Daniel Franzese has played some unforgettable roles but it's his gentle charm and effortless comic timing that make his characters so likable and real. So real we feel like we know him, and we want to know more. Though his performance as Damien in Mean Girls has been immortalized in memes, it's not because that character went for obvious laughs or played on “gay friend” stereotypes (unless, of course, it was calling them out). Tina Fey's writing was nuanced and she cast a very funny man to bring them to life. Franzese's relatable way of making people feel and, especially, laugh has taken his career in diverse, often droll directions, and this weekend, fans have an opportunity to see what he's been up to lately: performing and hosting stand-up comedy. We spoke to the L.A. resident about his comic and dramatic endeavors, past and present.
L.A. WEEKLY: You’re currently on your Amazing Comedy Tour and this Friday you’re hosting West Hollywood Brunch, the only monthly LGBTQ show at the Comedy Store. Tell us about it. What do you love about performing stand-up versus acting?
DANIEL FRANZESE: This stand-up tour has really made me miss live audiences. I have had a few series-regular roles and guest-starring arcs on shows recently, but nothing compares to hearing a live audience roar. Being an entertainer has always been at the fiber of my being. I don't really see too much of a difference between telling jokes at the Comedy Store and singing my ABC's on my Nana's coffee table. What I do love is the history of the Comedy Store and all the great funny people that have worked those rooms. It's sacred ground and I'm so proud to be the host of the monthly West Hollywood Brunch and LGBTQ showcase show. We get to have some of the sharpest and most hilarious people be represented and performing as part of that legacy. Some of my favorite emerging comics, like Justin Sayre, Nicky Paris, Tim Murray, Justin Martindale, Pete Zias and Anthony Desamito, are people who I would pay to see, and it's great that I can cast them. The room barrels with laughter at our jam-packed show. I don't know if that would've always been the case many years ago. It's great to watch and an honor to host.
It was great seeing you at the Mean Gays musical last week. I thought it was a nice honor when they called you up onstage at the end of the musical. Has your role in Mean Girls helped or hurt getting acting roles?
Mean Girls is iconic at this point and it's so cool to be a part of that legendary moment in pop culture. I think anytime something is that successful, it helps and hurts you. I celebrate all the good it has done for representing people who are different.
Why has Mean Girls remained such a huge cultural obsession?
Mean Girls was the first successful comedy to really have the internet. We were at the very beginning of meme culture, and I feel it will always be relevant in that regard. You can take anything and put it up against Mean Girls and it will be relevant. I think one of the reasons it is so successful — on top of Tina Fey's incredible humor and iconic wit — is the fact that women deal with this sort of clique culture on a daily basis and it's therapeutic for them to watch it all be torn down.
Talk about your role in HBO's Looking and what you were trying to do with that role.
I was happy to be offered the role of Eddie in Looking. He was a sexy, outspoken, confident gay man who happened to be HIV-positive, and it was fun to play on all those levels. It was incredible to see them sexualize a gay man of size in gay television. We don't see that that often, and it's fascinating how many projects I work on want me to play a sexy character now. I think Looking really broke down a few walls in that regard.
What do you think about LGBTQ representation in film and TV? How can it be better?
My one biggest gripe with all of this incredible interest in LGBTQ stories and content is that they keep casting straight people in these roles. Call Me by Your Name and Love, Simon were terrific gay love stories with the leads being played by straight people. Oscar season was filled with nominations of straight actors playing queer roles. I think we need to have more LGBTQ people out there creating new content and making new movies. Also, television employees who are queer people telling our stories. Also, please hire me, I'm available.
Damian in Mean Girls and Eddie in Looking have both pushed boundaries for queer acceptance of people who don't fit into a cookie-cutter mold. How does this affect your own life? Your Instagram is filled with comments from fans saying they look up to you.
It's been so fun growing from a young kid who was insecure about taking his shirt off in the pool and unsure of himself, to being one of the few signed plus-size male models out there. I think anytime I am onscreen I am representing people who are different in the gay community. I've always been too tall, too ethnic, too big, too feminine, too masculine, too loud, etc. Now, I just celebrate exactly who I am, where I am and tell jokes about it all. That's why I love my monthly shows at Flappers and the Comedy Store, because it's a great time to just be free of all of the things society expects you to be and just make fun of them.
West Hollywood Brunch with Franzese (and performers including James Adomian, Justin Martindale, Thomas Dale, Page Hurwitz, Christopher Smith Bryant, AB Cassidy, Justin Sayre, Jared Goldstein and Nicky Parisat) at the Comedy Store, 8433 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; Fri., March 22, 7:30-10 p.m. Tickets here.
“Daniel Franzese and His Amazing Friends” at Flappers Comedy Club (main room), 102 E. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank; Sun., March 24, 9 p.m. Tickets here.