Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Feature: At Home With Sam Harris

Article Pixel

BWW Feature: At Home With Sam Harris

There is an old saying that is attributed to the great American actress Helen Hayes: If you rest, you rust. This may or may not be an expression that Sam Harris has heard, but clearly it is a dogma for this artist constantly on a path to explore new things, new adventures, and new avenues in his creative life. The Tony Award-nominated actor has played stages concert and theatrical around the world, he has recorded best selling albums, done film and television, written memoirs in book and play form, and used his voice and visibility to speak out on socio-political topics whenever so moved to educate and inform. Now Sam Harris stands on the precipice of a new adventure.

On July 1st Sam Harris will celebrate the release of his first novel, a work of fiction titled THE SUBSTANCE OF ALL THINGS. While preparing for the day that his newest work of art is given to the world, Sam remains in isolation with his husband, Danny Jacobsen, and their son, Cooper. Hoping to hear more about The Substance of All Things, I reached out to see if we could chat about the novel, his artistic process, and raising a 12-year-old in quarantine.

This interview was conducted digitally and has been reproduced in its entirety.

Name: Sam Harris

First Cabaret Show (Title, Year, Club): ??? First NY show might have been Rainbow & Stars in, like 1990. Not sure.

Most Recent Cabaret Show: Not cabaret, but most recent one-man show is "Ham: A Musical Memoir"

Website or Social Media Handles: SamHarris.com, twitter: @SamHarris, Instagram: SamHarrisMusic

Sam Harris! Thanks for talking with Broadway World today, and may I say welcome! I hope all your loved ones are safe and sound right now.

And you as well. I love Broadway World. There's nothing like it. Such a central place for us theatre-freaks!

What does it look like, three men under quarantine in one household?

We're managing like everyone, and it's up and down. Sometimes the day flows nicely and other times it's fireworks. Lots of pent up frustration that shows itself in a myriad ways. Like, yesterday I lost it and just had to leave my house and I drove to a quiet street and sat in my car. For 3 hours. It was either that or blood could have been spilled. I cook all the time, and for some reason, we're wearing three times as many clothes as we did before, because the laundry is just stupid. I've done a lot of zoom interviews and a couple of masterclasses, which I LOVE. And this isolation has given us a chance to think of people we love that we've not been in touch with - so I've reconnected with a lot of people and had a zillion zoom reunions. There are always opportunities in the obstacles.

My boys fill their days as well. For being quarantined, we stay pretty busy. We're driving from LA to a ranch in Montana later in the summer. We won't be near anyone except outside on horses and rivers. So that gives us something to look forward to.

As two fathers of a rambunctious young son, have you implemented a kind of structure to these days of distancing, and how has Cooper adapted?

We try. After the last 3 months of school being online and with no hangouts with his friends, now he's doing virtual summer camps. He did a cooking class and now we're going into tech camps so he can learn coding and be able to hack into the White House security system.

He has to read an hour a day. He has household chores. But we've REALLY compromised our rules on screen time. I'm like "throw the kid a bone!" Everything has changed and the old rules don't apply. I just said to him, "Cooper, you and your friends got gypped. The summer is gonna be a little sucky. But it's temporary."

We also got a puppy. (One dog wasn't enough...) Cooper has wanted a pug for several years so for his birthday in April we got him one. His name is Kevin. It's been a lifesaver in this isolation - the pup is a joy and hysterical. Our other dog has no sense of humor, whatsoever.

I know that you've been busy working on your novel, The Substance of All Things, has Danny been finding projects of his own to occupy while you are putting the finishing touches on the book?

Danny is a presentation coach and event director for major blue-chip companies. In real life, he typically travels 3-4 days a week. With no travel, he's teaching corp clients how to work efficiently with the zoom medium. He used to be an actor so he's well aware of lighting and finding the camera and the right angle to show off cheekbones and hide double chins. Ha! But he's a really really great dad. So he does a LOT with Cooper when I'm in the weeds with various projects. On top of the book, I just sold a tv series and the movie of my show "HAM" just got a distributor. So it's busy, if not sane.

The Substance of All Things is not your first book, but it is your first work of fiction. How have you found life as a writer of fiction?

I love it. But it was an intimidating prospect. My first book, "HAM: Slices of a Life," was a collection of personal stories that were more memoir - growing up gay in the Bible Belt, show biz stories, having a child, etc. Writing a novel is another animal. After being strongly encouraged to write fiction, I had a writer's block for over a year. Then it came in a rush. I love writing. I love words. I love punctuation. I love finding the rhythm of a sentence. And of course, telling a story. I've been doing that in one way or another all my life. A novel, however, has been the most intense experience. Four years in the making. And I've pretty much loved every minute of it.

In one high-concept sentence, what is The Substance of All Things?

Can't do one sentence. There are 120,000 words! Here's the best I can do -

When Theo Dalton is six years old, his hands are irreparably damaged in a horrific car accident that takes his mother's life. Six years later, during the summer of 1968 in rural Oklahoma, Theo meets Frank, a Native American outcast, and learns that he has the ability to heal through his disfigured hands. He is exploited and put in great danger. Told from adult Theo's perspective, it is through his work as a therapist with a broken woman that he musters the courage to relive the summer that haunts him.

It's a coming of age story. It's a story of miracles, and dysfunctional and abusive families, and lots of broken people. I love broken people! Pretty much everyone is broken to some extent.

As an artist, you have always pushed boundaries and as a person, you have never shied away from the truth, something that can be dangerous in the age of social media. Are there bells that go off or some kind of warning sign that tells you that you are about to go past a boundary that will be uncomfortable?

First of all, thank you for saying that. In real life, I am a very private person. As emotionally available as I try to be on stage, I can be quite closed behind closed doors. My husband always says if he wants to know what's going on in my life he comes to one of my shows! As far as social media, I don't spend much time delving into Facebook. I post my political opinions now and then on the fan page and share big news. But as for Instagram, etc. I don't think showing a photo of my tuna melt or the shoes I just bought are interesting. And I'm not particularly interested in other people's tuna melt. As far as boundaries, I don't really share anything about my son. That's pretty much the only thing that's off-limits. I sometimes get in trouble for my political opinions, but frankly, I don't care. And I have no interest in making people comfortable. Change doesn't come from being comfortable. So "un-follow" away! I have neither the patience nor energy for ignorance in these desperate and disparate times. That being said - I'm grateful for the connection of social media. Especially now.

Performing live is very different from releasing a CD or a book because in one instance you're with your audience and the other instance takes it out of your hands. How do you stay centered in the letting go process of putting a tangible product out into the world?

Such a good question. I can't really listen to my records or watch myself on screen because I can't help thinking, "I could have done that better." But especially with a book, it is NEVER finished. You finally have to push the "send" button and let go. I had a second-grade teacher, Mrs. Maule, who said something that has informed so much of my work. We were doing turkey paintings for Thanksgiving. She said that an artist has to know when to stop. That all things created find their peak, and if you keep adding and redoing and editing after that peak, well, what follows a peak is down. Determining the peak is a whole different issue! But if we really stand back - walk away - then reassess, we know. Putting off finishing a project just means that I am terrified to put it out there.

In your 54 Below show last fall you had some delicious stories to tell about Cooper - do you think he will inspire a book of stories at some point?

He might inspire elements of a book or inform something, but I would never write his story or anything intimate about his life. Not my story to tell. Telling a joke that's basically about parenting a 12-year-old boy is as far as I'll go.

With all the socio-political unrest regarding human rights and race relations, how have you and Danny been able to help him to fully understand what is happening and how to protect himself and others?

Cooper was born in 2008. The first black president was in office, the first woman president was set to be next. Marriage equality happened. I thought "Wow! My child is growing up in a new era of change and progress." And then Trump... And everything went bad when Cooper was at the age when a kid becomes more aware of what's going on. Between the vile lack of character of a president with no humanity, the COVID crisis, and the justifiable demand for racial justice that has shown itself both peaceful and violent ways, it's a lot to take in for a 12-year-old. I don't want him to think the world is bad. Our son is good and kind and just. He has always stood up for the oppressed and the underdog. Being adopted and in a two-dad family, I think he has some perspective of being different from the norm and the target of possible prejudice. On a recent hike, a man called me a faggot in front of him. Brutal. But it was an opportunity to talk about how people of color get that, in some way that we can't know, every day. EVERY day. Some treatment or remark or even unconscious action that says "you are less." He asked me if Trump gets reelected, will we move to another country. And I told him no - we will stay and we will fight. We don't run. We make sure we are heard. We organize, we protest, we vote, we stand up for others as well as ourselves. It's hard. It would be so much easier to move in with Johnny Depp in France, but I am still waiting for the invitation.

Are there plans for any online release celebrations for The Substance of All Things that fans should be putting on their calendars?

We have a live reading scheduled for June 28th. I'm excited. Go to: j.mp/ThingsLIVE or go to my FB page HERE and find out more. There will be other live events. Lots to do!

Sam, thank you so much for visiting with me today. I am so grateful for your time and generosity.

And I am always grateful to you, Stephen. I appreciate your enthusiasm and support.

BWW Feature: At Home With Sam Harris


Related Articles View More Cabaret Stories   Shows


From This Author Stephen Mosher