].
Bruce Vilanch: Taking the piss.
Mason Funk: [00:15:30] Exactly, taking the piss out, exactly. I love your grandmother. I'm glad she's not alive to see what Trump's up to.
Bruce Vilanch: Yeah. She would ...
Mason Funk: You were their only child. Did that cause you to feel any feelings of pressure in your family?
Bruce Vilanch: Of pressure?
Mason Funk: Pressure like, "You're the only one." [crosstalk].
Bruce Vilanch: Not until I was an adult when it all fell on me to take care of them. Also, my father died when I was 30, but I had my mother for 67 years.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:16:00] She was fiercely independent and took care of herself to the very end, but there was nobody to share any of that with. I had no siblings. It was me and whoever else I corralled into doing it.I had the standard pressure that Jewish boys of that era had to succeed, to be professionals, doctors, lawyers, or to have
Bruce Vilanch: [00:16:30] someone who goes into some incredible business. Because it was clear early that I was not going to inherit my father's practice, because our joke was I had no patience, they were encouraging me to go into law. We went to see Compulsion with Orson Welles as a Clarence Darrow character defending Leopold and Loeb. They said, "See, you could be a trial lawyer. Look how theatrical he is in the courtroom!" I thought, "
Bruce Vilanch: [00:17:00] Nice try. I want to be the theatrical lawyer in the movie. I don't want to be actually in the courtroom. No no no."
Mason Funk: Was writing as your so-called fallback position, was that good enough as a fallback?
Bruce Vilanch: For me it was. The kind of writing I was doing was entertainment writing, and so it was a fallback. They intended it to be a financial fallback. This was in the '60s. They said, "Oh,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:17:30] well newspapers will never go out of style." Hello. Who knew what was coming? I guess that person who bought the first block of Microsoft knew what was coming. At the time it seemed like, "Well yeah, it's a big business." They specifically pushed me. They didn't ask me to go be a poet. They wanted me to be the kind of writer who gets a check every week.
Mason Funk: It was writing within boundaries. When and why did you make your way to L.A. from Chicago?
Bruce Vilanch: [00:18:00] I'd been in Chicago five years, and I was writing for Bette, and she was happening, and a lot of people were asking me to write for them. I had a whole list of people I was writing for, Joan Rivers and Richard Pryor and George Carlin, David Steinberg. I had a really good bunch. Bette's people were all happening. Barry Manilow was her piano player. He had stepped out. Melissa Manchester was a Harlette.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:18:30] She stepped out. Luther Vandross was the backup singer. He stepped out. It just went on. She attracted such talented people.Among the people she had around her were her dressers, very exotic woman named Fayette, and Fayette who had been one of the Cockettes in San Francisco, which was a fabulously flamboyant group in the '60s and '70s.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:19:00] Fayette's brother was Tim Hauser, who started the Manhattan Transfer. They came to Bette, and we thought they were brilliant. She got them a record deal. She got them a management contract. We put an act together for them. They got a summer television series replacing Cher, who I was also writing for.I came out here to do the Manhattan Transfer show in 1975, and I stayed. Everybody always,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:19:30] "Oh you had your bags packed." It's true. I was looking for a reason to come to Hollywood, and then I stayed. I was writing a lot of that kind of stuff. It was still a lot of variety television. I started writing a whole bunch of that.
Mason Funk: Have you met along the way David Weissman, who made the film about the Cockettes?
Bruce Vilanch: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Good friend.
Bruce Vilanch: Am I in that? I'm trying to remember if I'm in it. I don't think I'm in it, because I really had no first degree of separation. I had a second degree of separation. I was friendly
Bruce Vilanch: [00:20:00] with Pristine Condition and Goldie Glitters and Tomata du Plenty and Fayette. Those were good friends of mine, but I'd never had anything to do with the Cockettes.
Mason Funk: I'm just curious, and you've probably been asked this before, when you were writing jokes for this mass assortment of people, I assumed you had to obviously get into their ... A joke for Cher doesn't work for Bette Midler and so on and so forth. How do you do that?
Bruce Vilanch: [00:20:30] I've said it in other documentaries, in other conversations I've said, it's kind of like how do you design a dress. How does Bob Mackie make something for Cher and then make something for Melissa McCarthy? Everybody looks good in something different. You won't give somebody the A-line. You won't give somebody the mermaid. In exactly the same way, you pay attention. You listen to who they are and how they deliver and
Bruce Vilanch: [00:21:00] what their thing is that they are putting forth to the public, what they're selling, the persona that they are creating, and you write to that.If I were just writing a play or a screenplay, I would create a character and I would write to that character in exactly the same way. That character of course would have a specific function in the screenplay. Most of the stuff that I write for
Bruce Vilanch: [00:21:30] these people has a specific function in their career or in the show that they're presenting. It used to be in the album that they're selling. The talk would be all around the music that was on the album and leading into and out of the songs. It's different for every person.The important thing for all of them is that they have a stage persona. What I wound up doing a lot of on all those Oscar shows that I wrote was writing stuff for people
Bruce Vilanch: [00:22:00] who had no stage persona. There is no Johnny Depp when he walks out there. If he's Captain Jack Sparrow, which he's adopted as his ... He finally has come up with something between Hunter Thompson and Captain Jack Sparrow to be his stage persona, but it's very difficult for a lot of those people.When Kristen Stewart gets out there, there's no ... You don't see Kristen Stewart at The Palace, she's coming out, "Hello Cleveland!" That's not Kristen Stewart.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:22:30] You have to find a way for her to say something. Generally that tends to be whatever the job is. If she's giving an award to somebody, it's about that person or that thing, that category, and not about anything of hers, unless there's some way to work in some kind of reference.
Mason Funk: You came out in, sorry, '75?
Mason Funk: Out to Los Angeles. When did you come out?
Bruce Vilanch: [00:23:00] Come out you mean as a homosexual like Barry Manilow?
Mason Funk: [inaudible ].
Bruce Vilanch: Who's a very good friend of mine, and I haven't read the story, because as we're shooting this, it just came out this week in People Magazine, but on the cover, of course.
Mason Funk: [crosstalk].
Bruce Vilanch: I know why, obviously, because at the time, you couldn't do that.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:23:30] He's no fool. Elton John came out as a bisexual in the early '70s and he was banned from 800 radio stations, which nobody realizes. He had to claw his way back. He had to get married after that in Australia, because that was what the times were like then. It's like the Paleozoic period now, but that's what it was like then.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:24:00] I was never in. First of all, the whole concept of coming out, I was out already. That never happened. It's a post-Stonewall thing. I was never hiding anything. I had girlfriends, and because I was interested in women, but at a certain point, I realized that wasn't what I was looking for, and any woman I would really be interested in deserved better than somebody who was going to go slinking off to the Greyhound station to pick up sailors,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:24:30] which was something that I did in that period. It's not one of my more dignified moments. I also used to eat birthday cake with my hands. That wasn't very dignified either. It bothered my mother more.
Mason Funk: "Just don't eat birthday cake with your hands."
Bruce Vilanch: [inaudible] by not eating that way at some point in your life. I was very lucky in that I was in
Bruce Vilanch: [00:25:00] not just a family, but a career that encouraged eccentricity and theatricality and flamboyance. I've always said that the real heroes are the cost accountants and the nurses and the bus drivers and the people who living in an essentially homophobic environment and who come out. Once they do come out, it's a revelation, because their coworkers and their family can put a face
Bruce Vilanch: [00:25:30] on something that has been in the abstract. It's very easy to hate in the abstract, but when somebody is there in front of you, you say, "It's Jason. How can I hate Jason?" unless they are some kind of Bible-thumping fundamentalist. Religious bigotry is the last bastion of the homophone.Otherwise, it's amazing
Bruce Vilanch: [00:26:00] you discover that you have changed the world. People keep saying to me, "What is it with all this gay stuff all of a sudden?" They look at me like ... I say, "Well the mothership landed and we all got off." I said, "No, it's just it happened because we came out," because people took the bit in their teeth and said, "I'm going to do this. I'm going to roll the dice, and whatever happens, at least I will be living an authentic existence."The upshot of it was marriage equality,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:26:30] which is a pretty big thing. Marriage equality didn't start because we all wanted to get into Vera Wangs and swish down the aisle. It started because of AIDS, because people were sick in the hospital and they couldn't take care of their partners of many years. They would watch somebody die, and their body would be turned over to a family in Kentucky that hated this person and only wanted his money and what was left. We had no rights. We had no say, no rights at all.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:27:00] It was a civil rights issue. That was what gave it its traction, the fact that it wasn't about being gay, it was about love. It all began when we started coming out.
Mason Funk: I remember I interviewed I think maybe my oldest interviewee so far, it was a woman named Shirley Greens, and she's the mother of a guy named Rob Eichberg, who wrote a book called Coming Out: An Act of Love. He passed away sadly of AIDS, but she's the keeper of legacy.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:27:30] Good.
Mason Funk: She's [95] now. I never knew about the book. I was probably too young or whatever. It was based on the premise that coming out is actually not something that's going to destroy your family. It's actually saying to your family, "I want you to know who I really am," and as such, it was a gift. I'm curious, I definitely did not grow up in a family like yours, so I'm so curious, I go, "What was it like?" When you say they encouraged theatricality and exuberance and flamboyance,
Mason Funk: [00:28:00] were there mentions, just regular open mentions of gay people like, "Oh so-and-so's gay," or was it more just a spirit?
Bruce Vilanch: Back then nobody really advertised themselves as gay. It was just they were who they were and you knew it and you just didn't say anything. The greatest example was Paul Lynde, who I replaced, into whose kelly green espadrilles I stepped when I went onto Hollywood Squares.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:28:30] It just was the only people who we knew, who my mother would ever refer to as gay were her dressmakers, Churchill and Senat. She took me into the city. They had an autelier on the Upper West Side, and I went with her for fittings, and they were two old queens. They were textbook. They looked like Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet, but '50s versions of those two.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:29:00] One was heavy and one was thin, and one was very nelly and all over the place, and the other one was very pursed lips and judgmental and critical of him. They had been together forever.They had a shop called Kinda Heaven. Kinda Heaven. Really? I was a kid and I thought, "That's pretty fruity," and I didn't even know what that meant. In my mind I thought,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:29:30] "These guys are not going with me to the polo grounds to watch Willie Mays hit a home run," which I also did because I liked baseball.There was nobody in our circle. There were people who I always thought. There were guys who I always thought were in marriages of convenience. They had children, which was a stumper until I got older and realized you can function biologically
Bruce Vilanch: [00:30:00] and still do what you like elsewhere. That was never a topic of conversation, that openness. That was never a topic of conversation.It only came up finally as a real conversation when I was drafted. It was Vietnam. There was a lottery. I had a middling number.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:30:30] I didn't have a number where I would probably be pulled in. I had a number where you had to report and go through the physical and all of that. I told them I was going to check the box. Checking the box meant there was a form you filled out, and there it had a lot of questions, and one of the questions was, "I am a practicing homosexual." If you checked that box, you were automatically disqualified. You were 4F, or in some places they had a special classification for it.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:31:00] In New Jersey where I did it, it evidently was 4F. I checked the box, and of course the sergeant, whatever, looked down the list and he said, "Are you a practicing homosexual?" I said, "No, I've got it down." He went, "Heh heh," and sent me to the psychiatrist. It was part of the routine. The psychiatrist actually had to ask you the questions that they were embarrassed to ask you. They would say, "Well, are you a top or a bottom?"
Bruce Vilanch: [00:31:30] those kinds of questions. Then they would get really graphic, because they wanted to see, A, if you knew what you were talking about, and B, if you would break down and have a big old sissy fit. I just answered them normally, because I knew my shit.The psychiatrist said to me, "Well you know, this is going to go on your record," which used to mean a lot when people would say that,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:32:00] because you had a record, you'd have a high school record, and it followed you everywhere. They would always ask for your service record, and that was your service record, that you were rejected for homosexuality. You would not get a security clearance in a lot of businesses.I had decided, and I discussed with my parents, the idea that I didn't really want to work for any place where I would have to have that kind of a security clearance, and I wouldn't want to work for any place if it didn't want me for
Bruce Vilanch: [00:32:30] that reason anyway. We agreed that that was the thing to do. I checked the box, and I got the summary of rejection. I've never seen my record, so I don't know if it's there or what. The war ended, the draft ended, the lottery ended, and on we went.
Mason Funk: Wow. That's a great story. Have you ever met Troy Perry?
Bruce Vilanch: [00:33:00] Sure.
Mason Funk: We just interviewed him.
Bruce Vilanch: I've known him for years.
Mason Funk: We interviewed him this morning.
Bruce Vilanch: I haven't seen him in ages. He was one of the first activists when I moved to L.A.
Mason Funk: That's interesting, because we like to have people talk about other people who are actors. What do you remember about Troy?
Bruce Vilanch: I remember that he was the pastor-
Mason Funk: Say his name.
Bruce Vilanch: Troy Perry was the pastor at the Metropolitan Church, which I think was around the corner from where I live now, but I was living in Laurel Canyon in those days.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:33:30] He was involved with the activist community here, which in the pre-AIDS days was at one level the gay and lesbian center, which was very small time in a storefront on Highland, and on the other, high end was an organization called MECLA, Metropolitan Election Council of Los Angeles. That was a lot of gays with money who wanted to
Bruce Vilanch: [00:34:00] get to know elected officials and help them get elected, as a strategy towards getting them to understand our issues.There would be a big MECLA dinner, fundraiser every year. In L.A., every major elected representative would attend, from the Mayor on down. It was quite a big deal. It was impressive. It was impressive because there were so many wealthy gay guys in construction.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:34:30] They weren't in hardhats. They were the guys behind. They were the money raisers, and in banking and in law. They had muscle. I think he was part of that thing. Because he was a minister, he was invaluable, because they had to find religious people who were willing to say, "Forget Leviticus.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:35:00] This is what the world is like." That's when I met him, I think, in those groups.
Mason Funk: What you said about war reminded me of him, because he also went off to the war. He actually went for two years in Vietnam. It was an interesting part of his story this morning. Back to activism, because when I put on my little questionnaire, "Do you consider yourself an activist?" you said there's a story there.
Bruce Vilanch: What was the story? Here's the story.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:35:30] Flossie, my grandmother, was an activist. She was out there with signs and things. I've never considered myself an activist because in the old school, the activists were the ones who were on the street. These days they're women wearing pink hats. They're out there marching. That to me was always activism. I was a journalist, so I was always chronicling that,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:36:00] and I felt that I couldn't be part of it because I would be diluting or the conflict of interest, whatever it would be.Then AIDS happened, and I was no longer a journalist. I was a guy in show business. Nobody would do anything. The government wouldn't help. We were a pariah. We looked at each other and said, "We have to do something. We have to."
Bruce Vilanch: [00:36:30] There were these little organizations that were volunteer-based that had started, AIDS Project Los Angeles and a couple of research foundations, and Shanti was a group that was about mental health, and they had no money. We said, "Well we can raise money." We were very Judy and Mickey, "Let's put on a show!"We would start doing these fundraisers to earmark. We started very small. Nobody wanted to do them,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:37:00] only people who were directed, who had lost people. At the beginning it was Joan Rivers, Nell Carter, whose brother was sick, Bette, who had lost a lot of friends already.What finally changed it, we couldn't get people to do it, so I would go out to people and say, "Do my benefit. If you do my benefit, I will do your benefit. I will write your show." This is how I got to know all the major diseases.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:37:30] I did March of Dimes, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, Big Brothers Big Sisters. I wound up doing all of these things, which I build relationships with and continue to do a lot of, but it was because the only way I could get it was a quid pro quo.Then Rock Hudson happened. When Rock Hudson happened, the whole thing burst open. It became a national, international story. Elizabeth Taylor stepped in
Bruce Vilanch: [00:38:00] because she was a close friend of Rock Hudson's. Elizabeth decided this was to be her cause. We're very, very lucky she did, because there would have been no AIDS fundraising without her, because she's the biggest star in the world. It was Elizabeth in this country and it was Princess Diana in England who were the two, because everybody would take their call.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:38:30] I used to joke, I still joke in my act, that everybody took Elizabeth's call, even the Pope, if just to talk jewelry. Everybody would answer Elizabeth's call. Nobody said no to her.Then it began building. Really it began happening as a result. I found that I was an activist. I was a guy doing shows, but everything I was doing was pointed towards my activist
Bruce Vilanch: [00:39:00] interests, and perhaps to the detriment of the other stuff I was doing, although I'd probably be shit kicking if I said that, because I did fine. That was my activism, and continues to be my activism, although now a lot of that stuff has been taken over by professionals who work for charities. That's because the disease mainstreamed
Bruce Vilanch: [00:39:30] and then the cocktail came and fewer people died.There is still a stigma to AIDS. I've said for years, I don't know anybody who was thrown out of their apartment because they had breast cancer, but I know I have a list of people who were thrown out of their apartments because they had AIDS, because it was a terrifying disease that everybody thought they could catch just by being on the bus with you. The joke used to be, "Can you catch AIDS
Bruce Vilanch: [00:40:00] from a toilet seat? Yes, but there has to be a guy sitting there already." It was that kind of thing.Now I'm on the board of the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, which is the largest gay and lesbian center in the world, and has a huge budget. We've just broken ground on a building that is focusing on youth and seniors. The idea when AIDS started
Bruce Vilanch: [00:40:30] that any of us could live long enough to call ourselves seniors was very alien. It wasn't anything anybody was expecting. Now here we are. We've survived. I'm negative, but we've survived. We have survived.Now we have youth, and youth don't know what this struggle was. They have to be told by the elders.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:41:00] We should have a Passover seder where we tell the AIDS story. There's something the Jewish Queers International can organize, because they have to be told. At the same time, they have to be served, because what we know now about how we can help young people when they're gay that we couldn't do before,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:41:30] because we weren't organized well enough, is immeasurably different and it has to be served.
Mason Funk: Wow. You said a mouthful. That was long. Just brings it all back. You do a very good job of evoking that era.
Mason Funk: I think for those who weren't there, aware, or alive, I think it's worth spending a little time on Rock Hudson, trying to transport people
Mason Funk: [00:42:00] who will eventually be seeing this back into this period when the so-called tipping point had not yet occurred and who Rock Hudson was and why it was such a big deal. Can you just ...
Bruce Vilanch: Rock Hudson was the quintessential male international American movie star. He was built like a rock. His real name is Roy. He was gorgeous, and like Superman.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:42:30] If he'd been around when the artist created Superman, he would've ... That's who he was. He looked like Superman. He played romantic heroes and war heroes. In the '50s he and Doris Day were a screen couple that made a whole bunch of hit movies.By the time the '70s rolled around,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:43:00] he was old, older a little bit, and he was on Dynasty, which was the Empire of its day. It was a primetime soap opera that everybody followed in an era where you couldn't really DVR things. You could, but a lot of people didn't. You'd meet to watch the thing. It was the last thing he was on.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:43:30] Shortly after he finished his season on Dynasty, he got sick. He had a series of mysterious illnesses. The word began spreading that he had this gay pneumonia, which I think actually was probably called AIDS at that time, but I forget when the word came in. He lived a totally closeted life. He had an arranged marriage,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:44:00] which ended in an arranged divorce, so he could never say that he hadn't married a woman. He wasn't a lifelong bachelor. He was somebody who'd had a bad marriage and never found the right girl the second time. He was heavily protected because he was a big investment.Once he got sick and the whispering campaign started and all that, he flew to Paris, where he heard they had some kind of a cure. Of course they didn't have a cure,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:44:30] but the French announced that he had AIDS. He had a French publicist who said that he had AIDS, but that he had been cured. Of course we all knew that was not the case.He flew home, and he got a lot of recognition. One reason was of course that he was Rock Hudson. The other was he was very close to the Reagans. Reagan was in office. Nancy Reagan, who had been Nancy Davis, an actress of Warner Bros when Rock Hudson and Ronald Reagan were actors at Warner Bros,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:45:00] were all very chummy. I think the jury is out on whether she tried to help him or they ignored it. I don't know what the real story is on that. It brought the whole thing out in the open. It brought the disease out in the open. It put a face on it, the fact that somebody as robustly healthy and butch and American could get this disease and
Bruce Vilanch: [00:45:30] was gay was a double whammy.This was, I have to say, mollified a couple of years later when Magic Johnson tested positive, because he was some beautiful American man, athlete superstar, straight, and got it. That made the disease ... It took a left in the public's perception.With Rock Hudson, it all really fell on his shoulders. That's when Elizabeth stepped in and organized
Bruce Vilanch: [00:46:00] the first major, major fundraiser, which I wrote. It was called The Commitment To Life. The beneficiary was APLA, which was the L.A. service charity who was taking care of people who were sick and couldn't afford food and all of that. It was a big deal. Rock was supposed to be there, and of course he couldn't be there.One of the things that had happened on Dynasty, the soap opera, was he had kissed, in what appeared to be a very
Bruce Vilanch: [00:46:30] real kiss, Linda Evans, who was the star of the show, the blonde star. Joan Collins was the brunette star of the show, but Linda was the one his character had a relationship with, and he had kissed her. Word spread, "Oh my god, is she sick? Will she get it? Will she do that?" I remember a woman named Shirley Fanning who was the L.A. County Public Health Director went on TV and said, "Folks, it's television, they know how to do these kisses. If they knew what was happening, they didn't ...
Bruce Vilanch: [00:47:00] It looks more than it is. Nothing was transmitted." There was this tremendous concern.Because Rock couldn't show up, and in fact, probably at that point didn't know what was going on, his people wrote a letter to the community that Linda read. Linda got up and read. The fact that she was there
Bruce Vilanch: [00:47:30] reading this letter from him, which was of course totally fake, but it was a letter from him, it was how the people around him felt, but it was just thanking them and saying that they had to continue the fight and all of that, and indicated that she wasn't concerned, she was in his corner, and that you should put a stop to all of this trash talk. That was obviously the press highlight of the show. It was a big deal.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:48:00] We gave an award to Betty Ford, who of course had saved Elizabeth's life when Elizabeth went into rehab, and saved her own life. She was symbolic of going on, having a disease, and conquering and going on and fighting. It was a parade of major stars, Sammy Davis and Shirley MacLaine and Rod Stewart and Cyndi Lauper and all of those people. That was pretty big.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:48:30] Then after that, in the couple of years after that, Madonna came on board, because she was surrounded by people who she'd come up with in the village and they were all gone, and so she wrote a lot of checks. She wrote a lot of checks. She would donate proceeds of an entire concert to various charities. She didn't do it in a showy way, which is probably the only thing she didn't do in a showy way, because she's Madonna, and it's
Bruce Vilanch: [00:49:00] that kind of a brand, but she was seminal in raising money in a big way. Even though we've all made money doing Madonna jokes, you will never take away the fact that she was there when she was needed.
Mason Funk: I don't know if you ever met a guy named Val Marmillion.
Bruce Vilanch: Yes.
Mason Funk: He was out here doing PR in that era.
Mason Funk: [00:49:30] He's from Mississippi or Louisiana. He was a friend of a friend of mine. He and I talked on the phone recently. He now lives in Florida. He described to me a little bit of the process that had to take place around AIDS, what he called, not being facetious or cynical, the branding of AIDS, and the fight that went on to bring Elizabeth Taylor, who would get Elizabeth Taylor. Do you remember any of that history? I'm not trying to smack talk anybody, but do you remember any of
Mason Funk: [00:50:00] the work that had to be done to make AIDS a cause that people would suddenly go, "Oh this is something real."
Bruce Vilanch: That's a very interesting question. I know that there was a lot of that. I wasn't involved in that. I wasn't involved in the branding of it and in the shaping of the message and in the practical execution of these things.The only one I can think of is Gary Pudney,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:50:30] who was a Vice President of ABC Television. He had some title about Variety's alternative programming. Basically he was the schmoozer. He was the people who kept stars happy at ABC. He was always involved with Elizabeth. He produced the first Commitment to Life. I would say he got her involved, and Barry Krost, who was a manager,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:51:00] who at the time managed Cat Stevens and Elizabeth Montgomery and a lot of actors. He was also heavily involved in getting people in, David Geffen. They were all a part of it. I don't know, it could've been Gary who actually talked Elizabeth into it.I don't know if you know how much talking she did. She struck me as being
Bruce Vilanch: [00:51:30] an incredibly empathetic individual. I think that when she saw him, Rock Hudson suffering, I thought she ... He wasn't the only one. She was surrounded by people who were struggling or were afraid they were going to be. It was very much of her world, and then later on her son married Aileen Getty, who was actually positive. By that time she was into it.
Mason Funk: [00:52:00] Are there any other people from that era that you remember in terms of their contributions that you would like to just mention in terms of people that you ... I'm really interested in this names you've just mentioned, Gary Pudney. These are people who potentially I would want to interview if they were still around.
Bruce Vilanch: I think he's in Palm Springs.
Mason Funk: That's okay. There's lots of people we've interviewed in Palm Springs.
Bruce Vilanch: Great.
Mason Funk: Anybody else who comes to mind from that year, let's say the '80s to the '90s, the height of the epidemic, who made contributions that you remember and think were critical?
Bruce Vilanch: [00:52:30] There probably are, but at the moment I'm drawing a blank. Sorry about that, because I'd have to go review. I'd have to go look at my journals. A lot of them are dead. A lot of them are gone. There were people who were involved in the shows, but that's not who you're looking for. You're looking for people
Bruce Vilanch: [00:53:00] who generated those things, like Vito Russo and those people who are no longer among us.
Mason Funk: I remember I moved to L.A., I had grown up here and then left and came back in '93. I was dating a guy, and we were driving up Highland, and APLA had just taken over that huge building that's now part of the motion picture. He had lost a lover to AIDS a couple of years earlier, and I remember him just looking at that building and just going, "What the fuck?"
Bruce Vilanch: [00:53:30] That was the problem.
Mason Funk: Not in a bad ... Not [crosstalk].
Bruce Vilanch: No, the problem was that the disease got mainstream to the point where the volunteers were edged out by professionals who had come from other charities and were pulling down six-figure salaries. A lot of times, people will be generous to a fault. Somebody gave APLA,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:54:00] it may have been David Geffen, a million dollars to buy that building from ABC and turn it into a physical plant. Once they did that, they didn't have the money to run it. There was also a lot of money being spent decorating. Suddenly they had a lot of overhead. The percentage of money, the percentage of the dollar going to the clients began diminishing.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:54:30] At the Gay and Lesbian Center, we were bequeathed a lot of money to build what is now called the Village. It had to be spent on that, and we built it, and of course everything happened. 9/11 happened. The bottom fell out of fundraising. We couldn't afford to run the building. We had to severely reduce. That's all been addressed and it's now functioning on a 24-hour basis.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:55:00] That's what happens a lot of times to charities. They get over-subscribed, and oftentimes they get backed into expenditures that they can't cover. APLA wound up selling the building to the academy and taking much more modest quarters.
Mason Funk: That's interesting to the part of the story. They're all like puzzle pieces in this huge story.
Mason Funk: [00:55:30] I know this is a little bit of a retread of the question I just asked you, but when I said are there figures who you would want to make sure were part of the record. I know that I did just ask you, but not necessarily related to the AIDS epidemic, but people who you regarded as the Troy Perrys, the people who were cutting a path through the jungle, either then or more recently, figures who you feel like really helped our community and our movement really move forward.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:56:00] Oh my god. They're all well documented, all the ones who I would think, and they're not alive, the Morris Kites and the Ivy Bottinis, and on the local level, the people who did that kind of stuff.
Mason Funk: Who was Morris Kite?
Bruce Vilanch: Morris Kite founded the Gay and Lesbian Center, and was the first gay activist in Los Angeles probably, probably around the Black Cat Riots,
Bruce Vilanch: [00:56:30] which is not chronicled very heavily, but happened before Stonewall. It's not chronicled very heavily probably because L.A. was such a strange town. Everything was segregated. It wasn't like New York in the '60s. There were black bars and white bars. Gay bars were patrolled. It was not unexpected
Bruce Vilanch: [00:57:00] that the police would raid places, where in New York by 1969 people had gotten fed up, because the spirit in New York was different.The spirit out here was much more complacent, because this is L.A. This is where people come to be part of the dream. They want to be rich and famous. They want to be in the movies. They want sunshine and palm trees. You want politics, go to San Francisco. That's where the activists are.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:57:30] Morris was one of the ones who started it, Ivy, and Steve Schulte, who was the first director of the thing that I remember. He was also a cult model, which is probably why a lot of people remember him, and then he was I think the first Mayor of West Hollywood when cityhood was declared. He was there. I'm trying to think. Again, dead, Shelley Andelson, not to be confused with Sheldon Adelson.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:58:00] Shelley Andelson was one of the founders of MECLA, who was a big gay real estate developer who had a lot to do with cityhood and for West Hollywood, and who with some other wealthy gay people founded the Bank of Los Angeles, of which I was a stockholder in the late '70s.It was a wildly successful bank on the corner of Santa Monica and San Vicente, and we had a branch in Beverly Hills. It was so successful
Bruce Vilanch: [00:58:30] we sold it. After we'd made our point, 20 years later we sold it to Santa Monica Bank, which then was sold to U.S. Bank, so it's now a U.S. Bank. I go in there [inaudible] and they, "Stockholder," like I have some kind of special privilege.It was a gay bank. The idea was you would go to people who would understand.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:59:00] You would go in, you could say, "We want a home loan. We are two men. We live together. A domestic partnership is not a good idea for us tax-wise, but we want to buy a house together," and you wouldn't get, "What?" You would get, "How can I help you? Sign here." That was the idea behind it. It was a great idea.I was sorry that it went away, but it was too successful for itself.
Bruce Vilanch: [00:59:30] We all looked at each other and said, "We're nuts not to cash out," because at that point also the times had changed, and pretty much anywhere you went, yeah, you couldn't get married, but it would be difficult, you'd have to go far afield of where the retail trading zone of the West Hollywood Bank was to find a banker who would give you the fisheye.
Mason Funk: [01:00:00] That's a great story though. I don't think probably many people that I'm interviewing [crosstalk].
Bruce Vilanch: Shelley Andelson, he died some years ago, but I do remember that we had a MECLA. We were trying to get friendly with Dana Rohrabacher, who was the newly elected, was running for the first time in Orange County. He's a right-wing Republican, still is. We had an informational meeting with him.
Bruce Vilanch: [01:00:30] He thought he was going to cure the queens. He thought he was going to be the conversion therapy that we needed, I think.He came out to Shelley's house in Bel Air, which was like Stonehenge. It was very impressive. It was also very stony. There wasn't a comfortable seat in the place. Everywhere, you'd sit there, you'd go, "When will the bus be here?" There were no cushions. He was very severe.
Bruce Vilanch: [01:01:00] Dana Rohrabacher came up and looked and said, "I can't believe how you lived. You all live like this?" Of course we went ... I said, "But I have pillows."The nice part of it was, at the time he was never going to vote on our side of an issue, but we had made a rapprochement with him, which exists to this day, which that's what California politics is,
Bruce Vilanch: [01:01:30] because this is a state full of a lot of people who don't see eye to eye, but it's a blue state with red pockets. I give you Devin Nunes.
Mason Funk: Please.
Bruce Vilanch: You'd take Devin Nunes, right?
Mason Funk: There's an interesting little lesson to be learned there about activism, which is the value of inviting someone over who you know is never going to agree with you eye to eye, and never be on your side. Just expound on that a little bit.
Bruce Vilanch: [01:02:00] I think that is the nature of activism. It's not just to alienate people, but to cultivate people. It's the old line, you get more with honey than vinegar. You draw more bees with honey than vinegar. I don't know what the honey is, other than to say, "We'd like to come and explain ourselves to you, and not be yelling and pointing fingers,
Bruce Vilanch: [01:02:30] because we're all human beings." I think that that's part of it. It's not the sexy part of activism, and it's not the part that grabs headlines, but I think it's important. It's important.
Mason Funk: Here in L.A., this MECLA organization, I know a couple people, I remember these two friends of mine who were there in the early days talking about how maybe that first big fundraiser you were describing, how they looked at each other in their suits or their tuxes and they're like,
Mason Funk: [01:03:00] "Look at us. Wow. We're doing this thing." Were there any other people? You mentioned Shelley. Any other people? Diane ...
Bruce Vilanch: Diane Abbott.
Bruce Vilanch: Yeah, and Roberta Bennett.
Mason Funk: Diane was on my interview list for this week. She was sick. She couldn't do it. Anybody else that just stands out in your mind as being these people who just were like, they knew how to get shit done?
Bruce Vilanch: [01:03:30] Wow. I'm trying to think of other names. Barry Krost is a good one. I'm trying to remember who were the non-show-business types who were involved in all of that, who were still doing it. Are you talking to Laurie Jean, who's the executive director?
Mason Funk: Yeah, we've exchanged emails. I'm going to meet with her Chief of Marketing, Jim Kay.
Bruce Vilanch: Jim Key, yeah, he's good. He's good.
Mason Funk: Of course I'm looking for them to somehow at least support in some way, shape, or form the existence of our work and partnership with them. We're going to shoot some interviews in triangles.
Mason Funk: [01:04:00] or form the existence of our work and partnership with them. We're going to shoot some interviews in triangles.
Bruce Vilanch: That's good.
Mason Funk: I'm thinking, Kate.
Bruce Vilanch: Let me see what time it is.
Mason Funk: Let me know when you need to go.
Bruce Vilanch: Anytime, because I have to get to Universal, which is going to be crazy.
Mason Funk: Let me see.
Bruce Vilanch: It's right up the hill, but it's ...
Mason Funk: Yeah, 45.
Bruce Vilanch: It's the rush hour hill.
Mason Funk: Yeah, exactly. Do you want some water, by the way? We have more.
Bruce Vilanch: I would love it, yeah.
Mason Funk: [01:04:30] Kate, do you have questions that have been bumbling around in your head?
Kate Kunath: You could write a paper [inaudible]. I won't ask you to write.
Bruce Vilanch: Thank you.
Kate Kunath: If you could somehow characterize the role of humor in either activism
Kate Kunath: [01:05:00] or somehow flying in the face of discrimination or just how you use it as a tool. You must get up in the morning and look in the mirror and remind myself of your mantra, your humor mantra.
Bruce Vilanch: I look in the mirror and I go, "Looking funny today."
Kate Kunath: What was it about humor that you feel is magic?
Mason Funk: [01:05:30] Just talk to me as though I've asked that brilliant question.
Bruce Vilanch: When I was in college at Ohio State, I was in the middle of the Vietnam protests. The joke we had about the movement was, the problem with the revolution is it may bore us to death, and that was because everybody was so damned earnest and sincere and focused and just intense and never would get off the topic.
Bruce Vilanch: [01:06:00] Of course I was a journalist. I was running the Ohio State Lantern in circulation in 50,000 five days a week. I was an objective individual, but at the same time, I was involved in the movement. I'd always said, "We have to lighten up. We have to let the sun shine in, be funny." They would all look at me with disdain, and then I would have to do something funny, none of which I can remember from that period,
Bruce Vilanch: [01:06:30] because we also were chemically imbalanced most of the time. I think that generally, movements tend to be really, really intense.I love Larry Kramer. He's like a jackhammer. He's been a jackhammer for 50 years. He just keeps coming at you shouting and calling names and making huge blanket condemnations, all of which are very useful and obviously have gotten work,
Bruce Vilanch: [01:07:00] have gotten things done. At the same time, he's also a very funny guy. When you actually read his plays or see his plays, they're full of funny stuff. He's figured out how to do it.
Mason Funk: Hold one second.
Bruce Vilanch: That's my drone.
Mason Funk: Picking you up so you [crosstalk].
Bruce Vilanch: My drone follows me everywhere. My drone is saying, "You have to go over the hill. Girl!"
Mason Funk: Wow, that was loud.
Bruce Vilanch: It's a real estate helicopter, because they do that,
Bruce Vilanch: [01:07:30] with the high-end clients. They show them from the air so they don't have to bother to drive there.
Bruce Vilanch: Please. I always say they're showing them the view of the carpet bomber. We'll take them out in a few years. I think Larry had figured it out. In his work, in his art, he's humorous, but in his politics he's deadly serious.
Bruce Vilanch: [01:08:00] That's how he's done it. I think there's always room for humor. I have no examples of having said this. I don't have any examples of people who have used it to ... It tends to be a subversive thing. A show like Avenue Q,
Bruce Vilanch: [01:08:30] which is all about, puts out the theory that everyone's a little bit racist and that the internet is for porn and all of that kind of stuff, just a reminder that makes you laugh but reminds you that George Bush is just for now, Donald Trump is just for now. That kind of stuff is always helpful.I was delighted to see
Bruce Vilanch: [01:09:00] in the Women's March the pussy power hats, those pink kitty cat hats. I thought that was a brilliant stroke, because it was funny. It was like, "We're looking comical, but we're making a point." I thought that that was quite a nice little subversive touch.
Mason Funk: Somebody you mentioned reminded me, Michael Adams, who runs SAGE, when he was out here for the event where I met you, he and I had coffee.
Mason Funk: [01:09:30] We were talking about how young people today haven't been through what we've been through, so they don't know that people like Trump can be elected and that on some level it's going to be okay, at least we think it's going to be okay. Can you talk about that a little bit from your perspective, the idea that one thing that we have on our side as a community is that we've been to hell and back and we've [inaudible].
Bruce Vilanch: [01:10:00] I grew up Jewish in New Jersey. When you grow up Jewish, you are taught three basic things, I think I said this at SAGE, nobody likes you, no one's going to help you, and you have to do it for yourself. It's true. I've always felt that that's what got the Jews through 6,000 years. I think that that is a great mantra for the gay community, that don't look for other people to take care of you. Take care of yourself and build your own external strength.
Bruce Vilanch: [01:10:30] Because of what we've been through, what happened to us was we were just getting our political feet wet when AIDS happened, and AIDS, which was a life and death issue, galvanized us, and it turned that political movement into a life-saving movement, and set up the apparatus for a real political movement, which then made the push towards marriage equality and the important civil rights issues that we were looking at. It worked.
Bruce Vilanch: [01:11:00] We have to remain vigilant because religious bigotry is the trump card, if I can still use that phrase, and the only thing, they will use that as a way to roll back what rights we've gotten. That's where the battle is right now. We can't forget that. Now millennials who have grown up in an era where there wasn't a battle, if they're paying attention, will find out that that is the battle.
Bruce Vilanch: [01:11:30] I think at the moment it's like we're waiting and watching and seeing what happens.This NCAA decision, which was regrettable, but I don't think we marketed cleverly enough the fact that that bill, the trans bathroom bill that was passed, had attached to it a bill that made it illegal to write an anti-gay
Bruce Vilanch: [01:12:00] discrimination law anywhere in North Carolina. That is what we needed to have repealed. That specifically was not repealed. The NCAA had said that all they wanted repealed was the transgender bill, and when it was, they could then come back in. They are now bringing money back into that economy.That's a warning shot across our bow that we have to pay attention and that the fight isn't over, because the next thing that will happen is
Bruce Vilanch: [01:12:30] they will come at you with religious liberty, and the queen of religious liberty is Mike Pence.
Mason Funk: Great. I don't have anymore questions. I don't want to hold you too long. Kate, do you have anymore?
Kate Kunath: No.
Mason Funk: Awesome. That was really enjoyable.
Bruce Vilanch: Good. Thanks. We covered the waterfront.
Mason Funk: We did. I'm going to have you sign a release.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Kate Kunath
Date: April 05, 2017
Location: Home of Steve Crystal & Hillary Seitz, Los Angeles, CA