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The glitz! The gallantry! Da noive! Put ’em all together and you’ve got the New York Film Festival’s opening-night gala. Things were happy-go-lovely enough when ‘About Schmidt’ director Alexander Payne brought his cast onstage, capped off by Jack Nicholson, who looked high (on life) as a kite as he bowed and scraped to the adoring throng. Things stayed kooky when they unspooled Schmidt, an even more Depends-ably engaging widower road movie than Harry and Tonto. (We’ll forgive the sitcom shtick with the water bed.) But then the rains came down like battery acid, so at the Tavern on the Green after-party, everyone crowded awkwardly into the inside areas, where if one more person bumped into me by the buffet, I was gonna make a frittata up their ass. What’s worse, we searched for hours for Nicholson and Payne, only to find out they’d blown us off and gone to Man Ray! Without even telling me! But no one can fuck with my opening-night joyride. I got to hang with Bill Cosby‘s daughter, Anthony Michael Hall‘s mother, and a guy screeching, “Dr. Ruth‘s here, but she won’t talk about sex!”

Raunchy talk lurked between the lines—of my face—at the Red Dragon party, where everyone was so famous or attractive (same thing) you could almost eat them with a carving knife. TV star Sara Rue told me she couldn’t concentrate after being surrounded on the red carpet by the film’s male stars. In a far corner, Andy Dick moaned, “The movie was disturbing,” then went back to giving his number to a cute waiter in a tuxedo. (Later, the waiter told me Andy wasn’t hitting on him, it’s just that they went to the same school.) And on leaving, I got to ask one question of dreamy Josh Hartnett. Let’s see: Will you marry me in a shotgun ceremony this weekend? Nah, how about: What did you think of the movie? “We were scared shitless,” said Josh, as the girlfriend agreed. I’ll take that as a yes.

I was scared boozeless for Liza Minnelli at the listening party for her Liza’s Back! concert CD at the Equitable Center, but fortunately the woman didn’t go to Man Ray instead; she showed up and even glittered—literally. First, Clive Davis played large chunks of the record, staying onstage and practically lip-synching along, with arm gestures. Liza sounded swell, the most poignant moment being, “If happy little bluebirds fly, then why oh why—thank you mamma—can’t I?” (A question I can’t answer. Can you, mamma?) And then, just as the recorded audience burst into applause, we joined them in bravos because we were suddenly privy to Liza’s Front! The singer had just burst onstage, wearing six miles of eye makeup and diamond drop earrings that scraped the ground. “I can’t tell you what this means to me,” Liza gushed, “but I’m trying!”

To show just how unique and separate the Downtown world is, I then went to the Bartenders Ball—part of a four-day ClubNation expo at Webster Hall—where a Liza impersonator was onstage singing “New York, New York”! Will the invention never cease? Still, the idea of putting on an elaborate clubbie convention was so wacky but crass but promising but obvious, it was pretty unmissable on my part. The enforced-fun emporium was designed to bring nightcrawlers and their ideas together to the tune of $225 for four-day VIP tickets. But even with comps, I skipped the daytime panel discussions—drag queens and club owners already screech their thoughts at me all day—making sure to hit the ball, especially since the talent lineup (Patricia Field, Jackie 60 Further, and Susanne Bartsch) specialized in people who’ve really been around the block. (Fascinating sidebar: On Halloween, Bartsch will launch her weekly Copa-cabana bashes.)

But though the stage shows were fabulous if longish, the crowd looked mildly dazed, probably thanks to the corporate sponsor reminders everywhere, from the Perrier footsteps on the stairway to the half Chrysler onstage. (The other half was probably in the gift bag. But where was the Voice sign? Oh, yeah, we were sponsors too.) Helpers handing out temporary tattoos and promo glowsticks added to the contrived feeling. And though the promoter was exulting, “This is bringing the joy back into nightlife,” Louis Osbourne was pissed that he’d flown in from L.A. and his DJ gig had been way delayed and shortened. “This should have been organized better,” he understandably fumed to me. “They’re so queeny back there,” his publicist-manager chimed in. “Now they’ve given him just a 15-minute time slot. He’s Ozzy Osbourne‘s son!” As the scion negotiated with Johnny Dynell—the DJ at that moment—the flack bizarrely shrieked that Dynell shouldn’t stand next to her client. This prompted Jackie empress Chi Chi Valenti to have security remove the woman from the stage. That brought the joy back into nightlife.

In perhaps sadder club news, Red was just raided by the cops, and as a result it won’t have gay lap-dancing anymore, just your basic, honest bouts of young men searching for “sponsors.” It’s called wallet-dancing.

But pop open the champers again. It might amuse people and their tricks that Brit comic Eddie Izzard turns up in the imminent All the Queen’s Men, which has been called “the world’s first transvestite WW II heist movie.” The flick’s un-documentary-like plot has some British special agents, led by Yankee Matt LeBlanc, donning drag to weasel into an all-gal Nazi factory. It’s like a special drag Nazi episode of Friends. And if you think LeBlanc—who looks like a hairier Brenda Blethyn—would pass for a gal, you just might like it.

“There’s a distinct suspension of disbelief,” Izzard told me last week about the story line. “Three of us are a little chunky, right out of Some Like It Hot.” As himself, the pert comic is a little more trannie savvy, though his gender-fuck look is still pretty offbeat. Izzard said he used to try dressing as a woman, “but no one ever thought I was one, so I gave that up and decided I’ll be a bloke wearing what the hell I want. It’s not a look, it’s just me!” He’s a “male lesbian,” he added, “because I’d like to be a woman, but I seem to have a bloke’s body and I fancy women. Meanwhile, I’d really like to be gay and being bisexual would be very logical, but I don’t seem to be.” I know the frustration, dear; I can’t even think straight.

Izzard said he even considered getting a sex change at one point, “but I realized I’d look like a guy who’s had a sex change, so I dropped that idea.” Girlishly enough, I told him that he actually looks like a hot female-to-male transsexual and he said, “Should I take that as a compliment?” Yes, I assured him, and he seemed pleased—though that’s about as happy as he gets; Izzard’s moods are as even as an ironing board on Prozac. “I never get wildly ecstatic or wildly depressed,” he admitted. “When I won two Emmys [for HBO’s Dress to Thrill], I went ‘good.’ But at least if people give me any grief for being a transvestite, I can take it because I never get that pissed off.” But I do. How fucking dare you, Jack Nicholson?

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MORE DEEP THOUGHTS: Ever since she announced that she was taking a long vacation from the biz to sit and think, the spotlight-addicted Britney Spears has shown up as a People cover subject (talking about her vacation), as well as at New York fashion shows, a party for the rapidly dwindling Metro TV, her own restaurant, a Toys “R” Us promo event for a karaoke headset, Ronald McDonald House, and yet more fashion shows—in Milan, where she was in a Versace with a Versace at a Versace. I love the girl, but with a vacation like this, she’s gonna need a vacation!

FURTHERMORE: With Take Me Out, Richard Greenberg may think he’s written a serious play about baseball—and he has—but I hear it’s mainly been drawing masses of gay men ogling for a peek at the naked shower scenes. They’re there to see Take It Out! At the box office recently, one guy was heard to ask the ticket seller, “Do you get a good view?” before he dared to shell out his money. And inside the theater, tacky queens with binoculars have not been unheard of, even though it’s a small house with big schlongs. Imagine what’ll happen with the Broadway transfer and the eventual replacement casts. I’ll be in the front row, yelling, “Come on, John Stamos, take it out and hit a home run!”

ONE MORE THING: Steve Kmetko recently departed E! after eight and a half years as a co-anchor-interviewer, and inquiring minds want to know why. Well, Kmetko’s manager, Sandy Littman, tells me that Kmetko was getting insecure about the way his contract renegotiations seemed to be dragging along. When he went on vacation, he put out the word on a Web site that people who want to see him back on E! should e-mail the network’s big cheese, Mindy Herman. Apparently, they did so in droves, and Herman felt ambushed, her privacy invaded. “But it’s a business e-mail,” insists Littman, “not personal.” Still, it may have doomed Kmetko. Says the manager, “E! made ultimatums to Steve, demanding that he forgo receiving all of the agreed-to benefits under his contract, and take less than had already been agreed to. E! made the decision for Steve not to work at E! any longer.”

Another source claims that Kmetko was a bit of a diva who clashed with the regime that came in two years ago. But he was often admirably ballsy—he brought then-boyfriend Greg Louganis to an E! Christmas party, to raised eyebrows—and his sardonic nature certainly clicked onscreen. E!’s response? “Steve Kmetko is no longer with the company. He is moving on to pursue other career endeavors. He was a great part of the team at E! and we certainly wish him the best personally and professionally.”

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