Chicago-born, New York-based comic Matteo Lane is a rising star of comedy, with a resume consisting of constant club shows around the country and an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers. Matteo—who’s developing an IFC digital series—stopped to talk with me about the joys and occasional horrors of being an out gay comic in a straight world.
Hi, Matteo. Tell me about your trajectory into comedy.
I went to SAIC in Chicago, studied painting and drawing, and lived in Italy for a while, painting, then went back to Chicago. I had been doing comedy for eight months and I got a job in New York to illustrate a video game. It was the most boring job in the world. They had a game that was teaching office compliance. “Don’t touch Sally inappropriately” or “Don’t make comments towards Joanne.” I was drawing people in offices, and they had to be all different ethnicities. I got comments like “Draw an Asian woman in the lobby. We need more Asians in the background.” I quit two and a half years ago and concentrated on comedy.
Were you always openly gay in comedy?
Yes. There’s no way to hide it because I sound incredibly gay. I have gay voice. In comedy—at open mic nights—there’s no gay people in the grand scheme of things. But for me, there’s no way to hide it. People would be like, “He’s gay. Why isn’t he talking about it?” Open mics are dominated by straight dudes. It did help in some ways being gay. You have to be good as well. But if you’re gay and doing comedy for straight people, people either get really angry or they get really interested. Walking onstage is inflammatory, no matter what you say. I do comedy maybe two to three times a night, and on the weekend I do five or six shows a night. I always ask who’s gay in the audience and maybe a hand or two goes up, that’s it.
The rest are probably closet cases.
Yes. I follow that up with, “Anyone want to come out right now?”
What’s your material that goes over the best?
Anything about my childhood. I talk about being a gay kid. I’m Italian and Mexican, and I have like 22 cousins who grew up on the same block as me. People are fascinated by that. I have an older gay brother and a gay cousin.
Do you talk about dating?
I don’t know if I talk about dating or I bitch about it, but I go off on it. I’m often quite in a rage onstage. A gay rage. I talk about Grindr, Tinder, and marriage. I love sexting, and I hate dating and marriage. I think it’s for people who are weak.
It’s a joke.
By sexting, do you mean Anthony Weiner-style antics?
He is a mess. I saw him on the 6 train and he’s very vampiresque in real life. Get it together, gurl. Put the phone down. Hire a hooker. What are you doing?
What are your thoughts on Grindr?
I say Grindr is a gay dating app that’s a step above tapping underneath the bathroom stall. Straight people always say Tinder is like Grindr, but Tinder shows you how close people are by the mile, while Grindr is by the foot, which is why they should call it Fruit By The Foot. I was in Ohio and the closest gay person was seven miles away—and back to New York, “They’re in the house!”
What’s the difference between drag queens who do comedy and gay guys who do it in male drag?
The drag comedy tends to be all about the drag. There’s almost a speech pattern you hear that’s very similar. It’s a comfort thing. You’re in a roomful of gays and can have a kiki and you don’t have to explain anything, whereas with gay comedy—some people in the audience don’t have gay friends and some don’t like gay people. I‘ve been called “faggot” a number of times. Drag is almost armor. I don’t have a dress and a wig, and I feel a bit embattled sometimes.
You’ve been the victim of homophobic incidents?
Someone told me, “You dress like a faggot.” I said, “That’s the point.” A woman interrupted me once and said, “Stop talking about Mariah and talk about football, because we’re in Ohio.” In a New York club, I had to go out through the kitchen. Four Turkish guys called me a faggot. I said, “Four men together at one in the morning, and you’re calling me a faggot? Not a woman to be found.”
Have you ever silenced a heckler?
Yes! I am a comedian that other comedians know audience members shouldn’t heckle. I immediately go back after them and most of the times I win the argument and get the audience on my side. We all shame that person together.
You’re a strong person?
Do you have a boyfriend or husband?
I’ve been single for seven years. Miserable! It’s hard in New York and in this industry to date. I travel a lot and am not surrounded by gay people, so my only outlet is Grindr or a bar, and I don’t really like either.
What’s the worst thing about comedy?
Learning to have patience, which is weird because the job requires instant gratification in the form of laughs. For example, I’m not going to be onstage till 9:30 tonight, so what do I do all day? I have to wait all day to do the thing I want to do. I go to the gym, not because I’m a giant faggot, but because I want to get into a routine of doing something else. Also, there’s a lot of drinking and not healthy lifestyles in comedy, and I try to steer clear of that.
What was your appearance on Seth Meyers’ show like?
It was wonderful. They couldn’t have been nicer, and allowed me to say whatever I wanted. My fly was down the whole time, but luckily you couldn’t tell.
Do you do material about Trump or is that overdone?
I’m gay and Mexican and you’d think I have a lot to say. But the material I do tends to be something I know I could do a couple of months from now that could evolve, that I could do potentially when I do my hour. I do material on Kellyanne Conway, who looks like a waterfall with eyes. Trump is a hard one to do because everyone’s talking about it and has an angle on it, so I don’t know if I’d be contributing anything more than obvious jokes. My material in itself is a stand against Trump.
CAN HELLO, DOLLY! CAN BE EVEN BETTER?
Broadway shows are generally a big middle finger in Trump’s face, too (though he does like Evita, and probably thinks it’s a romantic comedy). Broadway was celebrated at the Tony awards last night, where the Hello, Dolly! production starring Bette Midler picked up four awards, including Best Revival and Best Actress. I adored the production as much as everyone else, but sitting there in euphoria, I was neurotic enough to think of a handful of ways it could be even more perfect. Call it heresy, if you like, but I’ve got to process these feelings. (I’ve already mentioned a few suggestions, and here are some more).
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- In the scene where Barnaby and Cornelius are hiding in Irene Molloy’s shop, it stretches credulity that, despite all signs, Horace doesn’t seem to realize they’re there. The scene is hilarious as is, but something extra needs to be added as to why he’s so blind to reality, just to make the farce work better.
- Bette’s line, “Horace Vandergelder, you go your way and I’ll go mine”—said while her arms both go in the same direction—is cute, but not the laugh riot it has been in previous productions. I feel it could be done with a little more comic assurance.
- When Dolly finally gets the sign she hoped for from her late husband Ephraim—via something Horace says—the moment isn’t played to maximum effect. It’s almost thrown away. The orchestra should play a chord or glissando and Bette should be directed to look out at the audience, beaming as a key light hits. It would be a riot and make the moment rock with significance. The rest of the production is delightfully cartoony, so why not this moment?
But otherwise, the show is an exercise in pure bliss, and fully deserving of all the awards it’s gotten. Bette is fabulous and my comments only involve wanting even more of a good thing. Besides, she said in her Tony speech that there’s no more room up her butt for smoke to be blown up there.
FEINSTEIN’S/54 BELOW GOES ABOVE THE FIVE-YEAR MARK
Yet more of a swell happening was toasted at the fifth anniversary celebration for Feinstein’s/54 Below, the cabaret showcase for Broadway talent where the sightlines are all good, the food is fab, and the shows are extraordinary. For the occasion, Michael Feinstein hosted and sang, while trotting out an all-star revue of some of their fanciest regulars. Among the performers, Liz Callaway was sensational, belting out “I Happen To Like New York” and making me happen to like that song for the first time. Seth Sikes was bouncy and fun, doing the Judy Garland standard “Zing Went The Strings of My Heart.” (“I’m going to take a week this summer and teach Seth sadness,” quipped Feinstein after the number). A medley of Broadway princesses of the Disney variety was beautifully sung by Laura Osnes, Taylor Louderman, and Desi Oakley. Sally Mayes made “I’m Still Here” her own by acting it and making it sparkle. Eighty-nine-year-old Marilyn Maye got a standing ovation for an uplifting medley of “Secret of Life” and “Here’s To Life,” personalizing it with no affect, just pure style. And Feinstein was a riot doing a song about how he doesn’t want to have to sing “New York, New York,” done to the melody of “New York, New York.” He also thanked me onstage, as one of the people who’ve supported the place, and I have to say yes, I have worked tirelessly, eating their food and applauding their shows. I’m such a giver!
JOSH GROBAN WILL COME BACK TO BROADWAY
Another worthy event the very same night was the Find Your Light Foundation’s annual gala, A Celebration for Arts Education, at City Winery. At the dinner, I got to chat with the evening’s auctioneer, Richard Kind, who’s always a treat, and to ask host Josh Groban about his experience costarring in Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway. “It’s been beyond any of the wildest expectations in my head,” said Josh “I wanted to do something that would bring me out of my comfort zone.” “And that’s so the case that when you enter onstage, a lot of people don’t even recognize you,” I remarked. “That’s great,” replied Josh. “I’m thrilled people think I’ve gone method for the role.” He said one of his goals was “to get rid of me”. Alas, he’ll be totally gone from the part as of July 2. Josh is sad to end his run, but said he’ll be taking his first vacation in three years immediately following his departure. And he wants to come back! Josh told me he’s planning a return to Broadway for 2019. Maybe a dramatic role this time? “I think I should sing,” he responded, dryly.
By the way, press materials explained that “Josh’s Find Your Light Foundation has funded over 60 children’s arts education programs around the country (particularly in low-income areas), educates the public on the importance of arts education, and advocates for arts education funding.” These goals are more vital than ever, considering Trump’s blithe disregard for the arts. As an alienated child, I was thoroughly rescued by arts and culture, so I encourage young people to immerse themselves in performance whenever they can. (And I don’t mean pretending to cry to get mommy’s attention). A group of singing schoolchildren proved to be a highlight of the event, and so was honoree Chuck Close, who said that he saw Natasha, Pierre on opening night and thought, “This is better than Hamilton!”