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Born in an iPod

Born in an iPod


Rufus Wainwright's not the only one channeling Judy Garland: 24-year-old Billyboy summons her for The Entertainment Beat With Frances Gumm, a hilarious podcast.

Imagine an NPR-style radio interview with Madonna, only with singer-actress Judy Garland interrogating her fellow icon. That's right--Garland, despite her 1969 death, merrily reanimated and in witty, self-mocking, and occasionally untethered top form, chats with fellow divas, lurching into stream-of-consciousness ramblings about pop culture and even biting into showstoppers that she never got to sing during her 40-year career, like "I'm Still Here." Welcome to the lovingly demented The Entertainment Beat With Frances Gumm, a free-form biweekly podcast performed pretty much solely by a gay 24-year-old New Yorker who identifies himself only as "Billyboy." Having debuted in mid December, the show already boasts 6,500-plus subscribers because, as "Garland" herself quips on one recent podcast, "it's more fun than an afternoon in Lana Turner's sweater."

After hearing your podcast, I had to know: "Who the hell?" I'm 24, a composition student who wants to write for musical theater. I've had a small performance in Paris of a song cycle I'm expanding into a musical about Frida Kahlo. I'm a part-time legal assistant, and I sing in a choir. It may sound weird, but aside from that I'd like to remain anonymous. I'm a background kind of person, but I feel wittier and more alive when I'm doing Judy's voice.

When did you start zeroing in on Garland? For Christmas one year my mom bought me the DVDs of her television shows, and they turned me into a hermit for weeks. After listening for years to Judy's Carnegie Hall album, I was ecstatic to finally see her perform. She's brilliant. Then I took some quotes from those "Judy Speaks" tapes she made late in her life for an autobiography--where she says things like "I am an angry woman!"--and put them into dance mixes, and just for kicks at parties for my friends, I started doing her voice.

How did the podcasts come into being? [Laughing] I literally stepped out of the shower into the living room one day, looked at the newspaper, saw the King Kong ads, and thought, It's 1933 all over again. What would Judy have thought of this? I started doing the podcasts in my bedroom with a little headset, mike, and a program called Audacity. The other character on the show, the producer-cohost, "Roger," just sprang up out of nowhere, and I do him too, just by lowering my voice. I've also done Carol Channing's voice on the shows.

Isn't Garland seriously old-school for someone in his 20s? I love Barbra Streisand and Madonna, but there is just something about Judy Garland that touches and moves me. I never thought the podcast was going to be anything; I just totally did it for my friends to drink some wine and laugh with. The first few e-mail responses were, "This is absolutely cruel. How dare you?" but suddenly I'm getting e-mails from people in London, like, "Judy, the Palladium is still here if you want to play it." It's gotten so that I'll wake up at 3 o'clock in the morning and write down an idea for the show. I feel like she still has stuff to say, I guess.

And stuff to sing. I'm getting requests from listeners for lots of Sondheim: "Rose's Turn," "Ladies Who Lunch," and I just had her do "Finishing the Hat" from Sunday in the Park With George. I'm not a singer, and she was one of the greatest of all time, but Jim Bailey is a singer--and he is amazing--but when he goes into the Garland dialogue he loses me. In the last years of her life, her voice was either on or off. The way I see it, she's doing these podcasts directly after the end of her life, obviously not in her prime. That's my defense, anyway.

Where are you going, and what will you find? I have ideas of doing Lux Podcast Theater, where she would do actual movie roles. People really seem to like the show, and I'm going to keep doing it as long as it's fun. You know that line in A Star Is Born where James Mason compares her to a prizefighter waiting to go into the ring? That's how I see her. She's fierce.

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