by Ginger Harris
Lauded as the first openly gay comedian to headline a major comedy tour in the U.S., funnyman Jason Stuart is on his way up.
As an actor, he’s best known for his role as Dr. Thomas, a gay family therapist on the now-defunct TV show “My Wife and Kids.” He also has numerous other television and film credits, including appearances on “Everybody Hates Chris,” “House,” and “Will and Grace,” along with starring roles in the indie flicks “Coffee Date” and “10 Attitudes,” the latter of which Stuart also produced.
“Making it to the Middle,” Stuart’s latest project, a stand-up comedy documentary – available on DVD now – takes a closer look at the life and career of this self-proclaimed semi-celebrity as he fuses his stand-up routine with anecdotes about coming out in Hollywood and the people who helped get him where he is today.
In this candid interview, Stuart proves that instigating laughter is just one of his many talents.
You like to connect with your audience and engage them. Have you ever had a crowd just not get your set?
Most of my shows I do now are for people who pay to come and see me, so it’s not an issue most of the time, but occasionally you’re with a crowd that’s just stupid as dirt. But they paid a lot of money, they love you, so you have to find a way and not talk down to them. I did a show at a college in Alabama, and they had all paid to see me, and I found I had to be filthier and make fun of them even more. It was a largely African-American crowd, and most of them had only known me from when I was on ‘My Wife And Kids.’ But I signed more autographs at the end of that show than I had in a long time.
Your new DVD, ‘Making it to the Middle,’ features a fan sequence where you get feedback on your performance. What’s the most outrageous thing a fan has said or done after a show?
Usually there’s some girl in the audience who comes with her boyfriend and gets really hammered, and she’ll come over to me at the end of the show and say, ‘I just love you; I need to talk to you,’ and her boyfriend looks like he’s ready to melt into the carpeting. I’ll say, ‘Well, thank you, you’re very sweet. Here’s an autograph; thanks for coming and being so supportive,’ and she’ll go, ‘No, I need to talk to you!’ and starts crying and trying to grab me, and her boyfriend tries to pretend he’s not with her. And I say, ‘OK, we have to go, we’re done now,’ and then it’s, ‘Oh, you’re such an asshole!’ That happens two or three times a week. It’s the same girl but with a different head.
Tell me about your lecture, ‘Coming Out In Hollywood.’
I’ve done a lot of colleges, and the reason I started doing the lecture was because colleges didn’t want to hire me at first because I was gay. At the end of my shows, people would ask questions and it was good for a laugh, so I started incorporating that into my routine. Motorola asked me to speak at their LGBT conference and I did the ‘out and equal’ thing, and people started asking me about it. So a couple times a year I’ll do a lecture on what it’s like to be out, and from that I started my advocate work and became a chairman of the Screen Actors’ Guild LGBT committee. I think it’s important to give back.
And you do give back. What strategies do you employ with your work with Lifework mentoring program?
I produce their comedy shows every year. The program is to help kids between the ages of 14 and 24. It’s really important that we have a place for these people. It’s not just for kids who are troubled; it’s to show kids the way. They need to know there’s a way other than drugs and sex to connect with people. I could have used it; I could use it now!
I saw your picture with Judi Dench on your site! I love her!
That’s a funny story! So I went to see ‘Presenting Mrs. Henderson’ at the insistence of a couple girlfriends, even though I was really sick and didn’t really want to go. At the end of the screening, (Judi) did a Q-and-A, and it was great to listen to her. My friends asked if I’d stay in line and take the picture, and I said of course, even though I didn’t really want one for myself. I took the picture and (Judi) said, ‘OK, you next,’ and Judi is one of my all-time favorite actresses, so I said, ‘Oh my God, yes!’ So we started talking, and she spoke to me like we were best friends. We talked about fear of failure and our fear that we’re going to work so hard and what we do won’t be seen, and it seemed we had an incredible amount in common. So now we’re best friends and we talk every week … (Laughs) No, I’m kidding.
I love the Q-and-A part of your routine; it’s very effective, and draws the audience in. You obviously have a message of accessibility, which is a useful tool for getting yourself heard. Is it ever difficult to stay funny when that jerk asks something inappropriate? Is anything inappropriate?
We were doing a show once – I’ll never forget it – and one guy screamed, ‘Y’all have AIDS!’ He was really drunk and he had like one tooth in his mouth. The audience was mortified because they felt so bad for me, and I said, ‘Oh, I guess we’re having an uncomfortable moment.’ Now I use that joke all the time.
Well, you kind of have to laugh about that kind of thing. I mean, if you don’t turn it into something positive, the only thing you can do is retaliate, and that’s what breeds that type of behavior in the first place.
I think so, too. And you have to find a way to not rip them to shreds.
You mention on your DVD that you’re really interested in increased involvement with independent films. Anything along the lines of ’10 Attitudes’ in the works?
Oh, I’ve done like 40 (independent films). That’s what I’m doing now, an indie horror film. I just got cast in an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Pit and the Pendulum,’ where I play the father of deeply disturbed but very attractive young people. I also produced ‘Twisted Faith,’ which is a drama that will be on here! TV next year. I’m thinking the next thing I’m going to do is my one-person show.
Of your upcoming film and television projects, is there a particular one you are most excited about?
The DVD! Let’s sell it! Let’s make a million dollars! (Laughs) OK, (I’ll settle for) a $100,000.