Standard Spirits

Three Sheets to the Wind with Drew Droege

Bottoms up! We got lit with Drew Droege before he blows the candles out on Happy Birthday Doug, his hysterical one-man show running through March 28th at Soho Playhouse (nearly perfectly equidistant between The Standard, High Line and The Standard, East Village). In the hour-long performance, Droege plays nine different characters from a cast of gay men that show up at Doug's 41st birthday party: from a bickering couple, to a self-righteous "yaaass"-ing, tongue-popping queen, to a nasty old exe, to the ghost of Oscar Wilde. The show is side-splitting, heartwarming, sharp and poignant, everything we've come to expect from the wildly talented, dynamic Droege and his collaborators Michael Urie and Tom Detrins. As Droege heads into the final month of the show, we sat down for three cocktails at NO BAR to dish about his beginnings in Los Angeles, the witchcraft of gay men, and the eternal damnation of The Academy for still not giving Glenn Close an Oscar. 

Happy Birthday Doug
Soho Playhouse 
15 Vandam Street, New York, NY


THE STANDARD: Hi, Drew! So this is how it’s gonna go to loosely structure things around each cocktail: we’re going to talk about you, then Happy Birthday Doug, and then finish with a lightning round of random questions. I think. We’ll see.
DREW DROEGE: Oh yes, go in order, I know that really matters! [laughs]

What were your original outlets for producing and performing your own material?
I was very lucky to have the Internet when I started, because it was blowing up just as I got out to LA. You used to have to do live shows to get people to see you, and getting people to come see live improv is hard. And I get why; there’s so many shows and improv can be terrible, even the best can have an off night. You just had to hope you had a good night the same time a casting director or someone from SNL was there. So much more luck was involved. 

How did you make the move to YouTube?
I was doing a lot of live shows with sketches and characters. I was doing my Chloë [Sevigny] impression on stage and my friend Jim Hansen was like, “This needs to be a video.” And I’m like, “No, I’m not a drag queen!” I was so against it for so long. But we did it, and that blew me up. Which I didn’t expect, because it didn’t kill on stage. Some nights they would just stare at me and not laugh. 

Why do you think that is?
You either get it or you don’t. Also, there’s no real jokes there; it’s rattling off names and things. I’m obsessed with specific details, mostly food and drink related, so when I find a character I think about what they eat, drink, wear, and it’s all part of their drag, essentially. I just sort of fell into it. I’m an accidental drag queen?

I wasn’t going to ask about your Chloë videos, because it’s like with a singer’s first hit or something, you’ve grown beyond that and it might not be something you want to revisit? What’s your relationship to that character now?
Now I love it. I’ve had to learn to get OK with it. There was a period of being excited, then really annoyed. I had to take time and circle back to embracing it. But I recognized it’s something special. Like, when you’re recognized from the Internet, people have literally held you in their hands and connected with you, and feel more comfortable to come up and talk to you.

YouTube has really become such an amazing platform. Like, you can be a 14-year-old in the middle of nowhere but be this viral star with a massive following.
It’s been amazing for queer people. We’ve been told forever by the industry, Hollywood or otherwise, that you have to be in main places like NYC or LA. Then you get there and they don’t want anything too gay or weird. The internet disproves that. They’re getting a platform they never would have gotten otherwise. 

How do you manage your headspace, performing as multiple characters while also getting a feel for the crowd?
I feel like it’s almost easier with different characters. I can tell people are listening and getting to know them. Michael Urie directed my other one-man show, and worked with me on this one, and he always says; “An audience may not hate you, they’re trying to figure you out. Thirty minutes without a laugh doesn’t mean you’re bombing. Don’t push and don’t panic.” Also, you can't hear smiles! 

How do you characterize New York gays versus LA gays?
The LA gays in general are all connected to industry or smugly proud that they aren't. Here you have finance, medicine, or do other things, so the conversation is different. LA people hide intelligence a bit more. I think we’re really focused on being young and clueless like, “Wait, whaaaat?! I’m an idiot!” People here allow themselves to have read a book.

And that works in reverse, if you’re playful or young presenting, people don't take you seriously.
Exactly. I’ve gotten treated like I’m not serious or don’t have depth because I want to make a joke, and I get people being like “Um, it’s adults only here.” I’m like, “OK, I GET IT.”  [Rolls eyes]


How did that determine which gays came to Doug’s birthday?
It’s funny, gay men are really nervous around each other, and we can be strange and snarky and horny and bitchy and needy. It was sort of hit me that every gay man after a couple drinks thinks he’s Oscar Wilde, but none of us are. In a straight space, we’re allowed to be that, but in a room full of gay people we don’t always know where we fit in.  

Doug’s party really had every type of gay among its nine characters, from a bickering couple, to a tongue-popping soundboard gay who talks about being sober but isn’t, to a sweet old queen. Are they based off anyone?
Amalgamations. I wanted to have everyone from young to old, because we have lots to learn from each other. It was important to me to respect an older gay charatcer because we never see older gay men [in shows], beyond the tired old bitchy “oh darling, please” types. We never see them with any sexuality or fun. And what they went through!

My favorite line from the show is when Christopher, the old queen, says “When did she slither in?” I must have repeated it a dozen times that following week.
That came out one night in an early version of the show! We all have that bitchiness, but he’s talking about a dear friend. He knows how to find the humor. Being gay is like being a witch -- use your powers for good! Whereas Jason [one of the younger characters in the show] thinks he’s being funny when he’s just saying bitchy, mean things. 

Were you at a certain birthday party when the idea of this show came about?
I thought back on parties I’d thrown where I’d invite like 100 people and it was exhausting. That happens at a lot of gay parties; we invite every gay person we’ve ever met. In the show, every character I don’t  like in the party I kick out, and the ones I love are there at the end. It’s about holding on to the people that mean the most. 

Gays really go for it with birthday parties, well into adulthood. When is enough enough?
That’s such a good question!  Everyone on earth has a birthday, yet we treat them like this insane thing. Every year mine get smaller, and it’s so good. Please don't pay for my dinner. 

"Every gay man after a couple drinks thinks he's Oscar Wilde."

What was the choice for the wine bar setting?
The reference was Covell in LA which has a secret wine room that everyone goes to. I wanted it to be a contained setting to it would make sense the only people there were Doug’s gay friends. I also put it on a Wednesday, which is very LA since none of us have real jobs and prefer parties during the week. 

That makes sense. I forgot my second cocktail at the bar, one sec! 
Oh my god, yes! Go!

So, which character is you? Also, cheers!
Cheers! They’re all me. I don't know. I had fun playing the straighter presenting slut, who doesn’t speak a lot. But hot people don’t have to talk. They just stand there. Like, what are they gonna say? 

Ha! Totally. Also it was funny when it’s called out he hooked up with one of the guys in the insufferable couple, like, not that long ago. 
When friends grow up, it’s a bummer to me. I don’t think we ever have to. People should be able to get married, have children, but when they do the “Oh, we don’t do that anymore” thing, it’s condescending. Great thing about being queer is we don't have to abide by those rules. Just because you have a kid doesn't mean you can't go out and have fun. Don't pin that on your child! A lot of people can't wait to have that excuse. It’s always the couples that look and sound the same. It’s like owners and their dogs. 

Where do you enpicture Doug going at the end of the party? ...Did I just say enpicture? I meant to say envision but then said picture and my wires crossed. 
[Laughs]. I have never thought about that! He’s sort of plastered so I guess just an Uber home? I envision Doug to be single, but not in a crisis about it.  He has a lot of people coming at him all night, so I think he just goes home, maybe throws up a little, and falls asleep and wakes up in peace at like 11:30. 


Did you watch Fleabag? I got a similar moment at the end when you break the fourth wall as Doug and speak to the audience before the party ends, like when Fleabag leaves us.
Yes! Originally Doug was never going to show up, but it felt so incomplete without him there. I lift the curtain and realize the audience who has been watching has been at the party the whole time. Ugh, I love Phoebe Waller-Bridge. 

In general who are you interested in right now? Like who do you have your eye on. 
Phoebe, Andrew Scott, and that whole Fleabag crew is fascinating to me. 

Oscar snubs? 
I get so involved and then I forget. I’m thrilled Laura Dern won. I think Charlize Theron is one of the greatest actors of our time and I always want her to win, but I hate Megyn Kelly so it was a complicated place to be in because she made me like her.

She also played her way nicer than she really is!
Oh for sure. I think Charlize is as good as it gets though. And she has an Oscar. I’m still bummed about Glenn Close. I think she got snubbed last year and I’m still upset. Olivia Coleman is amazing though.

Do you follow the Instagram account @dublin_zoetrope that is a vendetta about everyone who has gotten an Oscar over Glenn?
Oh my God! No! I need to find that.

It’s hysterical.
Like, she’s never won! It feels mean at this point. But I don't think she acts HARD enough, if that makes sense. 

Right, whereas with someone like a Meryl, it’s always very, very much acting.
Right! I love Meryl But come ON. You don’t have to include this but -- well, whatever, like Meryl Streep is going to get mad at me -- but no one is giving her notes anymore. Maybe clean your glasses a bit less and lick your teeth a little bit less. No one thinks she’s more overrated than Meryl does, so she gets it. [laughs]

Who were your actor queens growing up, along the lines of Jane Fonda, Meryl, or Glenn?
I love all three of those. My real queen is Carol Burnett. She is so human but so over the top and believable, and heartbreaking. She always brought so much gravity to these crazy characters that she played. Er, plays. [knocks wood]

What about pop music? Who are your divas?
My favorite is Pink!

Ah, that’s a good one! We have the same birthday. She’s a Virgo, so.
Oh you do? That’s fun! I love, love her. I do love Madonna, Cher, and a bunch other I can get into, but Pink I think is really special. And Sinead O’Connor I’m a huge fan of. I think in the 90’s every single singer wanted to sound like her. 

Have you seen Pink live, doing her acrobatics thing?
Yes, but not in a concert. I got to be in a music video with her a while back, and in the same week I also catered a party she performed at and all the caterers had to wear pink wigs. That woman is a machine.

Truly! Are you a Broadway musical queen?
I loved the new West Side Story. I was sobbing. I also love Little Shop of Horrors.

Any legacy shows, like Phantom of the Opera or Cats?
Not so much. I saw the Miss Saigon revival and loved it, and I love Les Mis. They’re beautiful shows. My favorite of all time is Sunday in the Park with George.

Did you see Cats the movie?
Absolutely. It’s horrible and I loved it. It’s the most fun I’ve had at the movies. I recommend it more than most films I saw last year. Oh my God, how much fun. It’s way better than the Les Mis movie! Which is so dreary and dull and labored. I’ll watch Cats again but never Les Mis again.

Thoughts on Anne Hathaway?
No. She just reminds me of every person I went to school with who just tries too hard in every way. Nails on a chalkboard. 

Are you looking forward to seeing any shows soon?
I’m seeing Company tomorrow, then Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? And very excited about both. I cannot wait for Caroline, or Change, which is about black maid in the south in the 1960’s where she and all the household appliances are characters. It’s the most beautiful music, and comes to Broadway this year with Sharon Clarke. That woman is supposed to be incredible, so get ready. Plus, Tony Kushner wrote the book!

What’s your next thing, once both you and Doug finally go home?
I’ll be in Search Party season 3, in a couple episodes. It’s romantic to get away from my life for a bit, but I miss the space in LA and it’s a lot all the time here. But I love it.


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