It took suffering a heart attack backstage at Largo after an April 2010 Sarah Silverman and Friends show for 47-year-old Todd Glass to make some significant life changes. But losing 30 pounds, taking Lipitor and quitting cigarettes only went so far. The physical improvements meant little without addressing deeper matters. Another two years would pass before news of five LGBT suicides in three weeks spurred the comedian to come out of the closet on the podcast WTF With Marc Maron.
A Conan, Fallon, Kimmel and Last Comic Standing veteran, Glass now hosts Nerdist Industries podcast The Todd Glass Show and is developing two TV series ("A show based on my life called The Todd Glass Situation, and another show called Camping With Todd, where I take a few people out and we literally camp on the weekend"). Simon & Schuster is releasing his first book, The Todd Glass Situation, on June 3.
The revealing memoir details Glass's understanding that he was gay by age 13, an added challenge to childhood struggles that include discrimination, ADD and dyslexia. Instead of reading and writing jokes, he learned how to perform by watching and listening (including repeating Rodney Dangerfield material in class).
Situation simultaneously provides a modern history of the L.A. comedy scene following the industry's 1990s bust. A pro at 16, Glass opened for touring headliners including Jay Leno, Paul Reiser, Garry Shandling and Dennis Miller at Philadelphia's Comedy Works. It wasn't until he moved to L.A. in 1989, however, that he found his authentic voice and a creative home among peers exploring vastly different terrain than their mainstream counterparts. After failing to get traction at the famed Comedy Store, it was venues like the Improv and Largo, plus alternative shows including UnCabaret and Comedy Bang! Bang! precursor Comedy Death-Ray that helped him hone and expand his strengths.
"It would be a good thing for everyone to do: Write a book, and then you learn about yourself when you're not trying to," Glass encourages. "It just happens. And that's what those places were all about, being truthful onstage. Even if that truthfulness is silly. When people hear 'Be honest with who you are onstage,' a lot of times they think that may have to mean a dark side. And it can be, but it can also be a silly side you tap into, or personal things about yourself... So that whole scene was very special to me. I knew it when I was doing it, and I certainly know it in the present."
As he writes in Situation, "It was up to the comedians to take matters into their own hands. The idea was simple: It's better to do a unique show for 30 people who really wanted to be there than a formulaic act for 250 randoms dragged in off the street, more focused on nachos and beer than the onstage craft."
Over the past 30 years, Glass has roomed with comedian Brian Posehn, provided Rosie O'Donnell with a crash pad and opened for a run of Patti LaBelle shows on Broadway. He also learned a few life lessons, chief among them:
- Tell people you love them while you still can. You never know when they might not be around any longer.
- Don't pre-judge others, and remember that everyone's always wrestling with something. "It's not all being gay. It could be you had a DUI and you're embarrassed about it, a drug or alcohol problem that you have that made you lose your house or had your kids taken away. And you better yourself, and you clean up, and maybe you feel a little embarrassed about your past. It's not just that. It's that hiding shit never makes you feel good."
- Speak up for those getting the short end of the stick, even when they're not in the same room. "There were so many times when someone said something in defense of who I was when I wasn't ready to be honest about who I was. They just did it because they were decent. I'm talking about it 25, 30 years later. So that's how fuckin' powerful it is. Just say something."
- You also never know who's listening when you use words carelessly. It's not just "gay," "faggot," "homo," etc.; Situation details Glass's specific memory of two people debating drinking out of the same glass as someone with AIDS. "That conversation alone probably set me back 10 years in terms of being open about my sexuality."
- And finally, don't overlook good dental hygiene. "Honestly, the best thing you could do for me is if you could give a shout-out to my dentist, La Cienega Dental. I went in a few days ago and everybody there was so nice. They were great!"
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Julie Seabaugh on Twitter:
Public Spectacle, L.A. Weekly's arts & culture blog, on Facebook and Twitter: