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From her Madonna spoof, Medusa: Dare to be Truthful, to her MTV show Just Say Julie! and beyond, Julie Brown‘s always been a welcome demento with a heightened sense of absurdity and really twisted goofball humor—she’s one of us! Julie now weighs in as the cocreator and star of Strip Mall, a broad, nutty new
Comedy Central series about an ex-child-actress-turned-murderous-social-climber who barmaids in a strip mall populated with lesbians, yuppies, adult-movie stars, and a woman with a metal plate in her head. It makes Strangers With Candy look like ER.

In a phoner from L.A., Julie told me that in some parts of that godforsaken town, “there’s no culture but strip malls, and each one of them has nail salons, dry cleaners, and car parts—not even a movie theater!” Sounds good to me. Her show’s version of a strip mall also includes a front for a porno production company, which puts out smut movies with vaguely familiar titles—you know, stuff like Tits-anic, Snatch Adams, Poke Me Mon (starring Prick-achu), Glad He Ate Her, and Mission Pimp-ossible. I told Julie she could borrow my own idea—Schindler’s Fist—anytime, and I wouldn’t even want credit!

Julie’s character, Tammi (pronounced Ta-MEE), is based on sitcom cuties like Soleil Moon Frye, Dana Plato, “and every actress I’ve ever known in L.A. who doesn’t give up trying to be foxy and glamorous. So many people never give up. It’s admirable and sad at the same time. It’s their dream, but it’s a demented dream.” (Soleil, she added, is a director now and doesn’t seem sad at all.)

Brown and her partner, Charlie Coffey, recently had a demented dream of writing two movies for HBO, and they did so, but, depressingly, they stalled at the gate. One was a musical about gun control (too risky), and the other, the real-life story of cosmetics queen Mary Kay, turned to powder when the director—the guy who did My Giant—fired them. “He told us our draft was too funny,” related Julie. “I didn’t know what to say to that!” Well, he certainly didn’t run into that problem with My Giant.

Julie also had a bizarre experience working on the TV series Clueless because it was so toned down that she felt straitjacketed, as did Amy Heckerling, who dropped out of it after a year. As for clothesless—you know, Madonna—”She strikes me as the weirdest person alive. Could you stand to be ‘on’ that much?” “Yes!” I screeched—but more to the point, did Madonna like being put on in Medusa? “At first I heard she really liked it,” said Julie. “Then I heard she didn’t like the scene where I rolled around on my dog’s grave. She’d rolled around on her mother’s—like that wasn’t offensive enough? Then she didn’t like the scene with the dancers suing me, because that really happened to her.” As a dubious gift, Madonna later sent over a half-finished bottle of warm champers. “It was really expensive champagne,” said Julie, “but it had Madonna spit in it!” What the fuck, Julie drank it anyway—but she drew the line at giving head to the bottle.

But let’s go up a notch, culturally speaking—and now that we’ve gotten our nails done, we’re so ready for it. Let’s take in that three-hour, five-
generation epic about Hungarian politics, Sunshine, which is pretty magnificent, and not just because Ralph Fiennes plays so many parts that you knew one of them would be frontally naked. Also in the esteemed cast, Rosemary Harris and daughter Jennifer Ehle play the same character at different ages—they should try this with Naomi and Wynonna Judd, with Naomi as the younger one—and a Beastie Boy’s father, Israel Horovitz, cowrote the century-spanning screenplay. “It was a shitload of work,” Horovitz told me at the premiere, “but I was thinking tonight that it was worth it.” Alas, there are no plans to remake it into a porno flick called Bun-shine.

Somewhere between a strip mall and a Busby Berkeley musical, Kenneth Branagh‘s Love’s Labour’s Lost is the most aggressively kooky version of the bard’s work since Ethan Hawke left his big speech on an answering machine. (I actually liked Hawke’s sotto voce version better than Fiennes’s bombastic one, which put the hambone in Hamlet.) At a party for the Branagh film at Shelly’s New York, I asked its clown figure, Nathan Lane, if Will’s tragedies could also use a little singing and dancing. He promptly broke into a chorus of “Oy, Cordelia’s heavy!” The singing stopped when I brought up that Thane of Frasier, Kelsey Grammer, and Nathan cracked, “Get ready for Gavin MacLeod as Macbeth and of course Marion Ross as Lady Macbeth!” With TLC as the three witches.

More sensibly, Nathan’s rehearsing for the Broadway revival of The Man Who Came to Dinner, in which he’s the effete but lovable clod once played by Monty Woolley. “Everyone says they hate the movie,” said Nathan. “They think it’s a bit one-note.” I like it, but then again I wanted Sunshine to go on longer. By the way, the Tonys came in right on time despite the hours of happy squeals that greeted his and Rosie O’Donnell‘s gay “beard” shtick. Nathan told me that bit was scripted by Rosie herself! Before leaving, he grimaced and said, “Oh sure, you’re nice now, but then you write your column and suddenly I’m Hitler!” I was furious—that I’d been coming across as nice.

Let me assume my cunty, pricky, grinchy
demeanor—the usual—and reveal my feelings about Robert Shalom, the club “king” who’s peddling tales of his relationship with a male pop star to the tabloids. As an entrepreneur, he’s on the shady side and not
always to be trusted—believe me. Oh, and while schmucking it up, let me also give the folks at Disney a jolt and tell them that their newspaper ad for
Dinosaur has been making the fax rounds, with everyone tittering about how the silhouetted creature looks exactly like a giant uncircumcised penis, especially when you turn it upside down. I’m getting (dino) sore just thinking about it.

Speaking of genitals being used in the service of art, I finally saw Contact and appreciated it—there’s new irony in Boyd Gaines‘s character feeling suicidal after winning an award; Boyd just nabbed a Tony for Contact. But I wished Susan Stroman had seen fit to
put a gay couple—any gay couple—somewhere in
the damned three-part sex-and-romance-obsessed thing. It’s my dream, but it’s a demented dream.

The week’s final reverie was a Paper lunch at Indochine for 96-year-old fashion arbiter Eleanor Lambert, who was toasted by stylists, socialites, people with plates in their heads, and designers—like Betsey Johnson, surviving her much publicized breast implant deflation and crowing, “Back to basics!” Not deflated at all, Lambert beamingly told the crowd, “It’s such a sweet idea to invite an old lady to a young magazine.” I was so touched, until I realized she meant me.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 13, 2000

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