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Don’t Tell Mama

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Openly gay comic/actor MARIO CANTONE has found health, success,  and longtime love. Any parent would be proud . . . right?

by Blase DiStefano
Photo by Steve Fenn/ABC

Mario Cantone is an actor, comedian, and writer who is probably best known for his Tony-nominated one-man Broadway show, Laugh Whore (which also became a Showtime special), and for his appearances on HBO’s Sex and the City, in which he played a gay wedding planner. His stage appearances have included roles in Love! Valour! Compassion!, The Violet Hour, and Assassins, among others, and he had a recurring television role in the ABC series Men in Trees. He is also a regular guest on talk shows, including memorable appearances on The View.

When Sex and the City was transferred from the small screen to the big screen, Cantone was asked to go along for the ride. The film was a hit, and he’s now featured in Sex and the City 2, which opens on May 27. He is also pitching a talk/variety show to people in L.A. “I’d like to come out and sing an opening number and do a few jokes and sit at my desk and interview people,” he says.

You can see Cantone in person on Saturday, June 5, when he performs his irreverent stand-up comedy at the Long Center in Austin (www.thelongcenter.org, 512/474-5664).

Although Cantone comes across as almost manic (but hilarious) when seen on talk shows, he also reveals his serious side while discussing his mother’s homophobia during this recent OutSmart interview.

Blase DiStefano: Mario, how are you doing today?
Mario Cantone: Good, how are y’all doing down there? [Both laugh]

Pretty good, thank you. Have you ever been to Texas?
I was in Dallas once to see a show my partner [Jerry Dixon] was in, and I just remember the houses being huge. I thought it was unbelievable—everything is bigger in Texas! It was lovely. I’ve never been to Austin, but I can’t wait, because I’ve heard nothing but great things about it. I’ve heard the food is great, I’ve heard the music is great, I’ve heard it is the place to be in Texas.

I’m calling from Houston, where I live…
“Houston, we have a problem.”

[Laughs] Where are you right now?
New York City, in my bed lying down like Agnes Moorehead in Pollyanna—“Bring me the prisms.” I can’t get out of bed. I’m just so lazy.

Have you been on vacation?
A little bit. I went to San Francisco and played the Castro Theatre for the first time in my life. It was great. Then I went up to Bolinas for a few days and stayed at a house on the ocean that a friend let me have. It was amazing. Then I had to go to L.A. for three days for business. Then I came home.

So the Iceland volcano isn’t preventing you from traveling.
No, but we’re supposed to go to London for one of the Sex and the City premieres in mid-May. So hopefully that shit will be gone by then. But if not, we don’t go—what are you gonna do? But I’m fine with that. I’ll stay home. But I wouldn’t mind being stuck in Paris or Amsterdam right now.

Was it fun working on Sex and the City 2?
Yes it was. It was three weeks of absolute hilarity and bliss and fun.

The same as the first Sex and the City?
Yeah, but this sequel has a much more significant role for me.

Can you talk about what happens to your character in the movie?
Yeah. I think at this point everybody knows that we get married. It’s a very small part of the plot, but it kicks the movie off.

And Liza Minnelli performs at the wedding?
Yes, she does. The gayest wedding in the world. And it looks like a Busby Berkeley musical. It’s beautifully done.

I don’t suppose Liza asked you to do your impersonation of her.
No, but she knows I do her. I’ve done it for her. Fred Ebb [writer, lyricist, composer, and director] was one of my best friends for the last seven years of his life, so that’s how I got to know Liza. He would make me do her for her. I’d be like, Please don’t do that to me. I would do her singing, but I don’t think I’ve ever really done her speaking to her. And I don’t think she’s ever seen the in-depth-ness of [my Liza impersonation].

The duet that you did of her and Judy Garland on The View was fantastic. When did all of that start?
I started doing Liza Minnelli in ’95 when I met her. I always did Judy Garland, but it took me a long time to bring her onstage because I was just nervous about doing her, because so many people did her. The duet thing on The View—that was the first time I did that. It was a fun thing to do. [To see his duet, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnEgDwK2ABg.] That was a Christmas thing. I figured I’ve gotta do another duet with them that’s not Christmas, so I got a new one for the show in Austin. It got a standing ovation in San Francisco.

This interview will be in the May issue, and since Mother’s Day is in May, I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about your mother.
My mother scared the shit out of me. [Both laugh] She’s dead now; she died in ’81. I was 21. She was a very moody woman—a compulsive gambler and a bookie. She was like Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Gambles. She was not happy about the fact that I was gay.

So, Happy Mother’s Day, everybody! Now that you’ve f–ked me up for the rest of the interview. [Both laugh]

She loved Judy Garland, which is how I learned the Carnegie Hall album. When I was two years old, I knew that whole album. Then she was pissed off that I was gay. I was like, Hello?!—mixed messages, mixed messages—you’re f–king confusing me! At eight years old, she’d make me sing Barbra Streisand for the company. And you’re upset that I like man-ass? Really?!

Don’t you think that she would have changed if she were still alive?
I think about that a lot. I don’t know. I don’t think she would have disowned me, but I don’t think she ever would have been okay about it. I think about that all the time. It’s such a mystery to me that will never be solved.

In my first Broadway show, when I replaced Nathan Lane in Love!, Valour!, Compassion!, I played a gay man. What would she have done? She saw me in Equus, and I was feeling up horses that were played by men. She could not deal with that. She hated it, but that was 1979.

I have a friend whose mother is similar to yours, but she has changed, so maybe your mother would have changed. So I’m gonna tell you, “Yes, your mother would have changed.”
That’s good to know. I’m glad to hear that. [Pauses, then softly] But you’re wrong. [Both laugh] No, I’m kidding. I don’t know. I hope she would have.

Did you ever come out to your parents?
My father, yes. My mother, not really. She would make negative comments all the time—what was the point? My father never left my mother, but he had more women [on the side]. My mother knew, but like Italian women of that era, she just turned her cheek. And my father knew that we all knew it. I remember years after my mother died, I said, “You know, Dad, thank you for accepting my lifestyle.” And he said, “Thank you for accepting mine.” And I said, “Touché.”

And speaking of mothers, what do you think about Sarah Palin?
She’s the Anita Bryant of 2010, but double in the danger department.

I was around at the time of Anita Bryant.
Me too!

You can’t be old enough. How old are you?
I’m 50. I came out when I was 12. I remember being furious about Anita Bryant.

But she certainly brought the gay community together.
Yeah. The gay movement was making big strides in the ’70s, and then AIDS happened, and it slapped a judgment on the whole community and pushed it back 30 years. I think we may just be getting back to where we were in the ’70s.

But things have really changed in certain areas. A teenage boy kissed another teenage boy on Ugly Betty on network TV. And on Brothers & Sisters, the gay couple is treated the same as the other people. However, I did notice that when you were on Men in Trees, you didn’t kiss your boyfriend [played by Orlando Jones].
They wouldn’t let us kiss, but I think it was because we were a black and white couple, not because it was man on man. Because Brothers & Sisters was the other show on ABC, and they were allowing gay kissing. This is where it hasn’t changed.

You know, I’ve had three different development deals to get my own comedy series, because I won’t do a reality show—I’d rather stay home and bake scones. I’ve had some big production companies, like Imagine [Ron Howard’s company] and LionsGate, and they loved me and they really tried to sell it. But they couldn’t sell it. I finally said to them, “You name me one openly gay comedian that’s had a show developed for them.” Like Roseanne, Ray Romano…. It hasn’t happened.

I also believe that about the Italian Americans. There hasn’t been a real honest-to-goodness Italian-American comedy ever put on television. They don’t want to deal with that either. Yet they’ll put them on a reality show called Jersey Shore, and I think that puts the nail in the coffin [for an Italian-American comedy].

But Ugly Betty, good for them, ’cause they knew they were going off the air, so they could push the envelope. Especially with kids, because that’s when they start feeling these feelings. That’s why it’s really brave that they did that.

You had other people you wanted to throw at me.

Kate Gosslein.
She looks miserable and joyless.

Get rid of the “less” in joyless, and there’s Joy Behar.
She’s got a lot of joy. I’ve known her for 26 years. I feel very comfortable with her. I do some of my best work with her, ’cause she’s just fun.

Tiger Woods.
If he were a basketball player, this wouldn’t be an issue. He’s in the wrong sport for that behavior.

Sandra Bullock and Jesse James.
Do not celebrate your relationship publicly, because when you do that, it’s over.

Okay, so you can’t publicly celebrate your relationship with your boyfriend, but can you at least tell me, if same-sex marriage were legal, would you marry him?
Yeah, we would, for all the tax things and the benefits and, God forbid, someone gets sick—we’re growing older. I’ve been living with him for 18 years and known him for 20. But, again, I could find him on a motorcycle with Jesse James tomorrow riding off into the sunset, so you never know. So I’m gonna shut up right now.

CELEBRATE PRIDE IN AUSTIN WITH MARIO
What’s better than a Mario Cantone concert? A Mario Cantone concert that’s free! One lucky winner will win orchestra pit tickets for two to see Cantone, with a four-piece band, June 5, 6 p.m., at the Long Center in Austin. The prize package includes a reservation for a two-nights’ stay at the Radisson Hotel and Suites Austin, so you can celebrate Austin Pride in style. Click here to enter.

Mario Cantone is scheduled to appear on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on May 24. Sex and the City 2 opens nationwide on May 27. For more info: mariocantone.com.

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Blase DiStefano

Blase DiStefano is the Creative Director/Entertainment Editor for OutSmart Magazine.

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