Interview: Lea DeLaria is Bringing Fun & Guests to 54 Below with BRUNCH IS GAY

The Out, Loud and Proud Diva brings brunch to 54 Below

By: Apr. 29, 2024
Interview: Lea DeLaria is Bringing Fun & Guests to 54 Below with BRUNCH IS GAY
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Lea DeLaria will make you cackle. Spend some time with her on the phone and I guarantee that you will be catching your breath from the laughs. She's unapologetically out, she's got opinions and she's not afraid to put them out there. She just finished a smash Easter show at Joe's Pub, and now, beginning Mother's Day, she's bringing a new series of shows to 54 below entitled Brunch is Gay. I sat down for a phone interview with Lea, and she is a delight.

This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

So tell me about Brunch is Gay. Brunch shows (outside of drag shows) are fairly unique. Tell me about these brunch shows and how this all came about.

I used to do brunch shows at Smoke Jazz and Supper Club for years. I love a brunch show. It's just, you know, an excuse to day drink. I do whatever I want. People just scream with laughter, love the music. It doesn't matter. You know what I mean? And always, my shows are always loose, entertaining, funny and then, you know, musically very strong, because that's what I do.

I've been looking for a place to settle in. So we went to 54 Below. As my star has risen more and more so we went to 54 Below and pitched the idea and they loved it. So these are our first three shows. If it goes well, we'll probably just continue it.

Among your guests, you've got  Alexis Michelle (from RuPaul's Drag Race). I love Alexis Michelle, I absolutely adore her. 

Yeah, about that....

Gabe Ebert and Alexis Michelle, this is about to come out. So you're the first person I'm telling. They're gonna have to switch days. What I wanna do with this brunch is I have guests like Janis Siegel, nine-time Grammy winner from the Manhattan Transfer, in July.  Gabe Ebert is in a play at The Public Theater that got extended to May 27th, Sally & Tom. And then Alexis was just cast as the lead in La Cage aux Folles. So Alexis is gonna do Mother's Day with me and Gabe is gonna be in the June 2nd Pride show.  I was gonna say if you wanna see me and Alexis together, you gotta come to the Mother's Day show. We're publicizing that and changing that on Monday because that's the biggest social media day. 

Now you're very improvisational on stage, which is something I just love about you. Now, with that in mind, how hard is it for you to solidify a set when you've got that going?

Oh, I just go. I mean, I've been [an] improvisational stand up comic my whole life. And the thing that a lot of people don't understand about jazz is you never sing the same thing twice. That's one of the worst things about being in a Broadway musical for me is to have to always sing the same notes no matter what I'm hearing or feeling in my body. And that's one of the absolute joys of jazz. It's a bunch of musicians standing on stage listening to each other and creating in that moment. You know what I mean? We do the same song three times in a row and it won't sound the same. And so I pile that on top of the improvisational comedy that I do, and often I'll be in the middle of the show. I wanna f****** roll. My mouth is on a roll. And that show's always supposed to be like an hour and 20 minutes long. And it goes much longer and nobody gives a f***. 

You know what I mean? 

If people were behind me. I would never do that. If I'm the 7:00 show, and there's a 9:00 show, I would never do that. But when it's just my house and the audience is egging me on we just go and go. And the band loves it, too. You can always see them laughing. I'm probably one of the few entertainers in the world whose band is always laughing when I'm on. They aren't hearing the same shit over and over and over again. So yeah, these are going to be fun. They're going to be music-filled. And each show has a guest and the guest and I will be doing two duets together. And then I'll be interviewing the guests, if you know what I mean. Like a little. We're going to have a champagne moment in the middle of this show where I talk to the guest and we sip champagne.

The Judy Garland moment. The Judy Garland moment in the middle of the show.

Absolutely. Exactly. And then we'll sit on the edge of the stage and you know, talk about being born at the Palace Theater in Pocatello, Idaho.  

What spoke to you about doing a Mother's Day show?

Well, we wanted to start the brunches. And we wanted to do it like the second Sunday of every month. That's the idea. And we looked at the May and it was like, oh, that's Mother's Day. And I just thought Mother's Day..... with the biggest mother of them all. Literally that came into my head and I went, OK, we've got the tagline. Let's do Mother's Day. And now it'll be a Mother's Day theme show. OK, alright. So that's it. So it was just kind of a stroke of luck. And then June will be our Gay Pride show. And yeah, in July, I'm gonna look, but I believe that Butch Appreciation happens in July. So I might be doing that. So you know what I mean? Just all sorts of fun stuff like that.

You just did an Easter show. How did that go?

It was great. Yeah. I really want to turn that into a special. That's the idea. Because everybody does a Christmas special. Nobody has an Easter special. And it went incredibly well and you know, it's hard to talk about it 'cause there's so much comedy-related material. But for example, I open the show with "Here Comes Peter Cottontail" and I came out dressed in a ridiculous Easter Bunny outfit and went into the audience. It started out by giving out, you know, chocolates, et cetera, and then I ended up giving out sex toys to everybody. Nothing says Easter like a dildo. I did Jesus Christ Superstar - you know, sort of Easter-related things. I talk a lot about musical theater in it and certain things and my Catholic school upbringing and showing pictures of me in my Catholic school uniform and being dressed for Easter and how horrifying that was for me. And yeah, just stuff like that. And then the big closer was obviously, we have two holidays - this is New York after all - and we have two holidays. So it was Passover. So I sang "Dayenu" as the closer, but I do variations on it. So I do "Dayenu" like like funk and "Dayenu" like reggae and "Dayenu" like... it's very funny.

You're an improvisational jazz singer. Now, this came from your dad, correct?

Yes, My dad was a jazz pianist. He taught me to read music. He taught me how to sing.

Because I've never read anything about her, what about your mom?

My mom was a dancer. And then she also was in the USO and that's how my father and my mother met and she was also a (what they called secretary back then) to a full bird Colonel in the Air Force. So that's what my mom did. Very independent. Very independent thinker. Very encouraging of us to be our own people. Both of them.

That's great. Now most mothers cook, so does that mean "I Can Cook Too" is on the agenda?

Oh, honey, "I Can Cook Too" is generally on the agenda. My guess is it'll probably be in the Mother's Day show. We [actually] did it at the Easter show. I tend not to do it that much. I like to leave people watching more. I think the two things that people really know me for is "I Can Cook Too" and the swing version of "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd." So I dole those out carefully. 

They were honoring Jesse Tyler Ferguson at the Vineyard Theater, and they asked me to do the song and I did. And Patti LuPone jumped her feet at the end of it and came up to me. I hope I never get so jaded that having Patti LuPone do something like that for you means nothing. You know what I mean? I hope I never become that asshole. I adore her. She's my paisan. But you know, I still go "You're Patti LuPone!!!!" whenever I see her, you know.

So tell me a little bit about your costars now. I know about Alexis, but I'm not familiar with Gabe.

OK. Gabe Ebert won the Tony for Matilda. He has been a mainstay of New York theater for about a decade now. His last show that he did on Broadway was Pass Over, which was the first show to return to Broadway after the pandemic closed it down. He's currently starring in Suzan-Lori Park's Sally & Tom at The Public Theater

He and I met doing Prometheus Bound at ART, years ago, and have been incredibly good friends ever since. That was an amazing production. We don't understand why it didn't transfer to New York. It was a ridiculous cast, had a pedigree that was insane. [We] were like, why did this not transfer to New York? It was so weird. It was set to go and then it didn't happen. Gabe is a great singer. Great, great actor. Graduate of Juilliard. He was the Robin Williams [scholarship] recipient. That's how great he is. They give that out to one person, you know what I mean? And he was the guy. And yeah, so Gabe and I, we'll do some duets. We'll talk.  

I call him Big Man because he's really tall and he plays pick up basketball in the fields. He plays pick up and they always go, hey big man, because he's really cool, So I call him Big Man. And we love sports, so we also enjoy watching basketball and hockey and baseball and stuff together. Yeah. He and I are the only straight men on Broadway.  Oh yeah, he was in the... oh why am I having a brain fart? The Harvey Fierstein play about transvestites. Casa Valentina. And he was amazing in it. And that's the thing about Gabe. He just disappears kind of a bit into his roles, you know what I mean? People go, Oh yeah, him. He did this, this. So yeah, he's never stopped working since he graduated from Juilliard, which I love. And then he won the Tony for Matilda.

In your varied career, you've bounced around like so much with these incredible roles now. Have you ever played a mother?

I played a grandmother, so I guess I played a mother. The last... well, the second last. My penultimate picture that came out was called Potato Dreams of America, and I play a Russian grandmother in that. Quick little story about that - I love to tell another name-dropping story. We premiered in France, but we also did it at the Provincetown Film Festival and John Waters came and this was right after the pandemic, so we had to all wear masks. So John and I were standing there talking to each other in our masks. He was seated like two rows ahead of me. We talked and talked and talked. And then the picture started and the movie went and I was watching if John stayed for the whole thing, which was exciting because John will leave if he doesn't like it. And he stayed for the credit roll!  And I thought, Oh my God, he's staying for the talkback. So, we all go up for the talkback. And they said, does anybody have a question? And John immediately stood up, didn't even wait to get called out. He just stood up and he goes, "My comment is for you, Lea. You disappeared so far into that character that I spent the entire movie wondering who you were and how familiar you were to me and didn't realize until the credit roll that it was you." So that was kind of an incredible thing to have him say to me. So it's very exciting. So yes, I played a mother.

You've had so many firsts. I mean, you made a huge splash on Orange is the New Black and you've opened a lot of doors. Do you find that it's still a challenge to be out in film and TV?

Of course it's still a challenge to be out in film and TV. As long as it's a challenge to be out in society, it's going to be a challenge in film and TV. Especially for lesbians, you know. Anybody who's interviewed me has heard me say this about a million times. We are the most downtrodden letter of the gay alphabet. We find that most people don't have our backs the way they have other people's backs, you know. So it's still lesbian parts are being written by non-lesbians and directed by non-lesbians and performed and acted by non-lesbians. So we are being erased from our narrative in the world. You know, I still see the roles that should 100% have gone to a lesbian going to lots of straight women. So like, you know, you do have these issues, you know, in acting. I think it's part of my job to point that out. Now having said that, yeah, things have gotten a little easier. Sure, absolutely, we have made progress. But we must be diligent. I mean, look at what's happening in the world right now. We've got to stay diligent. They are going to try to drag us back into the closet and erase all of our rights, if they can. And, you know, we've always made ugly progress. It's always been two or three steps forward, four steps back. So we just got to remain diligent and don't let them push us around and be out there and f-ing vote. People, vote. And vote for Biden because a vote for anyone else is a vote for Trump. I don't mind saying it. I get, I get it. I get that you want to protest. This is NOT the year.

That's why whenever I saw Make America Great Again, the "again" always disturbed me. Exactly which America are we talking about? You want to go back to the 1950s, and that's exactly what they want to do.

Now, this is actually the question that I was most excited about asking you is, can we look forward to another album? I mean Double Standards and House of David were amazing. I want to know when there will be a new album.

Well, we've been trying to get this album out for a minute and every time we get into the business of it, I get some kind of work that puts it on hold, so we are hoping. We still got a couple more songs that we need to arrange. At the moment we've got eight excellent arrangements. I need 12 and we're hoping to have this released on Valentine's Day. And it's called Fuck Love.

I do Fuck Love at Joe's Pub every year on Valentine's Day. I didn't this last year because I was in Night of the Iguana. So we did the Easter show. So that's why we're hoping to release the record on Valentine's Day at Joe's Pub.  

Now, you had a great hit in POTUS and in Night of the Iguana. So when can we expect to see you back on Broadway? Anytime soon?

Well, at the moment, nothing. But you know how that is and everything changes very quickly. At the moment, I have nothing to talk about. I appear to be in excellent demand for movies. Right now, I'm in the middle of filming two movies and then I have three more to film after that. They just keep wanting me to do that. So I'm happy doing that. But in the meantime if anybody has a good idea for a Broadway show... You know me. I'm always happiest when I'm downstage center.

Now you did Marryin' Sam in Li'l Abner and you did Eddie in Rocky Horror. You seem to love to do these gender-bent roles. Any other roles you'd like to do that with?

You know, I'm always happy to gender bend if somebody wants me to. And I'd love to play Lincoln In Oh, Mary..... Conrad [Ricamora]'s gonna kill me.

Actually I'll be more honest. I'm really more and more interested in in playing like a straight girl, you know, and being a diva character part in any big show. Yeah, you know, I'm ready to do that again. But of course I'll always gender bend. I love doing that.  

So what's your dream role?

Oh, man. Dream role? I guess I'm gonna have to say my dream role is it hasn't been written yet. It'll be the part that has been written for me by a composer I admire. That's it. That's my dream role. That's what I'm waiting for. 

Lea DeLaria's Brunch is Gay begins on Mother's Day, May 12th, at 1 pm. The Pride show will be on Sunday, June 2 at 54 Below. For Tickets, visit,

Follow DeLaria on Instagram at @realleadelaria.


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