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Nellies On Fire

What greater homage to Joan Crawford is there than having a gay sketch-comedy troupe (who named themselves after a petticoat-wearing bully from Little House on the Prairie , a sappy TV show about farmers in the 1800s) reincarnate her as either Evita or Annie Sullivan teaching Helen Keller to spell O-S-C-A-R? The Nellie Olesons — John Cantwell, Terrence Michael and Nora Burns — have been perfecting their brand of queer comedy for 10 years, spoofing everything from Calvin Klein commercials to gym-cruising etiquette (“I think it’s so great that no one’s dying anymore, ’cause, you know, AIDS is so three years ago”) to every dance number ever staged for the screen, with no-holds-barred humor that’s closer to John Waters than lisping gay camp. Mink Stole and the original Nellie herself, Little House on the Prairie ’s Alison Arngrim, have taken part as guest performers. Now, the Nellies are holding us breeders hostage again with Older! Uglier! Meaner! , their latest buffet of tastelessness. We caught up with them backstage at the Cavern Club in Silver Lake. (They’re playing at the Village in Hollywood this weekend.)

L.A. WEEKLY: Isn’t this sketch-comedy business just an excuse for you to dance like you’re on an ESPN National Aerobics Championship?
TERRENCE MICHAEL: Please, any excuse to jump around like demented “women-men.”
JOHN CANTWELL: I feel absolutely blessed to wear a woman’s leotard onstage and do “sugars” and “compulsory pussy thrusts.”

Joan Crawford, via Mommie Dearest, is one of the troupe’s recurring characters.
MICHAEL: We know the movie so well, we might as well have Mommie Dearest tattooed on our backside. And how sad that is . . .
CANTWELL: It’s all very sad.

Nora, what are the criteria for being a fag hag these days?
NORA BURNS: Fag haggery is very competitive these days. You can’t just be a wacky fat girl with funny glasses who sings show tunes. You have to know DJs, wear D&G and have a hunky entourage.
Since the Olesons often mock old Calvin Klein perfume ads, what would the Nellie Olesons’ eau de parfum smell like?
MICHAEL: Our fragrance would be a heady combination of sass and pizzazz that would grab you by your hair and bitch-slap you to the ground.
CANTWELL: It would definitely burn a bit.

Is there anything funny about the Hurricane Katrina media coverage you’d like to point out, aside from Mike Myers’ deer-in-the-headlights look alongside Kanye West on the NBC telethon?
BURNS: Bush trying to look as if he gives a shit. The only mission-accomplished moment he has is giving his cronies rebuilding contracts. We hate that motherfucker.

So what do you envision for the Olesons after your upcoming Comedy Central sitcom?
MICHAEL: The Nellies will discover Jesus, form a Christian schlock band called “Holy Trinity” and make a shitload of money touring through the Deep South.
CANTWELL: I would like to work with Kay Lenz one day.

Older! Uglier! Meaner! is playing at the Village at Ed Gould Plaza, Davidson/Valentini Theater, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood, through October 1. Call (323) 860-7300.


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