With successes in improv, sketch, and stand-up, actor Stephen Guarino is a rare comedy triple threat. The Big Gay Sketch Show veteran fills his dance card with cameos on ABC’s Happy Endings, stand-up appearances, and directing his own big gay productions.
Guarino dishes to The Advocate on why he doesn’t need a script and how to land a role by being the most insane person at the audition.
The Advocate: On Happy Endings you play an insanely flamboyant gay bestie. You’re doing that stereotype better than anyone out there right now.
Stephen Guarino: I’ve cornered the market on that. What’s good about that show is that if you catch the first episode, Casey Wilson’s character is bored because she’s friends with a boring gay guy, who is Adam Pally’s character. So the show is smart because they set me up as the gay that you would hate, like the ’90s gay, who is really out of fashion right now. I think that’s really smart. Then, ironically, it ended up working, and they liked it, which is why I now recur on the show. It was a nice social comment at first, but it kind of turned the myth true that the bad gay is the fun gay.
Derek is so hyper. How do you amp yourself up to play him?
I don’t eat and then I have a lot of Red Bull and coffee and I just make sure that the writers are OK with me doing whatever I want because my entrances are all fucking insane. There’s so much improv on the show. I don’t think in the first two episodes that I said a word that was on the page.
The line “Slut, come help me out of this split!” makes me pee a little.
The whole reason that came up was because in the audition I was against six or seven of my friends for the role, and my default when I’m nervous is to eat everyone alive. If you’re a receptionist in a casting office, I’m going to be warming up with you. You are part of my show. When I went in to audition, I was so crazed — knocking chairs over — and I ended up doing a split on the boardroom table in front of all of the writers to punctuate the end of my audition. Then I just started screaming — “Booked it! Booked it!” — like an asshole and then ran out of the room. I didn’t even wait to say goodbye. I just left. And it worked. Then I got to the set on the first day, the split was the first thing we shot.
Do you get a lot of straight women asking you to hold their ta-tas? Not a bad gig, in my opinion.
Ha. Yeah I get a lot of people who recognize me from the show now, which is nice, and it’s always girls. Never gay guys. I don’t know if gay guys are watching Happy Endings.
You’ve found success from almost all outlets for comedy: improv, sketch, stand-up, acting. All that’s left is a reality show based on your life. What would that look like?
Oh, my God, It would be terrible because I’m so fucking boring in real life. I think I save it all up for these parts. I live in the servants’ quarters of Orson Welles’s old house. I don’t even have a microwave. All I have are a couple of DVDs of old Robert Altman movies from the ’70s.
You had a lot of great characters on The Big Gay Sketch Show. What was the writing process like? Did you come to the table with character ideas or did the writers play to your strengths?
Basically at the beginning of each season, we all come in and pitch for a few hours. I probably pitched 12 different sketches and maybe six or seven of them were characters that I do. Writers will gravitate to ones they are attracted to. They’ll present their version of it and then you give your input. It was the best show that no one watched, just like 7th Heaven.
Do you think there’s room for another gay-themed comedy show on television?
Maybe if it cost $5. I mean, ours was so expensive. RuPaul’s show is a one-camera setup, one person being paid while everyone else is being hired as a local. Our show cost half a million an episode. It just wasn’t sustainable on that channel.
You’ve been out since you were 15, which surprised me because we’re about the same age and both from Florida. I wore a softball uniform under my blouses, and even the boy who dressed like Madonna wasn’t out. How did you manage it?
I think I just lucked out with a small window of time between ’90 and ’93 when it was suddenly fashionable to be alternative. Grunge was on the scene, so anything different was hip. It was popular for jocks to have boyfriends, which sounds insane. We had a group called the Lake Mary Fags and it consisted of skaters who took pride in being bisexual. They’d have boyfriends to impress their girlfriends. It was very in vogue.
This is a magical place in Florida that I never discovered.
It was totally outrageous. We had a lot of gay kids who were very popular. It also didn’t hurt that my best friend Tanya was super popular. She looked like Mariah Carey and was really fashionable. She was my prom date, so we lucked out. I had no childhood problems at all. My parents are overeducated, Waspy, bored Bostonians. They didn’t blink an eye.
You just finished shooting Bear City 2. Can you give us a spoiler?
More high jinks, a lot of new characters, a major cameo by Kathy Najimy as my mother, and just a really thoughtful, interesting twist at the end. The movie has been just a huge success. It’s the first gay independent film I’ve done. I had been asked to do a couple and waited, but I thought this one really worked. It’s such a niche subject that they hit on the head. It’ll hit the festivals in Outfest in summer of 2012.
Have you gotten a lot more offers now from the bear community?
Absolutely. I have about 4,000 Facebook requests from bears.
Then I’ll be sure to mention that we did this interview shirtless.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently assistant-directing the new CBS Diversity Showcase. They take 14 of the hottest black, Latino, Asian, and gay comics and put them in front of the industry. I don’t know if you know this, but gay is now considered a color. They just added that to their diversity package: white, gay people. I did the showcase in January and won the prize of getting a six-month deal with CBS to develop my own show. They are trying to diversify and get more gay characters on the air. I didn’t get the show, but it started a good relationship with them, and I am directing the new showcase. I also directed a stage production of the movie Showgirls in L.A., but in drag. You can go to ShowgirlsInDrag.com to find out when to see it.