If you don’t recognize his name, surely you recognize his face. From SeaQuest DSV (yes, the hit-90s television show featuring the late Jonathon Brandis) and Will and Grace to his prominent role on My Wife and Kids to films such as Gia with Angelina Jolie and Ghosts Never Sleep opposite Faye Dunaway, Stuart has racked up an impressive list of film and television credits.
In addition to his extensive list of acting credits, Stuart is also an accomplished stand-up comedian—a gig that afforded Stuart a real life role that pales in comparison to his Hollywood hopes. In 1993, before Ellen and before celebrities were using People Magazine covers to come out of the closet, Jason Stuart was one of the first openly gay men in stand-up.
Stuart is now celebrating 20 years in the business and is cycling back around to touring the country to celebrate. He’ll take the stage in Chattanooga Friday May 24 and Saturday May 25 at the Comedy Catch (get tickets here). O&AN caught up with Stuart to reflect on coming out of the closet then and now, the television role that sticks with him most and his upcoming shows.
Wow, Jason! Congratulations on 20 years. Does it feel that long to you?
I know, I’m like two minutes from being dead (laughs).
Well before Ellen and it was trendy to be a celebrity coming out of the closet, you came out in 1993. Can you talk a little bit about your experience?
It was frightening. It was unknown. It was a very big risk. I had been in the business for 10 years before so I had the experience of being totally in the closet and I had the experience of being in the middle—while coming out—the experience of being out all the way and then the experience of being a part of the fabric of the industry. A lot has happened.
I think the thing that has not changed is I think there is a bit of a glass ceiling, in terms of going to the next level.
A television series, a major part in a studio picture. I think a lot of gay people have had television series but most of them have come from Broadway which I think is interesting.
Can we expect to see you on Broadway anytime soon then?
Not to my knowledge. Maybe if god has it for me, I would love it. Are you kidding me? It would be a gift.
What would be your dream Broadway role?
Oh wow. If they did a revival of The Gingerbread Lady and I could play Jimmy.
It seems female celebrities have an easier time coming out of the closet, has coming out impacted your ability to get acting roles or book stand up gigs?
I think it depends on the world and the age. Right now, I think if you’re over 40—and I’ll say it more succinctly—not a Ryan Murphy gay—that means a totally hairless, skinny, white, Christian guy—you don’t seem to get anywhere. Unless you’re straight and you’re playing gay, then you’re allowed to be from a different area but it just seems that Broadway is bringing over the gay in terms of celebrity.
I think there is an idea of a certain kind of person that network television seems to want and they keep trying to recreate these people, so it’s more than just the gay community. I don’t think every person on television is this kind of person, there’s a lot of other kinds of people and maybe because I’m not that I feel like I want to be able to compete in the same way but there is definitely an inequality in the competition.
Well, your career has been pretty prolific over 20 years and you’ve played both straight and gay roles—
I’ve been very lucky.
Speaking of the glass ceiling and Ryan Murphy gays, have you ever felt pigeonholed in terms of the roles you would receive?
I’ve never not felt pigeonholed. I marked myself 20 years ago and I was sort of marked before I marked myself. People would refer to be as a closeted gay and tease me about it—especially in the comedy world. For me, it wasn’t the idea of weather they thought I was or not it was weather I was ready to admit it, talk about it, share my experiences and be treated in the same as my straight counterparts would have been.
You’ve been on so many television shows, is there one or two roles that resonate with you more than the rest?
Oh, yes. I think working on The Closer was an extraordinary experience for me. I did it three years ago and I got to play a character that wasn’t specified as a gay man—not that that would be a problem but all the guys in the room that I auditioned with looked like these middle-aged straight white guys. I was this jewishy guy, everyone had a potbelly but me, everyone was sort of sloppy and looked like a similar type blue collar guy and I got to go in there and create this character and win the role and change peoples’ minds. That doesn’t happen a lot.
On top of that, the experience of working with Kyra Sedgwick was so wonderful. I had most of the dialogue in our scene together and she was so present and so on top of it, there was no fooling around and I love that.
Well, being that that role was so recent, that has to mean something in the progression of what you think your future will bring?
Oh, definitely. I think most of the more interesting roles for me have come from working in independent film. I just did James Franco’s new movie called Holy Land and I play a guy who is a hoarder.
(laughs) Did you have to watch episodes of Hoarders?
I watched them enough. I cannot watch them anymore. But it was an interesting experience because the guy’s house that we used was a hoarder … I wore some of his clothes, he had this dog that kept interrupting the shot so I just added the dog into the film. It was very creative, very improvisational, very in the moment.
Was that the tone for the film or is that working with James Franco?
I think that’s the atmosphere that James Franco creates in his movies.
Jason, can we talk a bit about you stand-up? What makes Jason Stuart laugh?
What makes me laugh is when I don’t see the joke coming. Joan Rivers did a joke the other day that was so funny. She said not to make fun of Gary Busey because he drove her all the way across the country and didn’t ask for cab money. Of course she said I couldn’t get to my purse because I was in the trunk of his car (laughs).
Oh, Gary Busey. I’ve been watching him on Celebrity Apprentice.
Oh, he’s crazy as a loon. I did one of my first movies with him. You know what happens, someone gets famous and they can’t get work so they wind up doing these stupid reality shows and creating these personas—I don’t know it’s all so crazy. Most of these shows are all fake. Especially like the Housewives shows—they’re all fake. They are people who wanted to be actors, they’re not even housewives.
(laughs) Well then they get picked up by Ryan Murphy for a role on The New Normal.
I think she was an actress before she was on Housewives.
A stripper actually.
Oh, really? Good for her! (laughs)
Jason, it’s been a while since you’ve had a comedy album. Any plans to record any of the upcoming shows?
Well, the problem is that people record your shows and put it up online and I’ve been focusing on my acting but I am thinking about it.
What should fans expect from the anniversary show?
They should expect a lot of stuff about my mother, about getting older, stuff about dating because my dating life has been a nightmare.
Jason, one final question. If you could send a letter back to your 13-year-old self what would it say?
Oh, you’re going to make me cry. It was such an awful time. I would say go read Jane Lynch’s book. She has this one quote I live by—she says ditch the perm—for me it’d be ditch the spiked hair. Also I am parroting Jane Lynch but don’t give yourself such a hard time. That’s what I would say the most.
I gave myself such a hard time when I was a kid. I was always wrong and thought things were my fault.
I think we might all do that as children. Maybe it’s coming out of the closet because I think I did it to.
How old are you?
Oh, you’re a baby. Let’s talk about Jason Collins for a second because he’s your age. I saw the interview on Oprah and it made me so sad and so happy at the same time. So happy that he came out and he’s comfortable with who he is and that his family was so supportive but so sad for the exact same reason because he waited so long and he had such a supportive family. You think to yourself, why would someone do that—not even tell his twin brother?
Well, I don’t know. I think it’s a process. My dad is ex-military and I had this expectation of how he would react.
It takes you a moment to accept yourself-
Then give other people a chance to accept you.
I definitely agree. It’s a process for parents as well as the person coming out.
Exactly, I thought that my parents would react a certain way—I thought I knew everything—but they reacted the exact opposite of how I thought it would.
And as time changes, it’s great that people can come out and discuss and explore their sexuality at younger ages. Anything that you would like to add, Jason?
Yes, the fact that you are covering this tour doesn’t get lost on me. As gay brothers, we need to learn to support each other.
Jason Stuart performs four shows this Friday and Saturday at The Comedy Catch. Get tickets here.