‘Modern Family’ Star On Gay Terminology, Gurl


Douglas Carter Beane‘s Broadway period piece The Nance has Nathan Lane as a gay Republican minstrel grappling with heavy-duty self-loathing. He’s the original GOProud member. On opening night, I asked Beane who the ultimate nance was. He replied, “The ’60s triumvirate of Charles Nelson Reilly, Paul Lynde, and the forgotten Alan Sues.” Whom I remember!

“What’s a nance?” I teased Modern Family‘s Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who ended up sitting next to me during the play. “It’s something from an era before my time,” he said. “I have a feeling it has something to do with a flamboyant man who applies makeup in a mirror.” (He gestured toward the Playbill cover, which has Lane doing just that.) “It’s like the way we say ‘Mary’ or ‘gurl’ with a U today.” Yes, the modern twist on nancing involves deliberate misspelling. Whatever werques, hunty.

Gay wit Paul Rudnick mentioned some prominent nance names to me, like character actors Edward Everett Horton and Franklin Pangborn, who swished up many a screwball comedy. But I wanted to know about Rudnick’s next novel, Gorgeous, which deals with a correctly spelled female. “It’s about a girl from a Missouri trailer,” he obliged, “who gets summoned to New York by one of the world’s most legendarily reclusive designers. He says, ‘I’ll make you three dresses—one white, one red, and one black—and if you do as I say, you’ll become the world’s most beautiful woman’.” Gosh, Calvin sure has a lot of time on his hands these days.

But back to The Nance. At the after-party at the Marriott Marquis, I mentioned to Beane the Times review that had just come out. “I don’t read reviews,” he cracked. “I have my Guatemalan children read them to me. I say, ‘I want to hear a hard B in ‘superb.’

“I’ve been in rehearsal since December,” he went on wearily, having also written the script for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. “I went to the doctor because my eyes were burning. They said, ‘It’s because you’ve been looking at stage lights!'”

“We’ve got pastrami!” Beane suddenly exclaimed, his singed eyes blazing at the buffet. “They’re not doing this at Matilda!” No, they’re just serving big bowls of ham. (Oh, lord, I’m becoming a nance with these jokes. Right, gurl?)

Before nancy-boying my way home, I spotted Cynthia Nixon at a table, so I told her about the gay Sex and the City–type show HBO is doing a pilot of in San Francisco. “A male one?” she asked. “Yes,” I replied. “We need more shows set in San Francisco,” she said, sensibly. “Yeah, there hasn’t been one since that Michael Douglas one,” I said, and Cynthia topped me with “Nash Bridges!” Damn, she’s good. (As for our own dazzling city, Cynthia thanked me for putting my name on an event she’s hosting to promote Bill de Blasio for mayor. It’s a bit idealistic, but we gotta try, Mary!)

Two nights later, another new play, The Assembled Parties, opened a few blocks away, and drew all kinds of theater types and Lisa Lampanelli. “I live across from Lincoln Center,” the raucous comic explained to me, “but I’m not classy enough to go there, so I came here.” Well, this was pretty hoity-toity in itself—a sprawling family drama by Tony-winner Richard Greenberg. But could Lampanelli relate to the Jewishness of it all? “Jews and Italians are the same,” she answered. “Loud, fucked, and they eat till their death. By the way, there better be lots of food tonight!” “Huh? You had part of your stomach pulled out,” I reminded her in shock. “But I’m hungry,” she replied, inarguably.

Before heading to the snack stand, Lisa told me that Donald Trump loved the interview I did with her for this column, in which she refused to dis her experience on Celebrity Apprentice. “He circled all the good parts and sent it to me, really happy,” she related. The most column-circling he’s done in years, I’m sure.

The food at this party (at the Copacabana) didn’t involve pastrami, despite the ethnicity of the characters, but there was still plenty to feast your choppers on. In between potatoes, I caught up with Cherry Jones, who was sobbing during the play (“I’m devastated”), Patricia Clarkson, who’s angling to play Tallulah Bankhead in a movie, and The New Normal‘s funny Andrew Rannells, who told me he’ll be back on Girls (with an I) this season. “Anything Lena wants me to do, I will do,” he said. “Even double pen?” I wondered. “Yes!” he gushed. I felt icky having stooped so low for a joke, though raunchy stuff had been on my mind because I’d just been thinking that Lena Dunham is a great porn name, as in “Lena Done ’em.” At least I’d said The New Normal properly; fewer people get that title right than can misspell “gurl” correctly. “They call it all kinds of things,” Rannells agreed with me. “I get The New Normal Heart. Also, Next to New Normal and The New Normans. And I recently was asked, ‘Aren’t you on Modern Family?’ ” Which brings it all back to Jesse Tyler Ferguson, gurl.