Send in the Clown

By Jeremy Kinser

Originally published on Advocate.com April 11 2011 3:00 AM ET

 The age-old show business adage “dying is easy, comedy is hard” is lost on Drew Droege. In fact, the opposite has been true throughout the career of the versatile comic actor who recently came to the attention of mass audiences with his compulsively watchable series of “Chloë Sevigny” videos.

“I realized I had a knack for comedy when I tried to do drama in college,” Droege says, taking a deep sip from his Starbucks grande nonfat latte. “I’d be onstage doing Ibsen and getting laughs,” he recalls. “I’d get madder and try harder to be more dramatic and get even more laughs. I eventually realized that my energy is more for comedy.”

Droege acknowledges he first developed the skill for making people laugh while growing up in a funny family in a tiny suburb of Charlotte, N.C., where he knew everyone, including his local funeral director. “My brothers are hilarious,” Droege says. “You had to be fast and quick in our family.”

Droege, who admits to being “30-something,” also counts childhood viewings of The Carol Burnett Show and his teenage discovery of John Waters’s films as seminal influences that shaped his singular sensibility. He even feels pangs of remorse that he didn’t suffer more for being gay in a small, idyllic town. “There was a time in my life when I wanted more pain,” he says. “I had a really great childhood. I always idolized people who had these horrible upbringings. I remember hating my life for being so boring, but I’m so thankful now.”

After graduating from Wake Forest University in 1999, Droege immediately headed to Los Angeles to study with the Groundlings and hone his improvisational and sketch comedy muscles. Working with the esteemed company, which has launched careers for an array of entertainers including Paul Reubens and Kristen Wiig, gave Droege a focus that had previously eluded him.

“I always felt like I was a musical theater actor who can’t sing or dance, so where do you put that? Sketch comedy,” he says. “I love being big and loud and over-the-top.” Droege also found a day job with the troupe; he’s been an instructor for the past five years. “Teaching has made me better as a performer,” he says. “For several hours I have to not think about myself and just focus on other people.”

But thanks to the series of “Chloë” videos (directed by Jim Hansen), other people are focusing on Droege. By donning outlandish drag as the blond actress–fashion icon and spouting a checklist of boldface names or outré fashion items that have nabbed her attention, Droege has become an Internet sensation. While he admits the videos have definitely been a game changer, he also finds the sudden success perplexing. “I’ve played her onstage for many years, but the fact that during the last year the videos have taken off has been crazy to me,” he says. “Onstage people liked it, but when I’ve pitched her to different TV shows they always said that no one would get it, that it’s too random.” Besides raising his industry profile — Droege now gets calls from casting directors who offer him jobs — “Chloë” has also exponentially broadened his fan base. “People tell me their grandmothers like it,” he says “I don’t know what their grandmothers like about it, but I’m glad they do.”

But why Chloë Sevigny? “I tried on a blond wig for some other character I was playing, and I saw Chloë in the mirror,” he recalls. “I saw photos of her wearing crazy, insane clothes, and I read interviews with her in which she was referencing things that were so hyperliterate and yet so ghetto at the same time.” Droege stresses that he isn’t mocking the real Sevigny, whom he met at a party last December. “The longer I’ve played her,” he says, “the farther I’ve gotten away from the real Chloë Sevigny and become my own character.”

Until that elusive dramatic role comes along, Droege keeps busy with a full slate of projects, including his popular podcast Glitter in the Garbage, guest spots on sitcoms, and supporting parts in feature films. He’s particularly excited about Freak Dance, a spoof of break-dancing films of the ’80s, in which he stars alongside Amy Poehler as a silver-suited villain named Dazzle. “It starts like a Nickelodeon film, very kid-friendly,” he says with a wry smile. “Then it becomes the filthiest thing ever.” Then there’s his role as a creepy dress shop owner in the just-completed Sassy Pants, which costars Diedrich Bader and Haley Joel Osment as a gay couple.

Yet for anyone hoping to romance Droege, who is currently “comfortably single,” don’t expect him to be the life of the party. “I don’t want to sound like a total dick when I say this, but there’s a pressure to be funny all the time,” he says. “If I can just sit and sob at a film like Blue Valentine, I’d rather do that.”