Let me graciously glide you through the decades, starting with the ’60s Broadway musical Good Vibrations, a harmless theme park entertainment that pie-facedly borrows from Mamma Mia! (it throws in the expected “surprise” gay twist and the de rigueur post-curtain reprise medley) while jumping the gun on All Shook Up (there’s a nerd, an interracial couple, and even an Elvis sighting). But though it’s bulimic and contrived and seems to think the BEACH BOYS songs were really just about cars and girls, I was sort of buoyed by the cute, spirited cast and dopey doings. Critics will bitch the show to high heaven—guess what it names a character just so they can sing “Help Me, Rhonda”?—but they have themselves to blame for the jukebox genre; the scribes are the ones who raved about Mamma Mia! simply because it opened shortly after 9-11, when they were desperate for any escapist crapola to hang onto.
The surf turned to smurfs when the ’70s came back with a big, old smiley face that went a little bitter. At a promo event for MIKE CARBONARO‘s Big Apple Comic Book, Art, and Toy Show, I treaded delicately while hobnobbing with TV Land types over warm potato salad and Mountain Dew. Three’s Company‘s pert JOYCE DEWITT entered, saying, “I’m late because I was putting on 400 pounds of makeup!” That’s OK, Joyce, what else have you been working on? “They’re doing an A&E Biography about Three’s Company and I’m writing three books, describing what I’ve learned from the most amazing spiritual teachers on the planet.” Hmm, I was starting to notice a three trend.
But anyway, when John Ritter died, did you really bury the hatchet with SUZANNE SOMERS? Oops. Non-spiritual moment. “I never had a hatchet with Suzanne,” she said, steaming, “and I don’t want to talk about Suzanne. That’s Suzanne’s drama and you’ll have to ask her about that!” Tense silence. The Mountain Dew went flat. No hatchet indeed.
I counted to three, then ran over to ERIN MORAN (Joanie from Happy Days) for comfort and asked what she’s working on. “Nothing,” she said, cutely scrunching her face. “It’s so hard to get a break in this business.” OK, but do you think Chachi (SCOTT BAIO) was overrated? “I do! He’s a sweetheart and he’s cute and everything, but . . . ” She stopped herself. “No, he’s a nice guy. He has a strong Italian father and he wouldn’t have been overrated without that. Italians are very close.” (I know; that’s why I always look so suffocated.)
Moving on to the ’80s—nah, let’s race forward to the ’90s, to get as far away from Three’s Company‘s backstage devilry as possible. The ’90s were the land of Forrest Gump, grunge, FIONA APPLE, and other uplifting phenomena, and they’re all back—things happen so quickly here—via Nerveana, a Tribeca club dedicated to the Prozac decade, the one that had me at hello. So did the club; I adore nothing more than a well-executed theme, and this place—basically the upstairs to the ’80s haven the Culture Club—turns it out like a Spice Girl at an open bar. The Beverly Hills 90210 mural is perfection, the O.J. car chase on the TV screen still compels, and even the cocktail ideas are divoon. (The LORENA BOBBITT “tastes like fresh cut strawberries.”) What I could have done without at the opening were all the reporters running around asking people, “So what characterized the ’90s anyway?” Honey, if you can remember, you weren’t there.
Less than zero
I can’t even remember the present—yes, we’ve blissfully segued into now—though I do recall the recent wrap party for Fox’s ex-con drama Jonny Zero at the Cutting Room, where I overheard someone from the show say, “They ran the fourth episode second! It made no sense!” Yeah, but it made more sense than if they ran the fourth episode fourth. And it made way more sense than the fact that star FRANKY G wasn’t showing up because he couldn’t tear himself away from the Steelers game.
Sense (and some sensibility) was restored at DENISE RICH‘s Fifth Avenue luxury pad last Monday, when notables gathered to watch the DVD release of JAMES TOBACK‘s When Will I Be Loved over couscous and champagne. Was Toback, like every other moviemaker, praying he’d get Oscar nominations the next day? “Unfortunately,” he told me, “with a marketing budget of zero, my chances are zero. I’m not bitter because I know the game. When I made Fingers 25 years ago, HARVEY KEITEL said, ‘Jimmy, what’s wrong with these people? All this shit is getting attention and nobody knows we exist.’ Well, now a French director, JACQUES AUDIARD, is remaking Fingers. Maybe I have to wait 25 years till I’m a cripple in Brazil for this movie to have its day in court. Or we could screen it every night here, charge $3,000 a ticket, and call it the Denise Rich Theater!” Uh-oh, another three word. Don’t come at me with a hatchet, Joyce.
The nominations came out—no PAUL GIAMATTI? Are you people crazed?—and I found myself chatting about them with DELROY LINDO at the Court TV event for the harrowing The Exonerated at 21 Club, where rich people mixed with black guys falsely accused of rape. “I’m thrilled,” Lindo said, “for DON CHEADLE, SOPHIE OKONEDO, JAMIE FOXX, and the young lady from Maria Full of Grace.” (Well, let’s hope she doesn’t nab the gold or it could lead to an embarrassing moment: “The winner is . . . the young lady from Maria Full of Grace.”) Did Lindo get scads of money to do The Exonerated? “Money! This is the payment right here,” he said, laughingly pointing to a plate of hors d’oeuvres. “But it was a worthwhile project with wonderful people. I got into acting because I wanted to change the world.” And when he does it, I rarely want to change the channel.
Finger me Elmo
But let’s point to the future with some food for thought and discuss how the family values crowd is aghast again about the threat of cartoon homosexuality. The strangest aspect of this doofy debate is that the liberal argument seems to always be, “But how could a cartoon character have sexuality?” Honey, tell that to everyone from Prince Charming to Mickey Mouse to Yogi Bear, all of whom had hot girlfriends. The reality is, cartoon characters do often have sexuality; the public just doesn’t make much of it because it’s straight and pretty routine. If it were gay, everyone would not only notice, they’d shit themselves, so creators have to put it in via signifiers and suggestions to get their point across while denying it like crazy. The JERRY FALWELLs find this dangerous. I find it wonderful. And by the way, forget SpongeBob and the starfish. The Squidward character is a total screamer!
Now onto February.
Push push in the Bush
Jones with Tony Orlando at the Bush inaugural
photo: Diane Jenkins
Wait, I can’t resist some more ’70s-related mania: I recently wrote that the original cowboy from the VILLAGE PEOPLE, openly gay RANDY JONES, had agreed to perform at the Bush inaugural festivities, and some people were angrier than I was when disco died. Well, here’s Randy’s post-show reply: “I was able to stand in front of more than 1,000 Republicans, speak of my husband of almost 21 years, WILL GREGA, and still have them waving their arms and forming the letters of YMCA just like little kids. It really was quite a surprising show of . . . well, I don’t think tolerance is the right word and neither is acceptance. . . . It was like, ‘Well, OK, that’s the way it is, and we love the song and whatever comes with it.’ It was exactly like any Village People audience—young folks, old folks, blacks, whites, and lots of Dorothy’s friends. I was very impressed that I didn’t run into one iota of rudeness, intolerance, or anything to make me feel bad. Of course I still will not be a Republican.” Oh, good—they have enough of Dorothy’s friends.
One more ’70s-themed exclusive: MISS PIGGY will be sitting front row at this Friday’s Heatherette show. I’m beside moi-self!