BWW Interviews: Tony Nominee, Sam Harris, Celebrates Release of New Book, HAM: SLICES OF A LIFE
Celebrating the release of his new book, HAM: Slices of a Life, (a collection of stories and essays - Simon & Schuster), Tony Award nominee, Sam Harris, will make his San Francisco, Feinstein's at the Nikko, debut in a show of the same name on Friday, January 24 at 8 PM. and Saturday, January 25 at 7 PM. BroadwayWorld fans won't want to miss it! And, just to give you taste of what's to come, the following is an extended interview that Sam Harris most graciously did with BWW's Linda Hodges.
LINDA: Sam Harris, as I live and breathe! What a thrill to be interviewing you for BroadwayWorld. 30 years ago this month you were the hit sensation on television's first talent competition, Star Search and have gone on to have an amazing career. And now you're an author with a collection of essays and stories in your debut book called, "Ham: Slices of a Life."
SAM: So happy to be chatting with you! Yes, 30 years. I can't believe that's true. Of course I was only 5 years old at the time.... Okay, not five, but I was young. This new venture with the book is so exciting for me. I've written for the stage and TV but the idea of a book was something I always wanted to do but it seemed so large.
LINDA: I have to give a shout-out to your publisher, Gallery Books, (Simon & Schuster) for sending me an advance copy. But fans won't have to wait long to get their own copy. "Ham: Slices of a Life" is scheduled for release on January 14th but can be pre-ordered on Amazon right now. I highly recommend it. It's a fabulous and funny, tasty treat of a read; sweet and savory with just right touch of tang. How's that for a one sentence review? Take that, Esquire Magazine, LOL. But we both agree that your book is a hit.
SAM: That's a GREAT once sentence review! I'm so glad you enjoyed the book and agree with Esquire. It's an exciting time for me.
LINDA: In celebration of the release, you're touring the country with your new show which is a feast of stories and songs based on "Ham." (You can catch Sam at Feinstein's at the Nikko for two performances only, January 24-25; see below for details). BroadwayWorld fans, you won't want to miss Sam's "Liter-Usical" - a theatrical hybrid of excerpts from the book artfully interspersed with Broadway and pop songs.
SAM: It's a real theatre piece. In most cities we're in theatres, but in San Francisco we're doing it at Feinstein's and I am really looking forward to it. I love SF audiences. The best. And this show is something very different - as you said, a hybrid piece I call a "liter-usical" cause it's literary AND musical. But it's not just readings and songs. It's something we've crafted as show. It was a challenge to choose which stories I would tell. I'd love to read the whole thing, but we'd be there for days and I'd have to feed everybody. So we structured different elements to create a more theatrical arc.
LINDA: I know that your shows all have an element of the personal, but this one is totally based on your life growing up gay in Oklahoma at a time when it wasn't safe to be out (and maybe still isn't), the early years of playing every awful club in LA, your big break on Star Search and all that that brought - to getting married and having a baby. What are the challenges of doing a show about your own life? What are you having the most fun with?
SAM: I've always been one who kind of tells it all on stage, but this is a whole 'nother animal. Much more out there. More raw. The book and the show are mostly humorous, but I do hit on many very personal elements of my life, including growing up gay in the Bible belt when there were NO role models or examples of anyone gay, especially gay and happy. The book and show covers so many different aspects of my life. The book is non-chronological, but there is a sense of through line, even out of order. There is a sense of triumph and discovery. And a lot of absurdity.
LINDA: You write that at seven years old, you knew what you wanted to do. Did you ever waver from that? I mean, were there ever thoughts of going into dentistry or perhaps archeology?
SAM: Dentistry nearly drew me away and yes, archeology is still an option... But no, I was lucky that I always knew. I knew before 7, but that's when circumstances illuminated a conscious choice. I've never waivered, but I've tried to explore all aspects within, well, storytelling I guess. Performing my own stuff, being in shows and plays and TV shows, directing - whatever calls to me at the time. And now the book. It's been a great ride so far. Up and down and sideways. But it's all variations of storytelling. That's what I am, I guess. A storyteller.
LINDA: What has it been like getting ready to do this show based on your book/life?
SAM: It's different from anything I've ever done. I feel like my whole entertainment experience has brought me to this. First of all, the primary challenge was taking a 305 page book and choosing which stories should be told and woven in to a show. It's more linear than the book. It's also different in that when I am doing another show, I am finding, as an actor, personal experiences to imbue a song or role to find something authentic and personal. In this case, it's reality. It's REALLY my story, so it's personal on a completely different level.
LINDA: One of the stories you write about happened back in the days before Star Search. You played the almost requisite dive clubs, but you were working with Jerry Blatt, creator of the Divine Miss M, Bette Midler. Not too shabby. How did that come about?
SAM: My father recognized how driven I was and that I was getting a little attention from my efforts, albeit small, and we he wanted to get someone to help me get to where I wanted to be. Jerry was recommended by several people as "the guy" for me. And it turned out to be true. In every way. It was the greatest gift my parents ever gave me. So after that initial hiring of Jerry, we just continued to work together through everything for the next ten years. He was a genius at comedy and pathos and structure. He taught me to find the extraordinary in the ordinary and see the world as art. Brilliant man.
LINDA: What I thought was funny was that your backup singers were called the "International Pancakes" and you write that they wore "black corsets and puffed taffeta skirts with picture hats and stilettos and lace gloves." Do you still see the International Pancakes? (And if so, what do they think of your success?)
SAM: I am in touch with a couple of Pancakes! What a time that was. Completely creative and open and risky and incredible. We were all learning and experimenting and it was such a formative time. They are happy for my success as I am for the successes in their lives.
LINDA: Broadway called you early and often. You did Tommy Tune's Grease, Cy Coleman's The Life, not to mention The Producers and Andrew Lloyd Weber's Broadway production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. You also starred in Jesus Chris Superstar, Cabaret, Hair, Pippin, The Jazz Singer, The First Wives Club and the self penned shows Hard Copy, Different Hats, Revival and the smash hit one-man show, Sam. Is it safe eto say that your heart is on Broadway?
SAM: It is. I do love getting to do different things. I love doing TV comedy, I love recording and writing, but there is a singular place in my heart for the stage, and Broadway in particular. It's BROADWAY! The best of the best.
LINDA: You share some hilarious moments from Joseph. Was that among your favorite shows?
SAM: Well, it ain't "Gypsy"... But it's a fun show. The challenge of that show was the four million sit-ups and pushups I did because I was practically naked throughout the show. The best part of that show is that it was where I met my husband, Danny Jacobsen. He played Daniel, Jacob's son. My brother. It turned out to be incestuous! And now we've been together for nearly 20 years. We have a good life. He is an exceptional human being.
LINDA: Any plans to do Broadway soon?
SAM: I would go back to NY for the right project in a Yankee minute. I love Broadway - the people, the community, the work, the level of talent, the discipline. The combination of getting to do the same show and have the same family and yet discover new things with each performance. I've had this feeling that we'd move back to NY when Cooper, (our son) is growing up and he would have the experience of NY.
LINDA: Sam, in your book you are fearless. You share without flinching, some of the lowest points in your life. But you bounced back and now you're a husband and father of Cooper. Did you ever think you'd see the day?
SAM: Well, first of all, thank you for saying that. I did try to be honest in the book to a raw degree. And I could not have fathomed, when I was a misfit gay kid growing up in rural Oklahoma, that it would be possible to be a legally married man with a child. It is an amazing time in history. And I've watched it and been a big part of it. I believe we will see equality on a Federal level in my lifetime and my son will grow up not knowing anything different. It's what he knows. We live in a diverse community of all kinds of families and it is not questioned. It's the way it is. Love is love. Family is family.
LINDA: I couldn't agree more. Here in San Francisco, we've lived the changes. Your anthem "My Reclamation" which is an anthem for equal marriage rights is like gospel here in the City. Have there been changes within show business that coincide with the movement or has show business in general always been ahead of the curve?
SAM: Thanks about the song. I'm proud of it and that means a lot. Show biz is a double edged sword in this area. The business has always been teaming with gay people, but even so, there was an invisible curtain. A "Don't Ask Don't Tell" where everybody inside knew everything but it still wasn't spoken about. Ask Neil Patrick Harris. The theatre is more of an exception, but in TV and film it was certainly true. Still is to a degree. But we've all come a long way. And the more people who are honest about themselves without the shame that we attached to being gay when I was a kid, the more that curtain dissolves.