Drew Droege at the Hudson Diner. | DAVID NOH
Definitely one of the Bright Young Things of Los Angeles, hilarious Drew Droege was discovered on the Internet, impersonating, of all people, Chloë Sevigny. Sharing a slightly similar equine mien with that long-lipped, terminally hip downtown muse, Droege has her glacial been-everything, done-everything blasé manner nailed. Even when nattering incomprehensibly and dropping a multitude of arcane designer names —because you are definitely not fierce enough to know who they are, anyway — he is irresistibly funny.
Droege is back in New York, going “legit” again with his solo show, “Bright Colors And Bold Patterns,” directed by Michael Urie, which addresses what it is like to be definitely gay but seriously conflicted in these confounded, contrary times. I summoned the very warm and witty performer to dear old Hudson Diner to further explicate stuff.
Okay. The Burning Question: Why Chloë Sevigny?
Funny man Drew Droege wriggles out of drag to be a drunken mess
“She was basically discovered by [writer] Jay McInerney here in the nightlife scene, at least a full year before her movie ‘Kids’ came out. I think she interned at Sassy magazine and was involved in fashion, while making these indie films. She was fascinating to me. Coming from a small town in North Carolina, that downtown New York culture was so far removed from me. What was it like to be in the middle of all that? Don’t you have moments when… like I was at the premiere party for this friend’s TV show last night where they were handing out all this ridiculous and specialty name drinks. And there was a tie in with ‘Sleep No More,’ so there was interactive theater going on, as well, upstairs. It was so crazy. And how is it not ridiculous? Of course, it’s awesome and wonderful, but you’re not allowed to laugh at this, what most of the world doesn’t get to experience. And I think if you lose your sense of irony, you’re in trouble.”
Asked if Sevigny is aware of his presence on earth, Droege replied, “She has seen the videos and has talked about them, but she seems to have different takes on me. She did this interview in W magazine where she said it hurt her feelings — because I am a comedian. If I were a drag queen, she would have seen it more as an honorary thing.
“She’s allowed to feel whatever she wants, of course, but the truth is I never try to put her down because I think she’s fascinating. It’s kind of silly because my Chloë is so far removed from her — I went to the moon last year! I consciously try not to do what she’s doing, mine is more an intergalactic cartoon, but I was happy to learn that she is going to be doing an Off-Broadway play.”
I told Droege that I had seen Sevigny in the 2000 Off-Broadway revival of Joe Orton’s “What the Butler Saw,” where, for some reason, the cast took their curtain calls to the accompaniment of “The Thong Song.”
“Ohmigod, really? I love that. I will never get over my freshman year in college. Our drama professional brought us here on a theater trip and announced that on our first night we were seeing the play ‘Entertaining Mr. Sloane.’ I was so upset, ‘That sounds like the most boring and awful play!’ But it changed my life. We had to walk over, like, trash and I will never forget that performance, one of the best I’ve ever seen. I became obsessed with Joe Orton, and loved the film ‘Prick Up Your Ears,’ with Gary Oldman and Alfred Molina.”
Asked to describe his play, Droege said, “A few years ago, I was invited to a straight wedding, and the invitation told the guests not to wear bright colors or bold patterns. Basically, the bride — my friend — is such a control freak that she wanted to have a very pretty palette across the thing. Those words stood out to me as a very good title but I didn’t know for what.
Drew Droege in “Bright Colors And Bold Patterns,” directed by Michael Urie, at the Soho Playhouse through January 7. | RUSS ROWLAND/ RRSNAPSHOP.COM
“I was driving to Palm Springs and it occurred to me: What if this was a gay wedding and gay people were asked not to wear bold colors or bright patterns? And then gay marriage passed and, of course, it’s beautiful and wonderful, but at what point do we get accepted into normalcy, and what are we forcing upon ourselves to be accepted and ultimately stop being gay? I thought of my play being set in a house like ‘Boys in the Band’ or ‘Love! Valour! Compassion!,’ except with my friends and the way we speak and behave with each other.
“And what if I play someone who doesn’t have his life together and isn’t ready for marriage, but is sort of panicking about all this? He is at a crisis point and not ready for marriage, and is sort of panicking that queerness is leaving the conversation. We’re trying so hard to keep up with the Joneses, who are straight, like I’m a gay guy and I like sports!
“The minute marriage became legal, immediately gay publications were featuring weddings and everyone was getting married. And we all put the pressure on ourselves. Obviously marriage equality is incredible, but what are we forcing on ourselves and what are losing? Now that we can get married, should we behave and want suburban lives and kids and want this quote unquote normal life and stop being gay, not be bright and bold?
“If this character was just the real me, it would be very different because I can be very wishy-washy and think everything’s just great. But I wanted to write a character who’s way more on the side of ‘Let’s be loud and queer.’ I wanted to be a big old drunken mess. We all know that guy and have even been that guy.
“It’s fun to do, but at first, I was worried about how this one man show was going to work. And then I saw Annette Bening portray [monologuist] Ruth Draper in the 1920s, and I was overwhelmed, because this woman created all these 20-minute monologues. This was way before sketch comedy and she wasn’t really a comedian, more a commentator on the women in her world.”
Droege has strong views about media representation of the community, which his play confronts: “We’re still writing gays who are either straight-acting or are really sassy and have the perfect life. I don’t see much else represented. Patrick Russo called these characters ‘Swish ‘n Fetchit.’ We’ve moved so beyond that that so many gay characters are boring. ‘Hey, dude! I’m like, dude!’”
Hailing from North Carolina, Droege went to school at Wake Forest and now lives in Los Angeles.
“In New York, there are only so many spaces you can fill. In LA, you have a shot, and so many people have moved there. I love coming to New York but have never lived here, so to me, it’s a magical place where I work and do shows. I’ve never struggled here, but I know it’s really hard.”
Although enjoying success today, Droege has paid his dues.
“When I was doing theater at Wake Forest, I was never the lead or encouraged. I was always the weird third spear carrier from the right. But I did spend a summer in London doing conservatory training, which I loved and could do all day long. Shakespeare, Moliere, Mamet, really fun, but there was something that didn’t quite fit.”
One of Droege’s most hilarious and certainly most irreverent videos is titled “Maya Angelou is an Asshole,” in which that venerated, but kinda pretentious cultural high priestess is lambasted in no uncertain terms after a semester spent in a class of hers.
“She was horrible, literally with that attitude of ‘Aren’t you glad to be in my presence?’ She’d say things like, ‘When you walk into a room, you throw your energy to the back wall.’ Okay, but what a nightmare colony we’re creating with that. Just enter the room, cross, and sit down, bitch.
“But it was a really good lesson: never attach anything to an artist outside of their work. I was so young and impressionable, expecting her to have the answers. Nobody has the answers. We’re all complicated. She had led this life and overcome a lot and had nothing to learn from us. I taught improv for 10 years, and I learned so much from people in a way I’d never experienced, to create characters. You learn from the whole class, and I was able not to think about myself and what I was or wasn’t doing for three and a half hours. It was off-putting when my students asked me, ‘How would you do it?’ or about my career.”
Self-producing has been key in Droege’s carer: “There’s a really small group of gay character actors in Hollywood, and when any of us get anything it’s a victory for all of us as we’re all working as hard as we can, doing a million things. We all get along and see each other at auditions, but then they’ll get a big name, who is gonna cost more money and might be a lovely person but they’ll have so many people involved.
“And the audience really doesn’t care about ‘names,’ they just want to see something authentic, which is why reality TV is so popular. But the Internet and YouTube have changed everything, where now you don’t have to see everything somebody’s done. Like if Julia Roberts has a big flop, it’s not going to end her. Now, nobody is a name where, if you get a flop, you’re done. It’s not that way anymore.”
Improv sketch at the Groundlings in LA was an invaluable experience for Droege.
“All these character actors I loved — Jennifer Coolidge, Melissa McCarthy — hailed from there. I began improvising my own stuff and creating my own voice. That was the real shift, doing a lot of live shows and then the Internet came along. My friend Jim Hanson said, ‘I think we’re going to make the Chloë thing a video series.’ I resisted. ‘Nobody’s gonna watch it. I’m not really a drag queen.’
“It changed my life, and I was able to think and write from the point of view of character and all that stuff. I’ve had a very non-traditional entrée into the business. It took a long time.”
The videos were up for three months and were finally featured on Perez Hilton and Entertainment Weekly, and our viewership went way up. Then came the phone calls, and I wasn’t prepared. The videos had been up for so long, among other things. People ask me, ‘How do you make a viral video?”’ That’s like asking how do you make a hit movie? You don’t know, motto being ‘Make what you love.’
“You have to keep banging. It’s hard, and there are also such a limited number of gay roles and so many straight actors can do whatever they want.
“We can only play gay and, sadly, there’s a lot of gay people deciding that — because I don’t think straight people care.”
BRIGHT COLORS AND BOLD PATTERNS | Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam St., btwn. Sixth Ave. & Varick St. | Through Jan. 7: Sun.-Wed. at 7:30 p.m.; Fri. at 9 p.m.; Sat. at 5 & 9 p.m. | $69-$99 at brightcolorsandboldpatterns.com