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A Gay Senate Candidate Revealed!

Tickled pink: Jim Neal targets Jesse Helms’s seat
photo: Stacy Kranitz

The concert version of Jerry Springer the Opera at Carnegie Hall was much better than Bill O'Reilly the Ballet or Lipstick Jungle the crossword puzzle. A musically highbrow version of lowbrow culture, the fun of the show is in making trailery sayings like "Poop your fucking pants!" into fucking arias, that particular one sung by a diapered adult with a pot belly and a booming tenor. Springer's TV show deals in operatic situations anyway, its parade of sexual secrets lending itself to musical bombast and a Greek chorus singing punctuations like "Crack whore!" or "Bug-eyed loser strip slut!" But the giddy energy of Act I deflated with the higher-concept second half, as Jerry (who's "bigger than the fucking Pope") was forced to moderate a battle between Jesus ("Talk to the stigmata!") and Satan (a/k/a Jerry's warm-up guy), with drop-ins from a trailer-trash Adam and Eve and a screechy unwed teen mom known as the Virgin Mary ("raped by an angel," chanted the chorus). Harvey Keitel—who's worked with Jesus before—was unobtrusively low-key as the endlessly befuddled Springer, while Max Von Essen positively sizzled as a tempestuous trannie, Luke Grooms ruled as a put-upon God in a country-club outfit, and the protesters outside with signs saying "Stop blaspheming our Lord" were even more fucking fabulous than the show's tap-dancing Klansmen (though I'm not totally sure those were two different groups of people).

At the HBO premiere of Bernard and Doris, I ran into Joy Behar from The View (which hasn't been made into an opera yet, though it's sometimes a soap opera). Joy had been at the concert—you know, Springer Awakening—and told me, "There were too many doody jokes and it's too long! But what great voices!" Tonight, Joy was voicing a whole other concern, confiding: "Rush Limbaugh just attacked me! He came up to me and kissed me! And he's deaf!" That's good. Maybe he didn't hear the retching sounds.

They took Joy away to test her for OxyContin breath and then they showed the TV movie, in which Susan Sarandon is haunting as eccentric socialite Doris Duke, with Ralph Fiennes much more refined-looking than the blowsy gay butler he plays. But a friend of mine, Colin Shanley, who was Duke's personal cook, had seen the flick and found it "beyond the beyond." As Shanley tells it, "Doris was a really cool lady and never deserved this. She's portrayed as some Leona Helmsley desperate housewife who's blotto on hooch and Spanish fly . . . It's hard to find something this offensive and laughable. The only thing they got right was the spelling of the names." Well, the movie—which everyone seemed to like—does start with the disclaimer, "Some of the following is based on fact. Some of it is not." Check out my blog at http://blogs.villagevoice.com/dailymusto/ for more on this—all based on fact.

As long as we were dealing in crass exploitation, I cornered Mo Rocca at the same event to ask which celeb will next drop into the great beyond. "Joan Fontaine will be the next starlet to go!" he asserted, brazenly. That's good news for Olivia de Havilland. Another guest, director James Toback, told me that Mike Tyson isn't only alive, he's the star of Toback's new documentary, about which Tyson has remarked: "It's like a Greek tragedy. The only problem is, I'm the subject!" Sounds like it would make a great opera—the ear-biting recitative alone!

In operatic style, Scott Siegel's annual Nightlife Awards at Town Hall cut down the blather and pumped up the singing, the winners having been asked to perform in lieu of speaking. There were no boring-ass, sanctimonious speeches with fake tears, unconvincing nods to Jesus (or Satan), and gratuitous references to Heath Ledger. But, fortunately, there was some talking, like co-host Charles Busch relating that the recent stagehand strike had his Die Mommie Die! getting The Grinch's usual crowd, which on one night meant that 200 members of an Oklahoma marching band gloried to a farce in which Busch's character murdered her husband with a poisoned suppository. After those doody jokes, I suspect only about 50 of them will come back to New York—but they'll be the right ones.

Another underground gay act is going mainstream now that the Whore's Mascara video for "All I Want" (in which I brilliantly cameo) has been handpicked for airing by Logo. But the duo's Chaz Kourday tells me that the channel is making him cut the word cocaine (from the phrase "All I want is a cute blond boy who snorts cocaine . . ."). "Can you imagine?" he said. "Would Logo have censored the great Cole Porter, too?" Probably—and he was a top, I mean he was the top.

Yet one more gay reaching out to the masses—but without censorship—Jim Neal is the 51-year-old ex–investment banker who's battling incumbent Elizabeth Dole for Jesse Helms's old Senate seat in wacky, multi-textured North Carolina. The Post said Helms will be rolling in his grave if Neal wins, but as the Democrat told me in an interview at B Bar: "He's not dead! That's the thing—he's in a nursing home." Yeah, but a Neal victory could be the very last straw here. "The symbolism of it is very appealing," he said, holding back a smile. In the meantime, Helms is no doubt pooping his fucking pants.

But might Elizabeth Dole be every bit as rotten as Limbaugh—I mean Helms—was? "She's not as polarizing in terms of her stance on social issues," said Neal. "Jesse Helms will be remembered as being a very polarizing, mean person. An old-line party activist in North Carolina named Betty McCain said, 'Helms is so mean that when he was a boy, his mother had to tie a pork chop around his neck so the dogs would come play with him.' " "I thought that was to keep away the Jews," I remarked, saucily. "There aren't any!" replied Neal, laughing.

Well, there is at least one gay. Has Neal's out sexuality become an issue in the campaign? "You're the first person who's asked me that casually," he said, as my gay jaw dropped. "It's been very awkward for journalists. I've been all over the state like a junebug and no one has asked me once about my sexual orientation!" I guess even in our Jerry Springer society full of raucous revelations, nervous nellies would rather brush gayness under their pink carpets. (You hear that, Claymates?) Neal said a couple in a restaurant did once ask what his stand is on homosexuality. "I said, 'I'm standing on it,' " he related, "then I shook their hands and walked away. I still don't know if they got it!"

I doubt it—they probably just got the pork chop—but back to my question, junebug. Has it become an issue? "I was aware it would be of issue to some," said Neal (who doesn't frequent airport bathrooms), "but I sure as hell didn't get into this race for kicks and giggles. I'm in to win. I'm not running because I'm gay, but I'm certainly not running away from it!" Especially since it took him some time to embrace it. "Yes, I was a breeder," he confessed. "I was married to a woman whom I love very much. Like many other people, I spent a lot of time lying to myself. I was clueless. I knew how I felt about men, but I convinced myself that that was perfectly natural. When I did meet someone and fell in love with him, call it an epiphany or whatever, but I couldn't live with myself any other way than who I am!"

And this little well-groomed identity-accepter—who's been with his current partner for five years—sounds to me like a dream Dem. He fights for the little guy, feels we need to get out of Iraq quickly, but in a safe, measured way, and can be forgiven occasional David Mamet–type utterances like "The African-American community is so real." So come on, everyone in North Carolina: Please vote for Jim Neal and help kill Jesse Helms! Better he goes than Joan Fontaine.

musto@villagevoice.com


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