Lea DeLaria is a woman who does a lot, also known as a show business threat. A trailblazer, musician, comedian, and Real Housewives hater, the 57-year-old star of Orange is the New Black comes to Fort Lauderdale this Saturday for a show at Parker Playhouse. We had the opportunity to chat intimately with DeLaria where she explained to us what audience members can expect at her show, who her favorite pop diva of the moment is, and why the cast on Orange is the New Black is such a tight-knit group of women.
ALEXANDER KACALA: When you were younger, who were some comics you looked up to?
LEA DELARIA: George Carlin, Lily Tomlin, Jane Wagner, Elayne Boosler, Elaine May. Sort of the usual. Gilda Radnor please! She was a comedic actress and a comic. I will go with her. People I really looked up to were more like people I like to refer to as ‘show business threats.’ People who did a lot of things. Which is what I try to do. Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett and Jackie Gleason. Those guys. They were the ones I really looked up to.
AK: Your dad was a jazz musician. Tell our readers a little bit about that and how he influenced you.
LD: He was a jazz musician and instilled the love of music into me. I use to sing with him when I was a kid. He taught me how to read music. He taught me to have a certain taste of what I like. That was it. He wanted me to be a musician–not just a singer. I’m definitely a musician. I know how to read music. Because I love it so much, I try to have a big knowledge of it. I love to listen to it. I got all of it from my Pop.
AK: What are some of the songs you are going to be performing at the Parker Playhouse?
LD: Well we’re not sure. We haven’t quite put the set together yet. I mean I haven’t spoken to Varla Jean Merman yet to figure out what she wants me to do as well as what I want to do. You will be certain that you will hear “I Can Cook Too” from the Broadway revival of On the Town for which I have won a lot of awards. You can be certain I will do the ‘Ballad of Sweeney Todd’ because that is a big jazz hit of mine. I will probably do some stuff off of the new David Bowie record. And then there could be a variety of things in between. There will be eclectic stuff off of my records and from my Broadway shows.
AK: Were you a big Bowie fan?
LD: I mean, yeah. My last record was all David Bowie tunes. That came out in July. Go to Spotify right now.
AK: Looking back now on that 1993 appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show, what do you think when you look back at that moment?
LD: Honestly, when I think about it I’m like, “How did I even do that?” Honestly. Not only was I doing that but I was being followed by 20/20 while I was doing. I was being filmed for 20/20 while I was doing The Arsenio Hall Show live for the first time on television an openly gay comic. Crazy, right? So back then I guess maybe it was ignorance is bliss. It didn’t even occur to me how really scary it was. I just did it.
AK: Around that same time you did a Comedy Central special centered on gay comics. I feel like there is nothing really happening like that now. Or am I wrong?
LD: The reason why nothing is happening like that is because there are thousands of queer comics now. They just work in comedy clubs. Just like black comics do. Just like woman comics do. Just like Asian comics do. Back in those days, we were basically segregated. We couldn’t get work in comedy clubs. It really wasn’t until I was on The Arsenio Hall Show that comedy clubs started opening the doors for us. We had to do a comedy special of just gay comics because nobody else would work with us. They wouldn’t let us work. Do you know what I mean? It was a ghettoization. It’s better for us that the ghettoization is gone. It is better for us that we are out there working all the time.
AK: You are definitely a trailblazer of queer comedy.
LD: It was really important when I was on The View with Rosie O’Donnell and she said that on The View. She said “Lea was the first. We all know Lea was the first.” Sometimes people forget that when she said it like that – both Scott Kennedy and Sandra Bernhard called me crying. It was just so nice to hear somebody acknowledge it. You know what I mean? There are a lot of them bitches out there trying to take that away from me and that just isn’t true. Trying to say, “They are the first.” I was the first. You can’t take that away from me. They can try and rewrite history. It even says it on Wikipedia. I was the first.
AK: There seems to be a very strong sense of family within the Orange is the New Black cast. Tell me about that experience and what is so special about your relationship with those women?
LD: I always think about casts as ‘The Island of Misfits Toys.’ It’s a bunch of young women who just graduated from Julliard or NYU and a couple of other places who have never worked and it was their first audition. It was starry eyed women and then the rest of us are old show business foes who have been around for a long time. There is nothing in between. There are many people on our show who almost quit show business and then they got this show. Uzo most importantly. I think the fact that all the crazy mix of people together – people you don’t know and people who thought their careers were over – that we all cling to each other the way we do. We represent the disenfranchised because we are the disenfranchised. You know what I mean? We are black women. We are Hispanic women. Butch dykes. Trans women. And older women. So I find that the disenfranchised is usually left to their own devices will then help their each other. They will become friends. They will have a camaraderie. It is when the politics and the politicians get involved that we fuck each other up.
No matter right, left, conservative, liberal, radical or reactionary. Doesn’t matter when those politics get involved, it fucks us up. When those people get involved with the disenfranchised it’s always messed up. If you leave us to our own devices – we will do the right thing.
AK: Let’s do some more rapid fire question and answer. If you could have coffee with someone dead or alive who would it be?
LD: It’s just coffee, right?
AK: Just coffee.
LD: Jackie Kennedy. Because I am fascinated by her. By her style. By her grace. And by her smartness. She went to Bryn Mawr. She was a journalist. She had a life before she married two crazily famous brilliant men. There was a reason why. She was brilliant herself. Having coffee with Jackie Kennedy would be awesome.
AK: How do you take your coffee?
LD: Black. As my Instagram once said, “I take my men like I take my coffee, nowhere near my vagina.”
AK: Twitter or Instagram?
LD: Instagram every time.
AK: What about you would surprise our readers?
LD: That I am a complete and utter neat freak. Like ADD neat freak. Obsessively neat. So much so that I once wrote a jazz show for kids where basically the entire point of the show was for kids to put stuff where it belongs. The whole show was about the bass player named Boom Boom who had lost his bow. All of us had to try his bow and all the kids in the audience had to help us find the bow. The main theme song was, “Here’s a little saying that I know. You won’t lose things if you put them where they go. You won’t lose things if you put them where they go. Where did Boom Boom leave his bow?”
AK: Do you like kids?
LD: That might be the other thing that people would be surprised to find out. It’s not so much that I like kids which I do. I obviously do. But kids fucking love me. Kids want to play with me every second.
AK: On a scale of one to ten, how excited are you about life right now?
AK: Favorite Golden Girl?
LD: (Laughs) Wow! That is hard. Actually that is really hard for me to choose my favorite one. Blanche. Oh! I don’t know! I am going to say Blanche. She is funny as hell. They all were! That is why it is so hard for me to choose my Golden Girl. Betty White was fucking amazing too. It’s very hard! I think all in all – I think I laughed more at Blanche than any of them. There is just something about that style of humor. Ready for sex anytime. Blanche.
AK: Anderson Cooper or Andy Cohen?
LD: (Long pause) Oh, that’s hard. Anderson Cooper. I am obsessed with pop culture but I am more interested in actual news.
AK: If you could sing a duet with anyone who would it be?
LD: Also alive or dead or do they have to be alive?
AK: Let’s make them alive.
LD: Oh God! That makes it a little trickier. That’s so hard because I like so many people. I am just going to go with Taylor Swift. I think I would be one of her squad because I am completely obsessed with her. I can’t stop being obsessed with her. So I’m going to say Taylor Swift. Right behind her is Katy Perry.
AK: Oh. So you have a pop princess living inside of you?
LD: It’s just pop music that I’m obsessed with right now. If you said alive or dead, I would have said Ella Fitzgerald. But you said alive so I said Taylor Swift.
AK: Have you heard the Ryan Adams cover album of 1989? I am obsessed with that right now.
LD: Of course! I think the Ryan Adams’ covers, almost every one of them, are better than the original.
AK: They are so great.
LD: I know. What an amazing idea.
Photo credit: Sophy Holland
AK: Favorite David Bowie song?
LD: Oh that’s easy. Suffragette City.
LD: “Wham. Bam. Thank you Ma’am.” Let’s just say I relate.
AK: Favorite Housewive?
LD: June Cleaver
AK: If you had a Housewife tagline, what would it be?
LD: A Housewife tagline? Let me explain something to you. I have never watched a single Housewife show. I couldn’t be bothered. I apologize. The Housewives? I could give a fuck. I see enough spoiled brat bitchiness in the world of show business – I don’t need to watch it on TV.
AK: Favorite curse word?
LD: Fuck. Actually Fuck-tard.
AK: Last one. Favorite Meryl Streep film?
LD: Oh man that’s hard! How the fuck do you answer that question? I am in a mood today so I am going to go with a funny Meryl so I am going to go with Death Becomes Her. I have seen every Meryl Streep film. My fiancé and I have decided they actually should just take her out of the Academy Awards nominations process entirely and just have her own category. Where they just nominate her against herself in whatever film she was in that year because no one can beat her.
AK: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today.
LD: Thanks Alex. Sorry about the Housewife thing. Other than that it was great.
AK: Don’t worry about it! You are just being honest. I am a gay boy so of course I am obsessed with the Housewives. You know what I mean? I have 7 taglines myself. Do you want to hear mine?
AK: I would do the turn around with the big swoop at the beginning of the show – you don’t have to RSVP to the party when you are the party.
LD: OK. That’s adorable.