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witty—and gay

witty—and gay


In between seasons of Frasier and Out of Practice, Joe Keenan found time to write My Lucky Star, his third hilarious novel

One person who would never have a problem writing the "What I Did on My Summer Vacation" essay is Joe Keenan, who spent several years crafting his wildly funny and farcical new novel, My Lucky Star (Little, Brown and Co., $24.95), during the downtime between producing and writing episodes of the megahit sitcom Frasier as well as the acclaimed new CBS comedy, Out of Practice.My Lucky Star is Keenan's third novel--following Blue Heaven and Putting on the Ritz--to center on the harebrained schemes of gay-boys-about-town Philip Cavanaugh and Gilbert Selwyn; this time around, they run amuck in Los Angeles and cross paths with a closeted movie star, his eccentric family, and a troublemaking Hollywood madam. As in Keenan's previous P.G. Wodehouse-inspired books, it's up to Philip's writing partner, Claire Simmons, to save the day when all seems lost.

Over cream puffs at a bakery in Hollywood, the transplanted New Yorker--who still doesn't drive after more than a decade in Los Angeles--talked about finding time to be literary while working as a TV mogul, a balancing act for which he credits success to his partner of 24 years, Gerry Bernardi, who Keenan says "manages our lives well enough so that I don't have to do anything but write."

What inspired the first of these novels? I had been a big Wodehouse fan when I began reading him in my 20s right after college. I loved his books--I loved how funny they were. Up until that point I wanted to write comedy for the stage, and reading Wodehouse, I saw for the first time that a good novel could be funny--as funny as a play and funny in ways that a play couldn't be. There was so much you could do with language and prose that you couldn't do with a dramatic work, where your vocabulary is restricted to the way people actually talk, rendered entirely in dialogue. And he had so many terrific literary jokes--description jokes, narrative jokes, tonal jokes--I thought that I really wanted to try that.

So one summer, when I was at NYU in their musical theater department between semesters, I went home to live with my parents and worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield. I was writing these long letters every day, six or seven pages, to Gerry. And I had nothing to say because my life was so boring. So I thought, If I can write six or seven pages of prose a day, why not try a story? And I started writing what I thought was going to be a short story about a guy and a girl who get married for the gifts. And after I had written three chapters, and I'd only written the first scene, I realized it was going to be a longer work than I'd thought. So I wrote the first three or four chapters of My Blue Heaven over that summer, and then I had to put it back in the drawer because I was back at NYU. But between semesters I'd take it out of the drawer. After I graduated, I'd written about half of it, so I showed it to someone in publishing who said it was very good--now go finish it.

The first books are certainly informed by a musical theater background. I still remember that song about the New York Post in one of them. That was an actual song I'd written for an off-off-Broadway revue when I was 22. And then I needed a few lines of a song for Philip and Claire to sing at a party, so I figured no one was ever going to hear that song in another context. [Laughs]

Whereas this book seems like something you couldn't have written until you'd come to L.A. and worked in the business. I liked the idea of doing a book out here, but I hate research and I'm totally lazy, and I'm always afraid of getting the details all wrong about something. So I thought until I'd lived out here for a while, I really couldn't write a novel about Hollywood. I set my novels in New York because I had lived there, and I knew the geography, and I could understand what my characters were moving through.

People often point out that for quite a while the gayest characters on television were Frasier and Niles. Not literally, but they were metrosexuals a good five or six years before the term was coined.

How set in stone were those characters by the time you joined the show? Did you have any say in shaping them? Things were evolving. It was only the second season of 11. I did seasons two through seven and then came back with Christopher Lloyd [the TV writer, not the actor] to do season 11, the final season. I don't know that I had any impact on the characters individually because it's an extremely collaborative form, but I certainly did push the show towards exploring comical, farcical gay themes. I think more than anything, my contribution to that show was to import farce storytelling into it, because they hadn't done a farce the first season. The first show I produced was "The Matchmaker" [where Frasier tries to set Roz up with a coworker whom Frasier doesn't know is gay and who thinks the date is with Frasier], which was a very farcical story, not unlike the plots of my books. And people liked that episode a lot. It won a GLAAD award; it was nominated for an Emmy. It became part of the repertoire of the show that they would on occasion play with farce.

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