Thursday, December 09, 2004

Our Blog Interview with Lea DeLaria

Ms. DeLaria graciously sat down and let us ask her questions yesterday morning. Given she's been doing that a lot lately, and has a big interview evening planned for next Wednesday, I appreciated her time (and her ability to avoid sighing when she heard questions she must have heard only 100 times before.)

On "Once Upon a Mattress"

"It's just a part I always wanted to do. I've never done the show before in any capacity. And I've only seen it a few times...the Carol Burnett version on TV, the Broadway revival a few years back. But it's just one of those roles."

On having such a "diverse" career (stand-up, jazz singing, Broadway, TV)

"I've always done a lot of different things. Because I can do them. I just can. I do a lot of different things well. I guess I'm old school. I think entertainers should know how to do a lot of things. It's the media (and the audience) that tend to compartmentalize. When I first started out, a reviewer told me, 'you have to decide: are you a singer or a stand-up comedian?'. And I thought, 'why?' I'm a singer and a stand-up, and then I added acting and writing. I don't see why anyone should hide their light under a bushel.

And it energizes me. I don’t feel stretched.

Take this year alone. I've done everything. I started out the year on the Newport Jazz Tour, touring the country with some jazz greats.. Then I went into performing my comedy special “I’m just a Girl”. Next was Rodgers & Hammerstein's “Cinderella” at the NY City Opera, now it's “Mattress”, and after "Mattress" closes I head off to do Beckett's Happy Days, which is basically a huge dramatic role, in NYC.

On "Role Models" and "Icons"

First, I asked Lea if she had any "role models" when building such a diverse career. I personally can't think of another stand-up who is or was also a jazz singer, for example. Then I asked her how it felt to be called "an icon."

She didn't find either phrase something she relates to or can even really understand.

When it comes to role models, she listed a variety of singer/actors...such as Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland...who were multi-talented. But only offered them as examples of performers who also thrived in multiple areas. I'm still waiting for an example of a stand-up comic/jazz singer, though. If anyone can think of one, please let me know.

As for being an "icon":

"I don’t know how to respond to the word. It seems silly. I mean, maybe it helps me get laid, but other than that! Who is an icon? Miles Davis. Charlie Parker. John Coltrane. Ella Fitzgerald. Judy Garland. Frank Sinatra. Lily Tomlin.
But it freaks me out. To be called that or a role model.

I'm just an entertainer who has something to say. And I'm not afraid to say what I think. I think these days a lot of comedians want to get TV show so they suppress what they really think. It's easier to talk about meaningless stuff.

We talked a lot about the current political climate and its impact on comedians. Jon Stewart, for example, certainly talks about current events, but all the while he's highlighting the absurdity, he's rarely expressing an opinion about it. That's in stark contrast to someone like Janeane Garofalo…who actually got a TV deal pulled, due to her remarks about the Iraq war.

You can combine political action with humor. Al Franken and Janeane are doing that now on Air America. That desire to make a difference and make her voice heard always drove Lea. Her act can be angry and loud, but funny.

But as Lea said: "The pendulum swings in this industry, and right now it's swinging toward milquetoast."

There's nothing milquetoast about Lea, but that doesn't mean one of her favorite shows can't also be the sweet and silly "Once Upon a Mattress", fit for the entire family.

Discount Day for blog readers may be over, but if you haven't got your tickets yet, be sure to get on it. The show's going to be a huge hit for the Moon, due in no small part to triple threat, Lea DeLaria.

Just don't call her a "role model" or "icon", please!

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