The iconic gay actor spoke candidly about why representation matters.
Actor and comedian Daniel Franzese has been a part of RuPaul's DragCon since the first annual event in 2015. At last weekend's event, his booth featured an impressive variety of merchandise; this included photos, collectible pins and even a whole rack of Mean Girls DVDs to sign for fans.
My husband Jacob and I first visited his booth toward the start of Friday Preview Night, and purchased a pin. Daniel could not have been more welcoming. He signed the packaging for us and took a selfie. We talked about our mutual friend Heather Marianna, CEO of Beauty Kitchen, and of course the Mean Girls musical. It turned out we all have seen it, and are pulling for Grey Henson (Damian) at the Tony Awards. It was one of those surreal encounters that only happen at DragCon.
Naturally, I had to return. Toward the end of the night I came back and asked Daniel if he would be open to an interview. He kindly accepted. We talked about DragCon, his relationship with Mean Girls and the importance of having HIV-positive characters on television.
Daniel Franzese: What outlet is this for?
Derek: My blog DerekPlease.com and Twin Cities Gay Scene magazine.
Daniel: Oh, I was just in the Twin Cities!
Derek: What did you do in the Twin Cities?
Daniel: Well, I went to go perform - I do stand up comedy - so I've been on tour.
Derek: Oh my God!
Daniel: Actually there’s an artist who who you might know, who's a queer graffiti artist known as HOTTEA, and he’s from that area. You should interview him. Have you heard of him?
Derek: I haven’t heard of him.
Daniel: Well, him and I, made these there [gestures to merchandise]. This is a triple-layered stencil of Damian [from Mean Girls]. So we did that there.
Derek: Awesome. So, what has been your biggest takeaway from appearing at DragCon over the years?
Daniel: I just think, the first year, what I was so surprised about - and what has only grown and what they've cultivated - is that this is the most family-friendly LGBTQIA event I have ever been to. It doesn’t matter who you are, it’s always been the philosophy of this crowd that, no matter what you have going on in your life, throw some glitter on it and embellish it, you know. That is what this is all about. So I love seeing people of all ages, sizes, creeds and just everything, just dressing and adorning themselves in order to bring pleasure to those who see them.
Derek: Over the years you have been really inspiring as a person in the entertainment business, because a lot of the time people are known for something, they shy away from it. Like they are not into meeting fans of that particular thing. But you are proud of your work in Mean Girls.
Daniel: I didn’t really have a choice in that matter. I think like in the beginning, I felt a certain type of way, where I was like trying to do something different. When I realized the social impact that playing a chubby, gay teen of size meant, in that time - to a lot of people who didn’t have somebody they could look at in an iconic way that looks like that - I realized how much I needed that when I was younger, and how different my life would have been. So I don't necessarily do it to be proud of my work, though I am. I don’t do it to bask in that glory. I do it just to remind everyone how fierce and amazing all different kinds of queer people can be. So I'm very honored, where I used to be nervous to play queer characters. Now I am so honored to be able to tell the stories of our people, because they haven't been told in this way before. I do embrace fans, and I do embrace all people that come out and celebrate diversity.
Derek: Earlier we spoke about Looking Season 2 and the Looking: The Movie; how impactful your character was, being an HIV-positive man on television in the only gay show at the time on television, basically. I was wondering, do people still come to you, having just discovered that season of the show, with something to say about it?
Daniel: Absolutely, I have heard a lot, especially from serodiscordant couples. When I was on Looking, my character was the first HIV-positive character that was on television in six years. GLAAD told me that, and they also said that since there hadn't been an HIV-positive character on television, there was a rise in new infections. So that just goes to show you how much representation matters. Since then, I have been an ambassador for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation; I’ve been to the AIDSWatch each year, and we go to speak to Congress. Even though [Looking] has been over, my role as an activist has just begun, because I will always allow my voice to be a megaphone for people who don’t have as loud or as far of a reach. I believe that there’s a lot of people, especially people smarter than me, that have a lot of messages that need to get out there. If it takes a funny, quirky, Italian, chubby comedian then so be it.
Derek: Final question. Where is your tour going next?
Daniel: I am all over; touring theaters, clubs and colleges around the nation. I have so many colleges. I have a website - WhatsUpDanny.com - with a calendar where, if I'm coming near you, please let me know. If you don’t go to the school and there’s a way I could get you in, I will. I’m appearing this Thursday here at Flappers in Burbank, CA. I keep coming back in, checking in to my Flappers here. This is like my main house club. Also, on July 26, I'll be back at the Laurie Beechman Theatre in New York City.
Derek: Awesome! Yeah, I’m so bummed that I didn’t know about your Minneapolis gig, because I would of been there!
Daniel: I’m coming back; I will be back, definitely more Minneapolis dates.
Derek: Well, I’ll definitely be going to that. When you told me that you had just been there, I was like, “what!?” I didn’t know about it.
Daniel: Yeah, I have more coming. I just did NACA, the National Association of Campus Activities, and I did it in Minneapolis. So I’ll definitely be getting a lot of schools from that area.
Derek: Awesome, well thank you so much for your time.
Daniel: Thank you so much, I appreciate you. Anytime. Call me if you ever need anything.
Special thank you to RuPaul's DragCon and World of Wonder for giving us the opportunity to cover their Los Angeles 2018 convention. Buy tickets to RuPaul's DragCon NYC 2018 here.
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