'Funny Gay Males' bring revised show back to Theatre Project


They are gay in both senses of the word.

Even a rainy summer morning cannot daunt the gay (as in jolly) spirits of the openly gay (as in homosexual) comedy trio that calls itself "Funny Gay Males."

For the third consecutive year, the group has spent the summer in Provincetown, Mass., performing at the Post Office Cabaret. On this particular morning, two of the three -- Danny McWilliams and Bob Smith -- are on the phone chatting about their return engagement at the Theatre Project, which begins Wednesday. The third partner, Jaffe Cohen, has braved the rain in search of breakfast.

It's less than five months since "Funny Gay Males'" first appeared at the Theatre Project, where the performance was one of most popular in the theater's history. Despite that success, McWilliams and Smith insist they have revised and improved the show, which they plan to further refine in preparation for their off-Broadway debut at New York's Actors Playhouse around Thanksgiving.

"The Baltimore shows were really important to us," says Smith, explaining why they chose the Theatre Project for their off-Broadway tryout. "The laughter was as good as we've ever had."

Equally significant, McWilliams points out, was the composition of the audience. "In Baltimore we had more straight people see us than ever. That's how we know we can cross over in New York."

"Funny Gay Males" was formed in New York in 1988 after the three performers appeared on the same bill of gay and lesbian comedy during Gay Pride Week. Cohen then invited the other two to join his act at a club called the Duplex. Three summers ago, they quit their day jobs. McWilliams, 36, had been working as a word processor; Smith, 33, was a waiter; and Cohen, 39, who specializes in Borscht Belt humor with a gay twist, taught English at Manhattan Community College.

From the start, their show has been divided into individual stand-up routines, with the trio appearing together briefly at the beginning and end. That format will remain the same off-Broadway, though each has been making changes in his act.

McWilliams, who does mostly impressions, will continue to do his uncannily realistic take on Joan Rivers, but now he will relate his impressions to his personal life. In the case of Rivers, for example, he'll talk about the group's appearance on her show two years ago. He's also been experimenting with male characters, including one based on his father, whom he describes as "a union gentleman" who worked for a New York brewery.

Smith, the son of a state trooper from Buffalo, N.Y., has always had the most autobiographical act, but he's beginning to become a little more political. "We all started out to be comics, to be funny. I did gay stuff because it was funny," he explains. "Now I see there is a political subtext. All three of us are very different people, and even that's a message of diversity."

He's also been experimenting with some broader based political jokes, such as: "I'm all for the separation of church and state, but I wish they had set a Nativity scene up on the White House lawn -- not as a religious symbol, but as a symbol of another family without health insurance."

Perhaps the biggest change is hiring a director -- Tee Scatuorchio, whose credits include New York as well as regional theater productions. Why bring in a director after all this time? McWilliams says they hope the director will tighten the show. Then he jokes, "We're going to be off-Broadway! The program is going to say, 'Directed by.' Do we leave a blank space?"

@'Funny Gay Males'

When: Wednesdays to Sundays at 8 p.m., Sept. 9-20.

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

Tickets: $15.

Call: (410) 752-8558.

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