By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
For its 25th anniversary issue, Paper magazine is shooting 25 fabulous people who are 25 years old. I just missed the cutoff! . . . Speaking of age limits, my friends over at Pieces gay bar swear they threw former daytime host and lovebug Ricki Lake out when she wandered in with a group of kids last week, hoping to sing karaoke. . . . If girls just wanna have fun, there's some good news: Cathay Che (who wrote Deborah Harry: Platinum Blonde) is helping pen Cyndi Lauper's inspirational autobiography, coming out next year on Simon & Schuster.
Another vintage act, Francis Ford Coppola, cast the unruly Vincent Gallo in his new film Tetro, but a reporter I know just asked the director if it might have been a good part for Nicolas Cage (Coppola's nephew, whom he's worked with before). "I can't afford him!" Coppola blurted. . . . He's not the only one. Whispers say the economically rocked Interview magazine owes scads of money to Elaine's and to Art + Commerce, to name just two examples.
It was more commerce than art when Poison singer Bret Michaels appeared on the Tony Awards, especially when he was hit on the head by a descending piece of the set as he exited—a horrid sight, even if you don't believe a hard rocker belongs on the same stage as Angela Lansbury. Well, my source says that on the red carpet before the telecast, Michaels was acting a wee bit tipsy. Perhaps he was feeling no pain until he felt some pain—though I'm sure he was just living the image of a big-haired fallen angel. Michaels's reps swear he's a total pro and that the incident happened as a result of a "lack of communication." He'll surely provide more lip about his mistreatment once his lip heals.
Poison takes a whole other form in your local supermarket, as I learned at the premiere of the documentary Food, Inc., where we were served organic popcorn and pomegranate drinks while watching cows covered in their own feces get turned into burger deluxes. "And then there's the wine industry," murmured celebrity chef Drew Nieporent on the way out. . . . Let's organically toast Out scribe and indie film presence Jesse Archer, whose script tentatively titled Bye Bye, Fruit Fly is currently filming, with The Facts of Life's Natalie, Mindy Cohn, as the title character. No sign of Jo, though. . . . I just had a horrid idea for a sequel that I pray never happens: Ben Stiller in Night at the Holocaust Museum. Oy!!! . . . Flamboyant style guru Robert Verdi has a new show coming to Logo, one episode of which honors Gotham's 10 most fashionable females.
There are two fewer women on the scene now that David Carradine died in drag (according to the Post), and Chastity Bono has become Chaz as the beat goes on. One more, and it's a trend. . . . Fashion, showbiz, and charity collided at amfAR's Honoring With Pride benefit, where they toasted activist Cleve Jones, stylist Patricia Field, and drag DJ Lady Bunny for being cultural characters with cojones. "But what have you done for AIDS aside from spreading it?" I cracked to Bunny at the event. "Isn't that enough?" she replied, chortling. "These organizations wouldn't be able to exist without all I've done! By the way, I used to be a flight attendant, and I went to Africa under the name Patient Zero."
And that was the end of the tasteful material. Bunny's acceptance speech had her remembering all the cocksucking and orgies through the years (one with four Cuban guys in Field's Miami residence), and later, scrumptious Cheyenne Jackson auctioned off tickets to Finian's Rainbow, specifying, "There may be chorus boys there, and they may have no gag reflex—that's what I hear." Come showtime, platinum blonde Debbie Harry took the stage to sing, "Once I had a love, and it was a gas," as Bunny let out a deafening farting noise from the audience. Now I know how Bret Michaels feels—it hurt my nose.
At NewFest, I caught a rough cut of David Sigal's Florent: Queen of the Meat Market, about the gender-nonspecific Meat Market restaurant that helped create the neighborhood, only to be priced right out of it. (Last year, "Florent" sadly became "For Rent.") The doc takes you back to all the freewheeling boîte's legendary characters, from the man who came out of the bathroom in his undies, all covered with jelly, to the guy who ran into the place yelling, "Help! She's going to kill me! And she's not a woman!" Just then, a black drag queen followed the screaming wuss in, announcing, "I sucked his dick, and I want the money!" (And she deserved extra for having no gag reflex.)
After the screening, Florent had a perfectly civilized dinner party at his apartment, which looked so swanky that I wondered why he couldn't afford to keep the restaurant open. "This belongs to my family!" he explained, laughing. In any case, does Florent miss Florent? "Not one day," he said. "For the last five weeks [before closing], we knew it, and we had so much fun. I was free!"
New discoveries of vintage-style entertainment don't stop there, either. Recently, I earned my bronzed Speedos by finding the only female Liza Minnelli impersonator in the world—and she likes the gays, too! Poetically enough, this happened when I judged the Miss Fag Hag contest, where I refused to say, "Bye, bye, fruit fly." Miss Lower East Side, Jillian Snow Harris, got high marks for the talent competition, in which she sang "Some People" from Gypsy à la Liza, bringing a subtlety and realness to it that made the sparkly charade extra special.
Harris, strangely, didn't win, though she did earn the chance for me to dig into her backstory and learn that she's an Oregon-born unemployed waitress who's in a comedy band called The Really Awkward Debutantes. When Harris was 11, she told me, her mom brought home a beaten-up video of Stepping Out, "and that first majestic moment Liza appears on-screen forever altered my perception of reality. I wanted a taste of that brassy magic!"
Years later, Harris became brave enough—and drunk enough—to attempt an impersonation of the sibilant songstress. "After one or three dirty martinis and some gentle goading from friends," she remembered, "I found myself on a small bar stage, belting 'Maybe This Time' in true arms-flailing Liza fashion." With time, she managed to hone the act—just like Liza did! And how does it feel to be the world's only known female Liza wannabe? "At first, I was intimidated to impersonate Liza without a set of male genitalia," admitted Harris. "However, I found it to be an exhilarating and rewarding experience." This could open Minnelli up to a whole new audience! Non–drag queens!
When I heard Elaine Stritch was doing a great impression of herself in The Full Monty over at the Paper Mill Playhouse, that was good enough to get me to Millburn, New Jersey, for the first time since Deborah Gibson played Gypsy Rose Lee. As the crusty accompanist, Stritch doesn't enter for almost an hour, but she's priceless as usual, driving her lines out of the stadium, from her first one ("You talkin' to me?") to her dirtiest ("Horse, are you trying to tell me you've got a small dick?"). She strangely barked out her big song, imbuing it with very little actual musical value, but the crowd cheered anyway. And by the end of this very efficient production, it was clear that the biggest balls up there belonged to the wonderful Miss Stritch. And now that I've stroked them, I want the money!