Cheyenne Jackson on 30 Rock, Sobriety and His New Cabaret Show
For 30 Rock fans Cheyenne Jackson will always be Canadian Danny: the sweet, lovable and wholesomely hunky sketch comedian who has troubles with his American vowel sounds. After an intense year of blog scrutiny as his marriage to longtime partner Monte Lapka came to an end (and an engagement to fiance Jason Landau followed) Jackson is setting the record straight in a new album I’m Blue, Skies and a new cabaret tour which is stopping at San Francisco’s Feinstein’s at the Hotel Nikko March 14-16. Recently the Behind the Candelabra, Glee and upcoming Open (a miniseries on HBO by Neil Labutte due out this spring) star opened up to me in an interview about his new sobriety, his love of Tina Fey and Broadway legend and co-star Elaine Stritch’s woo-ha. Here are some of the best parts:
Cheyenne on his cabaret act:
The last couple years I’ve been primarily doing really big shows at really big venues: the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, Disney Hall, but so much has happened to me that I needed time to scrape all that away and create something smaller. I needed to share my music and what I have to say in a smaller venue. The last few years have been rough: moving across the country, getting divorced, getting sober. There’s a lot to talk and sing about. This is about me unzipping my guts and what I’ve gone through. Hopefully it will inspire; I won’t say entertain. After everything that’s been said in blogs and gossip it’s my turn to tell the story. This is about me trying to give the audience the thing they need. Sometimes people don’t know what they need but then they get it and say “wow.” I go there in stories. There are things I have to talk about; I have to throw down. This is not your everyday cabaret. It’s raw: it’s the first time in a long time I’m not singing in a tux.
They always say “go back to your roots” and these are my roots: live performance and music. My happiest times are simply when I’m singing a song. Something as intimate as the Feinstein at the Niko that holds less than 200 really has that appeal.
On fame, sobriety and scrutiny:
Getting sober changed everything. I’ve had trouble with alcohol for 20 years and problems with drugs for the past five or six years. It’s a family disease; I do a song about my grandmother that died of alcoholism that’s called “Red Wine Is Good For My Heart” because that’s what she used to say. A glass maybe, but not the way she drank it.
The public scrutiny while my relationship was ending was difficult. When the shit hit the fan last year there were some really difficult dark times for my family. The blogs turned on me. I take responsibility there: if you put your shit on your porch people will have an opinion about it. I’m very open about who I am and where I’ve been. I want to be the cool actor brooding in the corner but that lasts about seven minutes. The lies written were really tough. It was terrible on my fiance Jason and my family. People writing these things don’t think about people’s moms and boyfriends and preteen nieces. Having to explain to my mom a mustache I grew was just for a movie and not a lifestyle change was fun. Reading blogs is like giving yourself a paper cut and pouring lemon juice on it then being surprised it hurts.
On 30 Rock, Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin:
When it comes to favorite episodes the first live episode was so unbelievable. Watching Alec live–love him or hate him–is great. He’s woefully misunderstood. By the way, I have never experienced any kind of homophobia from Alec; socially he’s wonderful. I worked with him on a project for the Paul Newman charity outside of 30 Rock and he’s an amazing person. I’ve spent hours with him and never felt anything homophobic. What worked about the live episode was that TV without a net is for the improv people on the show and the theater people like Jane and me just ate it up.
I also love the episode where I’m having an affair with Tina; I love when Tina dresses me like her childhood fantasies. I read the episode and thought really, CHIPS and Grizzly Adams costumes? It let you know a little bit more about Tina’s personal life…I’m the luckiest boy in the world to get to make-out with Tina Fey, in addition to working with her. It’s so old show business; she plucked me from the chorus of Damn Yankees and altered the course of my career. Once you get stamped by her as having good comedic timing people take notice in film and television.
Lines 30 Rock fans most often quote:
Usually across the airport there’s shouts of “DANNNNY” and people will come up to me and say “aboot.” I was only on a few episodes each season but doing this one series really reached people. Boom, overnight, airport recognition.
Elaine Stritch’s woo-ha:
Elaine and I had one scene together in the 30 Rock Mother’s Day episode. Danny finds out he’s adopted even though his mom is Chinese. Elaine is everything you’d imagine and more. [In response to a question about a pantsless homage in his act to Stritch’s legendary pantsless appearance in Elaine Stritch at Liberty] It’s truly going to be an homage: I’m even going to give myself an insulin shot in the ass in front of the audience.
When I first met Elaine that was how I met her. She came backstage at Damn Yankees, said “you were terrific” then pulled her tights down in front of me in my dressing room and gave herself the shot. I think Jane said: “They say you haven’t made it until you’ve seen Elaine Stritch’s woo ha.”
I guess I made it.
Cheyenne Jackson appears at San Francisco’s Feinstein’s at the Hotel Nikko March 14-16. For tickets please visit Ticket Web.
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