Jason Stuart :: Dropping names online

by M. M. Adjarian

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday August 31, 2010

You know him as one of the first gay comics to play in mainstream comedy clubs in the early 1990s, when being out and onstage was risky business. And you also know him as a character actor who's starred in such popular TV shows as Will & Grace, Everybody Hates Chris, and House, M.D. He's Jason Stuart, a versatile performer who combines edginess, compassion and an endearing quirkiness into one impressive package. With the August 5th launch of his new online series, Name Dropping with Jason Stuart, this man of many talents now wears a new hat: Internet talk show host. Click here to see the first episode.

Set in Stuart's own living room, the show appears on the interactive LOGO website, AfterElton.com. It will run once monthly and feature intimate, one-on-one interviews with LGBT actors like Emmy award-winning comedian, Leslie Jordan, Stuart's first guest. And judging by the viewer comments the first episode has garnered so far, "Name Dropping" has been a hit. The warm reception has been quite encouraging to the actor/comedian, who admits he's "always loved showbiz stories" and who is more than adept at confronting the controversy to which those stories sometimes give rise.

Last May, Stuart, chair of the Screen Actors Guild National LGBT Actors Committee, responded with graceful aplomb to an inflammatory article by Newsweek journalist Ramin Setoodeh regarding the inability of gay actors to play straight roles. "Setoodeh's wrongheaded argument sends a damaging and false message that we are limited in the roles we are able to play," Stuart stated. "I'm an actor; it's not who I am but what I can play that counts." And play across sexualities he can: in addition to appearing in such roles as the gay family therapist on My Wife and Kids, Stuart has also embraced-and often to critical acclaim-straight roles in such shows as The Closer and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

The independent streak Stuart reveals with his new Web venture has manifested elsewhere in his career. In 2001, he produced and starred in his own improvised romantic comedy, 10 Attitudes, which won Audience Award and Best Picture at the 2002 Barcelona International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. And in 2006, he starred in Stewart Wade's Coffee Date and earned a Gay International Film Award nomination for best supporting actor.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Stuart-who is currently preparing for a gig with Jay Davis at The Parlor Hollywood on September 14, a lecture at Eastern Washington University on September 28, and his Bear/Leather Week headliner at the Art House in Provincetown, MA from September 30 to October 2-about his Internet show and his aspirations to become the newest Hollywood name-dropper on the block.

Why a talk show?

EDGE: What motivated you, a character actor and stand-up comic, to create a talk show?

Jason Stuart: It seems that all the shows of late have been about who's doing it with who. Or who's gotten into trouble because they are in jail. I wanted a show that would be more personal. Like how did you get the job that changed your career? And what was it like to work with so and so? It's all about the guests' experience, not just what their thoughts are about someone they don't know. I did not want their opinions: I wanted them to drop names of famous people they knew and talk about the experiences they had.

EDGE: Why did you decide to make that show Web-based - why not something on TV?

Jason Stuart: I would love to have it on TV! Please send emails to LOGO so it can run on both venues. Wow, that would be sooo wonderful!

EDGE: Did you have a model in mind when you began putting "Name Dropping" together?

Jason Stuart: Sort of Inside The Actors Studio but more funny. Also, you know, I'm an actor and a comedian. Most of these shows are hosted by folks who do other things, like journalism. My show is more like Comics Unleashed where one entertainer is chatting with another. You're sort of like a fly on the wall to what we really talk about when we hang out. Also, there is a crawl on the bottom of the screen like on CNN where we give you jokes, comments, and info about what we are chatting about. Like imdb.com.

Upcoming talent

EDGE: Your first show, which appeared online in August 5, featured a conversation with the Emmy-winning comedian, Leslie Jordan. Why did you decide on interviewing this particular entertainer for your premiere?

Jason Stuart: Well, who tells a story better that Leslie? He is so funny! When I called him on the phone, first thing he said was "What is the show gonna be on?" I said LOGO online in the AfterElton section. He said without missing a beat, "Well, don't out me!" We both laughed so loud!

EDGE: What kind of talent do you want to feature on future shows and can you reveal-or at least hint-who will be among upcoming guests?

Jason Stuart: Well, as I mentioned it's for LOGO online and on the boys' site called AfterElton. We will be having out actors, singers and comedians. And any other folks who are icons and allies in the gay world. We have Peter Paige from Queer As Folk coming up next and Jon Polito from all the Coen Bros films: this will be the first time he talks about being gay. Also comedy icon Judy Tenuta and big-time a gay supporter Alexandra Paul from Baywatch. To drop a few names!

EDGE: Do you see yourself continuing to cover just Hollywood-insider type issues or do you think you might explore other, larger issues - for example, those that might impact the LBGT community?

Jason Stuart: The show will evolve so I never say never... maybe [it will cover] the new Supreme Court Justice. I hear she might be "family." But that's just what I heard.

EDGE: The show itself didn't really seem have much fanfare prior to its debut - was this deliberate and do you plan to advertise it more?

Jason Stuart: We are rolling out slowly and from the response, we are really catching on. I produced the show myself with help from David Avallone, my director and editor. I got hundreds of emails and folks seemed to really dig the show. As I said before, make a comment on LOGO go to my page and leave a comment and hopefully we will be the next big show! Hosted by a gay man! Over 40! Now that's news!

EDGE: What kind of an audience do you envision for your show?

Jason Stuart: We seem to have folks from all walks of life. I got an email on Facebook from Bruce Willis! Well, he said he was. Man, he's hot... love that bald head.

EDGE: How has your show generally been received (or, with only one show out, is it too soon to tell)?

Jason Stuart: I was so pleased with the response from everyone was so positive. You know, I'm not Kathy Griffin or Margaret Cho. So when you are a gay guy, you have to try a bit harder. When the emails started to come in, I was very happy to see that people seemed to love the show. I know you want me to say someone went crazy like Mel Gibson! But I just got these cool friends to drop names and tell these cool stories about everyone from Faye Dunaway to the cast of Will & Grace. Since it was done in my living room, they were very candid and dropped a lot of names and dish. Since I know most of the guests from working with them, they felt comfortable saying just about anything!

EDGE: How often can viewers expect to see episodes of "Name Dropping" online?

Jason Stuart: Every month a new guest. But I hope as the show gets more popular, I'll do one once a week.

EDGE: How do you see this show evolving over time?

Jason Stuart: I'd love it to be a weekly series on TV, and continue on the Internet.

EDGE: What are your current projects?

Jason Stuart: I have been cast in three films - a horror film, a Gangster film and a gay romantic comedy to shoot in the fall hopefully. I was just seen on The Closer, Warren The Ape and Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

EDGE: Do you have any major tours or appearances on tap?

Jason Stuart: I will be doing several high profile gay events in the fall and some college shows. You can check out my website, which will also tell you when you can see me on TV.

You can catch episodes of Name Dropping with Jason Stuart on the LOGO online site, AfterElton.com: the URL is http://www.afterelton.com/jason-stuart. To find out more about Jason's upcoming gigs, go to: his website.

M. M. Adjarian is a Dallas-based freelance writer. She contributes to EDGE, the Dallas Voice, SheWired and Arts + Culture DFW and is a book reviewer for Kirkus.