Cole Escola is quite possibly the funniest person in New York City. I know these things are subjective but if there were an Olympics of Funny he would be a Michael Phelps, though probably sagging beneath the weight of all that gold like a young, slouchy Taylor Mead. His mercurial frame positively radiates humor... it's irrepressible, physical and brilliant. But don't take my word for it, go see him perform at one of his monthly, sold-out shows: Cole Escola is the First Gay President or his New York City Pride show called PRIDE at the Bell House in Brooklyn. Or follow him on Twitter: "Could really use all your prayers and good vibes right now. Everything's fine I just don't want anyone else to have them" or watch his dozens of hilariously absurd YouTube shorts. You can also catch him later this summer in the new Amy Poehler-produced Hulu series, Difficult People(alongside equally funny pals Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner). If laughter truly is the best medicine, then do it for your own good health and happiness.
XXM: Hi, Cole! What are you up to today?
Cole Escola: Hi, Michael. Today I'm spring cleaning my Facebook newsfeed. I'm scrolling through and unsubscribing from anyone who posts a picture of their feet in front of a pool or on a beach with a dumbass cocktail. Later I'm getting a candle for my bedroom. It stinks in here because I sleep with my mouth open.
Can you tell me a little bit about where you come from and what your evolution as a performer and comedian has been?
I grew up in Oregon. I have a younger brother and an older sister. We were very poor. VERY POOR. We lived in a trailer for the first six years of my life in the corner of someone's yard. My dad has severe PTSD from Vietnam and is also a big drinker. One night, he thought that people were chasing him so he chased us all out of the house with a gun. My mother decided not to go back. We lived with my grandmother for a while and also in government housing. I wanted to escape so I came to New York because I thought this is where NPR was. Three years later, I finally made a friend and we started making YouTube videos. This was back when YouTube videos looked like YouTube videos and not un-aired HBO pilots. Some TV people in suits liked our videos and for some insane reason gave us a TV show. It was called Jeffery & Cole Casserole. Six people watched it but it ran for two seasons and it was a dream. Since then I've been staring at my busted droid, favoriting my friends' tweets. Have I also worked steadily on stage and in television? Well yeah, Michael, I'm not going to deny that.
Does your family think you're funny?
Yes! They're very loving and supportive. I think I have more issues about growing up poor than anything else. I feel like Veda in Mildred Pierce... and also Mildred Pierce!
Do you see your family often?
I talk to them. They live in the same town that I grew up in. I go back about once a year. I try to go in the summer because Oregon is awful. It's just gray and rainy for like nine months out of the year so I try to go back in August for blackberry season.
Who do you think the funniest person alive is?
It's a tie between Kathie Lee and Hoda Kotb.
What music are you listening to these days?
I like my music like I like my men: Barbara Cook.
Describe your dream dinner date?
Fem guys make me swoon. I'd love to go to the Whole Foods on Houston with Paul Lynde and load-up at the olive bar. Did you know he's buried in Ohio? Isn't that sad?
I'm guessing you occasionally crack-up on camera (no big deal, just reshoot!) but have you ever completely lost it on stage?
No. I can't pay attention to other people when I'm performing. I'd get too bored. People like to say that acting is about listening, but that doesn't actually mean anything. Only a broken person believes that.
Some of the characters you've developed have taken on lives of their own.
Yes, Jennifer Convertibles for one.
Where do they come from?
Usually it's just a wig that I find, or a voice that I hear... something embarrassing that I think of. A lot of my ideas come when I'm trying to sleep. In fact, that's where I get most of my favorite ideas. There is one character that I call "The Woman Who Just Woke Up" who is sort of based on my grandmother. Occasionally I have these innocuous thoughts like "Oh, that's a nice flower pot. I'm going to get one of those for the hallway." You know? Something like that.
So many of your characters are women. Do you feel comfortable being a man in your daily life?
Comfortable enough. I often feel like someone's mom. I feel like a mom on-the-go.
That seems like it could be a fun...
Way to live? It is. As of right now I'm fine in the body that Jesus gave me. I'm just kidding. I don't believe in Jesus.
Have you ever been religious?
I was when I was in middle school. When I went through puberty and realized I was attracted to men I started going to church hoping that would fix me.
You tried to pray the gay away?
Yes. "Please God please make me not gay. Bisexual at least! Please make me attracted to women!" I was seventeen when I finally came out. The first time I actually said it was on my best friend's answering machine. I wanted to tell her in person but I got too nervous so immediately after she left I called her phone knowing she wouldn't be there to pick it up and I left a message. She called me back. She was so sweet and proud and happy for me. Obviously everyone knew. That was another thing that made it uncomfortable for me, everyone knows already! This is so embarrassing that I have to be like "I'm gay."
Did you ever try and have a girlfriend?
Not really. There was this one girl whose stage-managed The Music Man who I maybe went on one date with and kissed.
Were you in the production?
Absolutely. And it wasn't even my school. It was a different school that needed talent.
What part did you play?
Marcellus. He sings "Shipoopi". I was also the bass in the barbershop quartet. It's a great track. I remember all my harmonies.
You were in a lot of school musicals?
There were no musicals at my school. My school had three hundred people. There was no theater department so I had to go to other schools. When I was sixteen I actually moved in with my lesbian cousin in another town so I could go to a bigger school with the theater program. I was in Fiddler On The Roof, Les Mis... I always got cast in the male romantic lead because I can sing but I wanted to play the character parts.
What do you do in your spare time? Do you have any hobbies?
Do you read?
Do you go to the movies?
I've been watching a lot of Good Wife.
I love The Good Wife!
I recently wrote a sketch with a lot of legal jargon because it's so enmeshed in my brain now: "Objection! Prosecution is testifying!" "On what grounds?" "Leading the witness?" "Overruled!"
And all the great cameos!
That's my favorite part of each episode: the beginning when I see all the names of the near-dead New York theater actors. Priscilla Lopez? What?? Bebe Neuwirth and Martha Plimpton in a scene together?! Amy Sedaris...
I can never get enough of her. Do you know her?
No, I don't think I'd want to.
You don't love her the way that I do?
No no no no! I love her! I just don't think I'd be able to be a normal person around her. I would fan-out too much. That would be my worst nightmare: to see her at a party, try to talk to her and have her be like, "Mmm, okay." I would be SO devastated. I would rather never meet her. I'd like to know Juliana Margulies. I would even come over and cook for her.
What would you cook?
A berry compote.
Do you think she would enjoy it?
Um no, not at all. She likes savory. I don't think she really likes sweet things. For dessert she will mostly just have fruit and cheese.
Well, she has to maintain that svelte figure.
She's an incredible actress and she's gorgeous to look at. It's a great show. It's perfect.
Maybe when you grow up you could be Juliana Margulies?
I can only hope.
Cole's next one-man sketch show, Cole Escola is the First Gay President is July 24 at The Duplex. He can also be seen in the new Hulu series "Difficult People" starring Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner coming out later this summer.
Keep up-to-date at ColeEscola.com
M. Sharkey photographed Cole on June 5, 2014 in Ft. Greene, Brooklyn.
Follow M. Sharkey on Instagram @ msharkeyfoto