Alan Cumming: 'I've Seen A Lot of Penises.' His Carnegie Hall Triumph!

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Photography by Jake Chessum courtesy of Backstage

“I wonder if this is the most homosexuals they’ve ever had at Carnegie Hall?” asked Alan Cumming, backed by the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus last week. The Tony winner and The Good Wife costar was appearing in the Daniel Nardicio-produced “Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs With Friends”, an evening which will be hard to top this year for its humor, warmth, outrageousness, and range. Cumming started with some plaintive ballads, after which he told us he belonged at Carnegie Hall because after all, in the 1970s, there was a movie theater in the basement, which ended up showing gay porn, “and I watch gay porn!” Keeping things racy, he mistily remembered his 2009 meeting with Trojan ad reps, who convinced him to do a commercial for their large and heavily lubed Ecstasy condom. “It’s shaped like a baseball bat,” one exec told him at a meeting, gleefully. “Who’s your target audience?” replied Cumming, stunned. “I mean, I’ve seen a lot of penises and, um…”

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At this point, Ricki Lake emerged onstage to amusingly duet on the Trojan Ecstasy ditty Cumming wrote with musical director Lance Horne, which she and Cumming had performed in a legendary video. You know, “It’s a revolution in your pants…”  

The genital theme kept on Cumming as our star revealed that one critic reviewed his tight-pants-wearing performance in The Threepenny Opera by saying, “It looked like he had a tea set in his pants.” That’s almost as impressive as a baseball bat, I guess. “I want to have tea where he has tea,” deadpanned Cumming in response.

Another guest, Glee’s cutely bearded Darren Criss, came out and showed his balls by beautifully duetting with Alan on “I Don’t Care Much” from Cabaret, then doing a sweet gender-switch solo on “Part of Your World.” Alan launched into a rousing version of another diva tune, “Mein Herr,” then went back to the penile theme by relating that 16 years ago, he had a mad affair with a recklessly exciting guy and, in the throes of violent passion, he had the guy’s name (“Raven”) tattooed on his groin area. When they broke up four months later and Cumming dove back into the dating pool, he noticed that people would go down in that vicinity “and they’d look up and say, ‘Wait! Who’s Raven?’ ” (Cumming ultimately had the monicker lasered off, while Raven ironically changed “Alan” to “Balance.”)

Most delightfully of all, Kristin Chenoweth appeared, declaring that she and Cumming have a lot in common. (“We both speak with accents, we both have been on The Good Wife, and we both have seen a lot of penises.”) They also were both in the TV movie of Annie, so they sang and danced a version of “Easy Street” complete with hilarious lyrics satirically dishing Audra McDonald. What’s more, they cohosted the Tonys last year, so they ripped into that experience, which they felt was less than award caliber. Said Cumming, “We were so ill prepared, with not enough rehearsal.” Worse, he added, jokes they wanted to do weren’t allowed. (Like “This is the 69th Tonys. Well, you can’t do a 69 without two people hosting.”) And he revealed that they each only got a measly $2750 for doing all that work! Seriously! “That doesn’t even buy a pair of Louboutins,” cried Chenoweth.

Getting over it, Alan moved on to a glorious mashup of “Someone Like You,” “The Edge of Glory,” and “Firework” (“They’re all the fucking same song, but that’s not a judgment”) and left us with a spirited “Ladies Who Lunch.” He needn’t have ended with the song’s “Everybody rise,” though. We would have anyway.  What a night of nights!

And one of the highlights was a great story Cumming told about his indestructible old pal, Liza Minnelli. He related how in her 2008 Broadway revue, "Liza's at the Palace", the Oscar-winner spoke mistily about the time she had a 10-second dance solo in a school show as a kid, and both her mom, Judy Garland, and her godmother, Kay Thompson, gamely traveled out to see it. Both Judy and Kay were so moved by Liza's brief appearance that they started welling up, sharing a compact with which to dab away the tears. Thompson gave the tear-stained compact to Liza as a memento of such a beautiful moment, and, as Liza told her Broadway audience, she kept it, never wanting to let go of such a glorious keepsake. "Do you really still have that compact?" Cumming asked Minnelli backstage, so touched and impressed. "Aww," replied spunky Liza, "none of that happened!"

THE JOKER IS WILD

“You’re gay!” With that simple joke—said to a bully by Mike Birbiglia when he was a self-admittedly idiotic kid—the future comic was pummeled to the ground. Birbiglia had yet learned to know his audience, though he did quickly realize the power of jokes and the importance of staying true to them, as long as you’re more interested in sticking to your guns than being popular (or alive, lol). This is one of the stories in Mike Birbiglia: Thank God For Jokes, the hilarious new show from the star/writer of Sleepwalk With Me, in which he discusses just how far we should go for a laugh, all while looking adorably rumpled in a flannel shirt and engaging in easygoing, wry commentary that captivates the crowd. He takes us through weird but fun jokes that arose out of his meeting the President, being arrested for having a suspended license, and appearing with the Muppets. (Birbiglia slipped and said “Fuck” onstage, though he later felt the Muppets have been around the block and probably curse among themselves from time to time.) Everything’s a joke, Birbiglia is telling us, and every joke will offend someone, but that’s no reason not to tell them. Several years ago, he told a whopper that managed to offend one of Hollywood’s brightest. Hosting the Gotham Awards in 2012, he informed the crowd that Elia Kazan once said a director should go to immense lengths to get what he wants. Birbiglia then acknowledged the night’s Lifetime Achievement honoree, David O. Russell, by reading aloud his famous screaming, epithet-filled rant against Lily Tomlin on a movie set. (“Hey, bitch. I am not here to be fucking yelled at…”) “Two great directors saying basically the same thing,” concluded Birbiglia, deadpan. And how did O. Russell react? With more screaming! Birbiglia escaped to the men’s room, where he caught the director shrieking at an organizer, “Give your fucking award to someone else!” But he was somehow cajoled into sitting back down, and Amy Adams honored him as a great collaborator.

Birbiglia’s best uncomfortable joke of all? “Jesus was a Jewish socialist. He’s the least popular modern demographic. He’s the original Bernie Sanders!” Birbiglia is pretty hot himself. Catch him whenever you can—because he’ll never be in a David O. Russell film.

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Photo of Mike Birbiglia by Evan Sung

OH, WHAT A NIGHT

John Lloyd Young entered his Café Carlyle show, Yours Truly, the other night wearing sunglasses, a leather jacket, and a bit of a pout, but it wasn’t a joke. The Tony-winner (for Jersey Boys, which he also starred in the movie of) was set to regale us with an exciting array of ‘60s R&B ballads (plus some original material) full of heartache and remorse. With his rich pipes and earnest but charming demeanor, the guy seems beamed in from another, more golden era. He came off like an old-style balladeer in the tradition of Jay Black, Gene Pitney, and even k.d lang, applying lush vocals to songs from “My Prayer” to “Unchained Melody” to a sweeping Chinese traditional, and then some. Telling us about a lost Roy Orbison tune that was “like a Rembrandt found in the attic,” Young proved his point by scoring on the plaintive breakup song “Say No More.” And he obliged with some Jersey Boys material, falsetto-ing his way through “Sherry,” which he said people demand in droves--“and there are worse things in life than being followed by a song people love.” Emitting appreciative squeals from the crowd, the Jersey Boy from Queens is doing very well in Manhattan right now.

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Photo of John Lloyd Young by David Andrako

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