Lizz Winstead has returned to standup! And she remembers how! “It’s like getting back on a bike,” says Lizz—who’s playing Comix on the 16th and 17th—”but without a seat. It’s a little painful at first, but once you get settled in, it’s fine.”
The sardonically funny lady—who co-created The Daily Show and co-starred on Air America—is also riding that butt-defying vehicle to her weekly Monday-night revue at Ace of Clubs called Shoot the Messenger. “It’s the world’s worst morning show,” she explained to me. “Sort of like Regis and Kelly or, actually, Mike and Juliet. We have a guy in Iraq who doesn’t know why he’s there”—like Bush!—”and various guess-perts, because they’re not really experts.” Meanwhile, she’s an actual expert for Lifetime, where busy Lizzie is hosting Gift Intervention, “web-isodes” of which have her accompanying people who received lousy presents to find out what the fuck the givers were thinking. The worst gift ever? “A woman got an ugly brown elephant bookend for her wedding—one bookend—and it turned out the guy had made a bet with her sister that if the marriage lasted five years, he’d give her the second one.” That’s a pretty good reason to break up in four years.
Speaking of breakups, is Winstead more insanely bitter about The Daily Show or Air America, both of which she fled amid much publicized internal tension? “I’m not really bitter about either,” she swore. “Both projects are still doing well. I feel like I created the Schwinn bike!” And with a seat yet. But more importantly, would she vote for Stephen Colbert for President? “Yes!” she exclaimed. “When he’s not being that character on the show, he’s an awesome guy.” “Wait a minute!” I said with a hatchety smirk. “You mean that’s not what he’s really like?” “Oh, what have you done, Liz?” she said, laughing. “I screwed up Stephen’s whole show!”
In other downtown-kid-makes-good news, drag star Edie just landed the Mistress of Seduction role in Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity—the previous mistress, Joey Arias, is laying down his whip to return to Gotham—so she’s heading to Vegas in January for some raunch and showmanship. But that’s not what she’s really like! “I have to be a little more naughty than I usually am,” said Edie (sounding a lot like Christopher Kenney, who plays her) by phone last week. “It’s a sexually charged, underworld, dark cabaret.” Sounds like home to me.
Kenney certainly has the high-kicking credentials. He danced like a demon in his native Portland, which led to a ballet troupe’s offer for him to apprentice at $125 a week. “So I called Wendy’s and quit!” he remembered, fondly. He jetéd and tapped with various troupes for years, but the routine changed when he did Edie for Halloween in ’96 (“a friend made me”) and it clicked, the new creation landing a hostessing job and loving the intimacy of all that meeting and greeting. A plucked, primped, and still-kicking star was born.
Will Kenney be able to stand living in the surreally ka-chinging world of Vegas? “I’m hoping it’s like when my friends come to New York,” he related, “and say, ‘I could never live here.’ But that’s because they’re running around Times Square and shopping all day. Our lives are different than that. I’m hoping I won’t be hanging out on the Strip and doing slot machines!” Or hanging out stripping and being a slut machine, ba-dum-pum.
Meanwhile, if you’re running around Times Square and shopping—for $450 seats—you’ll be seeing Young Frankenstein, that lavishly mixed bag of tricks and shtickery that will forever be measured against its creator, The Producers. Like everyone else, I liked it, but I didn’t like it. At first, the show isn’t zingy or maliciously clever enough—not enough of a sexually charged, underworld, dark cabaret. But then Megan Mullally and a chorus of soubrettes sing “Don’t touch my tits!” and Sutton Foster yodels in a moving hayride and Andrea Martin‘s name alone makes the horses neigh. Things seem to be electric-bolting to life—but then come some showslowers (as opposed to showstoppers) with those where-have-I-heard-these-before? Mel Brooks melodies and not always essential lyrics. And from there, the whole sumptuous thing veers from inspired set pieces (generally lifted from the movie) to dispiriting patches, and one realizes that like the monster himself, Young Frankenstein is an oversized creature with an abnormal brain. Next time let’s have Claire Danes as the creature.
For the record, Roger Bart starts out sans much inspiration but eventually eases into the looniness; Megan Mullally and Andrea Martin are pricelessly cured hams; Sutton Foster does great work with the hayride, then tends to fade into the revolving bookcase (and she doesn’t look the part for the “knockers” joke); Christopher Fitzgerald is a hoot but his cutely winky character grows tiresome; and Shuler Hensley is everything he should be, convincing you it’s he and not the show that’s been put together from spare parts. The numbers that should have been cut or rethought: “The Happiest Town,” “The Brain,” “Join the Family Business,” “Transylvania Mania,” and “Surprise.” But please don’t tell that to Mel Brooks or you’ll get the surprise.
And then came the strike and the choices were to either see YF again (it’s unaffected because of a separate contract, not because Mel wants it to go on anyway) or the dreaded Off-Broadway, so I chose to stay home and watch TV. But that’s on strike too, except for scabby Ellen, and the last thing I want to do is watch her cry more crocodile tears over pets in between professing support for her picketing humans. “Female dog!” I’m tempted to scream.
So I waited till nightfall and went to the Out 100 bash for notables chosen by Out magazine (which I write for), bringing together more gays in one room than a Scientology family picnic. At the event, someone crept up behind me and said, “I’m the guy who outed Larry Craig. And I’ve got more of them!” Great—let’s bring ’em on, tapping, and put them in Young Frankenstein! In another lavender nook, I asked designer Thom Browne what percentage gay he is, and he said, “One hundred percent—but I’m a guy who is a guy.” Huh? So you’re not a lesbian? “No, not a lesbian,” he replied, definitively. A hundred and 10 percent gay male, Judge David Young told me he’s quite open on his TV show, once telling a group of hooligans: “There’s only one queen in this courtroom and that’s me!” Point taken—but more urgently, when the hell will Judge Judy come out? “I think she’s out already,” he said, playing along. Talk about justice with a snap. “By the way,” Young went on, “I call my show The Judge Judy Garland Show. When you yell at someone like Judge Judy does, people shut down. You want people to listen.” He left me by singing “Rose’s Turn,” and far from shutting down, I applauded and declared him not guilty.
And the gays kept coming. The other Sunday night, Jane Fonda popped up at the Hiro ballroom for Cuckoo Club, the flamingest weekly bash in town, and danced with the gays into the wee hours. Most shockingly of all, one of her friends called the club in advance with credit-card info—yes, Jane and company actually paid for their table and drinks! And she was funny! According to a source, when a male model approached her and shrieked, “You’re fucking Jane Fonda!” Jane cracked, “No, but you should be.” Her only demand? Going in and out via the back door—but that may have been a subtle nod to gay sex.
At Beige, everyone who’s ever been on Project Runway was having a big dinner, including Santino Rice, who assured me he’s actually glad he didn’t win that time. “I never had to defend my crown,” he said, “and all the right people called me.” And the Schwinn is still running! And you never get called “the Ruben Studdard of Project Runway.” But I still want to win! Anything!