Daniel Franzese has been working in Hollywood for 18 years. Since launching his career in the teen drama Bully and playing the groundbreaking role of HIV-positive Eddie in the HBO series Looking, he is probably best known for his portrayal of Damien in the comedy hit Mean Girls.
He received a WOWIE LGBTQ Hero Award after he came out in 2014 in an open letter to the young, gay movie character he'd played a decade earlier — and the letter went viral.
Franzese talked to L.A. Weekly about his plans for the year ahead and how he navigates his life as a big guy in a small world.
Happy New Year! How’s life so far? What’s new?
Well, I’m doing a stand-up comedy tour. I really feel like I’m approaching the place of creativity I’ve always been trying to get to.
Have you done stand-up before?
I always dabbled in stand-up and did things like that. I did a lot of storytelling, a little improv. I did a lot of sketch, and every once in a while, I would fall into doing stand-up.
But I was always in the closet, so I never wanted to say, you know, “Oh, I met this girl the other day.” I couldn’t tell my story. I didn’t even want to sound gay on the microphone.
But since I came out, I feel like I can finally do stand-up — and it’s funny, none of my stand-up is even about that.
Is it just that you feel you can be more authentic?
Stand-up, you really expose yourself. And to do it fully … people can tell when you’re not telling the truth.
Whose idea was it to do a tour?
Several years ago, I started doing hourlong shows — Off-Broadway, I would do a one-man storytelling show, which is essentially a stand-up act with less jokes. When I came out to L.A., I had a lot of friends who were very successful stand-up comedians, but I didn’t call any of them right away, because I didn’t have the material yet.
So I went to open mics three or four times a day in Los Angeles. Tons of them. I did every open mic, I started my own open-mic Facebook group, and then I auditioned for a comedy club. The owner saw my set and she loved it. She gave me some notes and I worked on it. And then we went and I auditioned. I started doing more and more comedy and booking more stand-up, and now I’ve got a tour of over 40 dates for this winter and spring.
Is there an L.A. show?
I’m playing Claremont on the 27th of January, and on the 28th, I’m doing a sample sale at the Winston Box. We want to meet and greet people and do a little model call, because we want to use a lot of different types of guys next year.
Can you tell me more about that, because that’s pretty crazy: I noticed on your Instagram that you started your own subscription clothing box company?
It’s called the Winston Box. The founder of the company and his partner, they started the company on Kickstarter. I met with them, we clicked, and I became a co-owner and the creative director. It just launched; it’s a subscription box service for what we like to say is above-average-sized men. It’s all kinds of men, it’s not just big and tall; it’s all kinds of guys.
The average waist size of a man in the U.S., according to the CDC, is a 40 waist. But most designers stop at 38. So what’s that saying? That fashion is not for the average person?
You’ve publicly mentioned a number of times that you’d often not felt comfortable in your own skin and that you’d been bullied.
When I was younger, yeah.
Is that a coincidence that you’re now taking on this role in the fashion world?
It’s the evolution of the journey. I grew up very insecure about myself and my body. And growing up like that, you have to go on a journey to learn how to love yourself.
I stopped making jokes about myself in my comedy. I can call myself fat or chubby, because those are just facts. But I don’t call myself ugly! And I didn’t say big wasn’t hot. But I am big. I can’t help it. It’s hysterical watching me try to get out of a Fiat.
That said, feeling comfortable in the world became a choice for me. And that’s what I’m trying to do with the clothing: Make people more comfortable. This is a way to say, “Hey, this person respects themselves, and they hold themselves in a high regard, so you’d better, too.” I think that people started treating me differently when I started to become comfortable with myself, and then the way that people treated me changed the way I felt about myself even more.
You recently won an LGBTQ Hero Award. Was that related to your work regarding building a self-image?
No, but it’s funny: All the parts that were available to guys my size in Hollywood were the bullies or the guys who were getting picked on. Nobody was just normal that was a chubby guy. And then a chubby queer guy, at that? You get killed in a movie for that!
Are things different as an actor now?
Yes. I don’t want to say 100 percent, but they’re way different. People are just interested in different now. Queer, weird … I think that’s the nature of where we’re living now, in this age of technology.
Do you think that’s part of Los Angeles, or is that part of a new moment for greater America?
I don’t want to give Los Angeles too much credit, because I was living here in Hollywood for a long time with all the people that were cool with being gay and still not telling great gay stories.
I’m doing something now, though, called Falling for Angels, which is about Los Angeles. It’s a six-episode miniseries on Here TV and Amazon Prime, and each one is an LGBTQ story that takes place in a different neighborhood in Los Angeles. One of them is Bel-Air; one of them is Boyle Heights … mine is Silver Lake. It was released on Friday, Jan. 12. It’s an interesting episode.
Is a more public role advocating for understanding of LGBTQ issues something you’re thinking about becoming involved in?
It’s funny: I always was so quiet about my private life, but now that I realize that I can have a voice, I can’t shut up!
I’m an ambassador for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation for HIV awareness. I do a lot of different events with them. But I’m an actor first and foremost. I’m an entertainer. I want to make people forget sadness for a while.
Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?
No … but if when you’re putting this together, you want me to make it funnier, let me know and I”ll say funnier things.
Franzese performs Saturday, Jan. 27, at Flappers Comedy Club in Claremont. Follow him on Instagram at @whatsupdanny.