Sam Pancake: Hollywood's Go-To Gay Guy

Busy character actor Sam Pancake retraces his rocky road to recognition and revisits his most memorable roles.

BY Brandon Voss

February 09 2010 1:45 PM ET

SAM PANCAKE2 X390 (COURTESY) | ADVOCATE.COM

You’ve worked with “socially gay” actors who have chosen to remain professionally closeted to this day. Do you ever feel resentful of those people?
I know who you’re talking about, but they’re my friends and I choose to just enjoy them instead of worrying about why they haven’t come out. I’ve spoken to a lot of those people and been like, “What’s your deal?” They’ve explained themselves to me, and I’ve been like, “OK, that’s very personal and specific, so I won’t give you too much shit about it because we all have our demons and crosses to bear.” I’d rather focus on Jane Lynch, who’s always been out. I did my first sketch show with her in ’93 and we’ve been friends ever since. She’s one of my comedy heroes and a hero in my life. At one point she said to me, referring to the characters we play, “We don’t have to worry about being fuckable.” I remember back in the ’90s that it was a lot harder on all my gay friends who looked, acted, and talked like butch leading men, and — with the exception of Robert Gant — I can’t think of any of them who continued to be actors. It was actually easier for me because I was the gay “silly billy.”

Lynch starred with you and Jack Plotnick on the Lifetime series Lovespring International in the summer of 2006. That was a pretty big deal to have three openly gay actors on one show.
That’s true, and we were surprised we didn’t get more love for that. I think it could’ve gone for a second season if we would’ve gotten more attention from the gay press and GLAAD. Jack Plotnick brought that up in an interview once, and the interviewer was like, “Well, you and Jane play straight characters, and Sam’s character isn’t out of the closet, so it’s not a really good representation.” I was like, “What do you have to do?!”

When you’re out at a gay bar in Los Angeles, which of your projects do people approach you about most often?
Who says I go to gay bars? [Laughs] Right now it’s the Prevacid commercial, actually, but a lot of people come up about Curb Your Enthusiasm and [gay paralegal James Alan Spangler from] Arrested Development. Arrested Development was something that people didn’t see as much when it was on, but it’s big on DVD. It’s one of those things where people have all the lines memorized, including mine, so they’ll come up to me, say one of my lines, and I’ll be like, “What?” I also get a lot of English tourists who come up to me and say, “You were a waiter on Friends!” I’m like, “I was on two episodes.” People worship that show.

How was your Friends experience?
Wow, what can I say about that? I will go on the record of saying it was a wonderful experience and I was happy to do it. [Laughs] I’d known David Schwimmer before because he had been roommates with a really close friend of mine, so he treated me really well. I later became friends with Matthew Perry when we did The West Wing together.

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