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BWW Interview: Dennis Hensley MISMATCHing & Working With Divas

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Dennis Hensley's long-running THE MISMATCH GAME reinvents itself to the new normal of ZOOM for two nights, September 26 and 27, 2020

BWW Interview: Dennis Hensley MISMATCHing & Working With Divas

Dennis Hensley's long-running THE MISMATCH GAME has reinvented itself to the new normal of ZOOM for two weekend nights, September 26 and 27, 2020. Dennis shared some history of his charitable project, produced pre-pandemic on the stages of the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Dennis dons his hosting polyesters as Gene Rayburn with the September 26 cast (subject to change) of: Jackie Beat (Bea Arthur), Julie Brown (Melania Trump), Danny Casillas (Reba Areba),Maile Flanagan (Danny Bonaduce), Chris Pudlo (Peewee Herman) and Marc Samuel (Morgan Freeman). For the September 27th show, the cast will feature Danté (Jack Nicholson), Danielle Gaither (Wendy Williams), Nadya Ginsburg (Cher), Rebekah Kochan (Pamela Anderson), Tom Lenk (Zooey Deschanel or Tilda Swinton), and Felix Pire (Ricardo Montalbán).

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Dennis!

So how are you keeping creative and sane during these unbelievably unprecedented times?

Jigsaw puzzles, Milk Duds, and online yoga classes have figured prominently. My favorite thing that I've done is hosting VIRTUAL GAME NIGHTS on Zoom of the party game I co-created with Jeb Havens, YOU DON'T KNOW MY LIFE! The game is based on the offbeat questions I developed over the years of interviewing celebrities. Jeb developed this snazzy game board and web app so people enter their answers on their phones. It's been a blast to help people stay connected. But the best part is a TV executive happened to be at one of our early games, loved it, and now we've signed a shopping agreement with a big production company to turn the game into a TV show. So the upshot is COVID may save my career.

Would you consider yourself now possessing an expertise of Zoom?

BWW Interview: Dennis Hensley MISMATCHing & Working With DivasOh, if only. Every time I fire it up, I just pray that it does what it's supposed to do. Most of the time it does.

THE MISMATCH GAME seems to be a perfect vehicle to adapt to Zoom (with its separate boxes), would you agree?

I hope so! It'll be strange not having the live audience to respond to... but the grid-shape certainly feels MISMATCH-y to me and another great thing is you don't have to be in L.A. to enjoy it. People can watch from all over the country. Another bonus: If I can't fit in my polyester 70's game show pants, I don't have to wear pants at all.

Any particular technical or logistic hurdle you had to jump in your pre-production process?

We're looking at those hurdles now. Luckily the Center has a very talented technical crew, so we'll be able to figure everything out. If the train goes totally off the rails during the show, I'll just scream, "There's an asteroid heading straight for my house!" and go to black... and because it's 2020, people will probably believe me.

You debuted your creation THE MISMATCH GAME at the LALGBT Center in 2004. Have you kept track of how many episodes/productions you've hosted, that have so far raised $150,000+ for the Center?

There have been 82 shows so far, and we've raised $164,000 to date.

What was your light bulb moment for creating THE MISMATCH GAME back in 2004?

It actually began as a birthday party I threw in 2000. I had funny friends play the celebrities. The real light bulb moment came a day before that first party. I was going to do just regular Match Game questions like, "Dumb Dora is so dumb..." but then I realized it would be fun if we did questions about current pop culture, which at the time was The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears... that up-to-the-minute relevance has been part of the show ever since.

BWW Interview: Dennis Hensley MISMATCHing & Working With DivasWho were your first celebrity panelists?

The first time we did it as a benefit, we had Marcia Wallace on who was actually a regular on the real Match Game. She got right into the irreverent spirit of the show and she also shared stories about the real TV show, like about how they would all drink booze at lunch. So if you watched, you could tell if a show was taped in the morning or the afternoon based on how drunk everyone seemed. She also said that the bottom left chair was referred to as "the dummy seat" because it was often filled by a 70s bimbo-type. We've tried to keep that tradition alive with THE MISMATCH GAME.

Which gives you more satisfaction - performing on stage or finishing a book or script in the privacy of your own home?

You can't beat the feeling of being onstage with the cast and the audience and just laughing. Often at THE MISMATCH GAME an answer will be so hilarious that I'll literally fall on the ground laughing. I have lots of photos of me over the years laying on the stage laughing. That's the best.

You have worked and rubbed noses with a lot of our revered gay divas. Would you say a few words on a few of them?

Joan Rivers: I worked with her on Fashion Police and she was such a theatre fan. So every week, I would ask her what she saw on Broadway and it was so fun to see how excited she got about theatre. I also loved the way she was with her fans. If a friend came to see a taping, you always knew they'd leave happy because Joan would take the time to give them their Joan Rivers moment.

Kathy Griffin: Kathy was one of the panelists at the original birthday party Match Game in 2000. She was Brett Somers and scored this amazing muumuu from the Warner Bros. costume department. She made every answer about a particular male bodily fluid.

RuPaul: I helped think of challenges for one season of Drag Race, which was really fun. But my favorite project involving RuPaul was earlier this year, I wrote a script about his life for the podcast Imagined Life. Virginia Madsen narrates it and it really turned out great. The positive effect his show has had on the world is phenomenal, and what I learned researching him was that the theme of self-love was always there, even when he was a club kid kicking around New York trying to make it big.

BWW Interview: Dennis Hensley MISMATCHing & Working With DivasKate McKinnon: I wrote for the last season of The Big Gay Sketch Show and the entire cast of that show were super-talents. My favorite memory of Kate is that I wrote a sketch where she played Ann Coulter doing a Cover Girl commercial where she literally turns into a horse. We went to this horse farm and shot it. The props department made this fake book for her titled "Liberals Suck My Tool" and I still have a copy on my shelf.

Rosie O'Donnell: Rosie was the very first interview I did for a magazine called Detour that ended up being one of my biggest regular outlets. We went to Art's Deli in Studio City, and she was super fun and cool. After the article came out, I had her sign a picture of it for me and she wrote, "Thanks for the fun interview. One day, I'll interview you." And years later when my first novel Misadventures in the (213) came out, she had her talk show do the opening intro from the audience. I held up the photo she signed and she gave my book a plug. It was such a great full circle moment.

Madonna: I have a writing career because Madonna rejected me. In my early 20s, I was a dancer and I auditioned for her Blonde Ambition tour. I didn't get the gig but she was there at the audition. The whole experience was so rich and funny that I wrote an essay about it called "Confessions of a Boy Toy Wannabe." I sent the article to all these magazines and an editor at Movieline named Ed Margulies liked it and published it and started giving me assignments. Years later, I got to tell Madonna the story and she said, "Good for you. You took a negative and made it into a positive."

BWW Interview: Dennis Hensley MISMATCHing & Working With DivasAny words of wisdom that you've learned during these stay-at-home times you'd care to share?

I've learned that Milk Dud abuse is a real thing. I can kill a whole box in like 10 minutes. But the thing that's helped me most is I took a free online course from Yale called "The Science of Well-Being," all about what science tells us actually makes people happy as opposed to what we think will make is happy. I've incorporated a lot of the principles I learned into my life and it's made a real difference. And now if people ask what I did during COVID, I can say I went to Yale.

Thanks again, Dennis! I look forward to Zooming your MISMATCHing later this month.

For ZOOM access for THE MISMATCH GAME on September 26 & 27 @ 8pm PST; log onto www.lalgbtcenter.org/theatre


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From This Author Gil Kaan