Ep 6: Why George Salazar Prefers to Call In, Instead of Call Out

Every week, culture critics Diep Tran and Jose Solís bring a POC perspective to the performing arts with their Token Theatre Friends podcast. The show can be found on SpotifyiTunes and Stitcher. You can listen to episodes from the previous version of the podcast here but to get new episodes, you will need to resubscribe to our new podcast feed (look for the all-red logo).

The Friends recorded on June 7. This week is a very special episode because there’s not one, but TWO, podcast episodes. In the planning for this week, Diep and Jose realized that they had too much content and they didn’t want to cut any of it. So this week will be a two-parter. Part one is an interview with George Salazar and part two will be a discussion of Hamilton on Disney+.

George Salazar is the beloved actor behind Be More Chill on Broadway. He also starred in a buzzy revival of Little Shop of Horrors in 2019, opposite MJ Rodriguez. Salazar has been doing a lot during his COVID: he sang in a Pride virtual concert in June and hosted his own weekly talk show (which he’s currently revamping and planning on bringing back). He came onto the podcast to talk about the upcoming Night of a Thousand Judys concert and his late-in-life love for Judy Garland. Plus, Salazar also talks about why he criticized the Tony Awards on Twitter.

Here are links to things that Friends talked about in this episode.

Diep: Hi this is Diep Tran.

Jose: And I’m Jose Solis.

Diep: And we’re your Token Theatre Friends people who love theater so much that Jose owns not one but two Judy face mask that you could see if you are watching this on YouTube instead of listening to it.

Jose: And I’m wearing my mask for a very special reason. I’m so excited that today we have like a really extra super special—is that even a word? Probably not. We have a special very special episode because it was so big and so long. That Diep even called us Infinity Wars, which is like a straight thing, right?

Diep: Yes, it is very straight. It’s Token Theatre Friends: Infinity War, Part One.

Jose: We have a very long episode and we want to share all the good stuff that we have for you. So we ended up deciding to instead of like, super editing our episode, we are going to give you two pods instead of one this week. We have part one, which is going to be an interview with George Salazar, who you know from Be More Chill and if you were lucky enough to see him in Little Shop of Horrors in California, which is why I’m also wearing this.

Diep: Which you also cannot see if this is the podcast.

Jose: I’m very nerdy today. I’m sorry. But George is doing Night of a Thousand Judys on July 14, so we’re going to be talking to him about that and what he’s been doing in quarantine. And in a part two Diep, what are we doing?

Diep: During part two, we have our Hamilton Congress, where we have two very special guests come in to talk to us about wait for it, Hamilton, because we’ve noticed that just like in 2015 right now, most of the people critiquing Hamilton are white people, which is pretty problematic because the show is written by a person of color and is starring people of color. So why are there very few people of color who are not named Soraya McDonald writing about it? Who knows, but we decided to do something about it by bringing in two amazing guests to talk about it. First we have Heath Saunders, who is an amazing actor and composer and you may remember them from Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 on Broadway. And our second guest is Kelundra Smith, who is an arts journalist and friend to me and Jose. And she critiques theater and Atlanta for ArtsATL and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It’s a really long discussion, but we promise you it is worth it because we go in, we’re going far, we almost didn’t come out.

Jose: Will that be satisfied?

Diep: We hope you’ll be satisfied. But you know, we will never be satisfied with our Hamilton discussion because we could have gone for longer.

Jose: Oh, my God, we could have, yeah. And we put in a lot of work, work.

Diep: Who’s Angelica in this relationship?

Jose: I guess we can both be Angelica and Peggy. None of us want to be—Eliza’s so boring, right?

Diep: Eliza? Eliza is really good at her job, just being a wife.

Jose: God bless her. I want a revolution. Not a revelation.

Diep: Okay, so first off let’s go to the George Salazar interview and then in the in the next episode which will be dropping on Friday, we’ll have the Hamilton Congress. So welcome to part one, this is the George Salazar interview, enjoy.

Jose: Hi George thank you for joining us

George: Oh my God, thank you guys for having me. It’s so nice to see new faces, not the same faces that I’ve seen for months.

Jose: Yeah I’m also talking to myself in the mirror so yeah. I am so excited. I’m maybe, not the biggest, because I have a lot of competition, but I’m such a huge Judy fan. And Night of a Thousand Judys is like one of my favorite things in the world. When I first found out that it existed. I was like, Justin [Sayre] is like, you know, Glenda, like bringing magic to my humdrum Dorothy life. So, can you talk a little bit about what’s your personal Judy experience and why you want it to be a part of this?

George: We’re all like super bored, first and foremost, and so having something to do is really nice. But on top of that, my Judy story started kind of late in my life, I was introduced to her work you know, outside of course, The Wizard of Oz, but I was introduced to her work probably back in 2015 and and fell hard very fast. And just knowing what she means to the gay community And then also this this evening of Judy songs, the eighth annual Night of a Thousand Judys, money will be raised to benefit the Ali Forney Center. And so it’s just a good cause, it’s a good time and I just honored to be a part of that lineup too. We have Lena Hall, Adam Pascal, Alice Ripley, Ann Harada, you know what I mean? So it’s a good group, and I’m really excited to be a part of that.

Diep: And how did you pick your song? Can you tell us what your song is?

George: I’m not allowed to tell you my song. I got that in an email. I will say I really wanted to sing Smile. We had a couple roadblocks with getting the music rights clearance. Which has been a whole ‘nother obstacle in the age of corona of like, you know, we want to like do a livestream so that we can give our audiences you know, something to watch something to maybe, you know, distract them from from the pandemic. But music rights are such a thing and and so we couldn’t get Smile. So I will be singing a different song that I didn’t know. And I learned for the show and I’m really excited to sing.

Diep: It’s OK, tell us a little bit about performing virtually just because like, what was the logistic like—do you have a track you’re singing to, do they send you a piano accompaniment? How’s that work?

George: Yeah, you know, I think there was there was so, there were so many attempts done at the beginning of this that we as a community have figured out like the best way to do this. Obviously, duets don’t work because of a delay, which I have like a whole—I was hosting a talk show at the beginning of quarantine, and every episode ended with a delayed duet where we sang a duet. I sang a duet with a guest. And it was a train wreck, but it was like, you commit to the train wreck, people really enjoy it. But we figured out a great system. Basically what happens is we get a track that is, you know, put together by the MD Tracy’s [Stark] for the concert, but they’ll record a track, they’ll send you the track. And there are kind of two ways to do it logistically. One is to sing live, which can be tricky with a track because you know, Tracy was playing something without me, without my vocals, so you kind of really have to figure out when the tracks slows down, it gets a little tricky. The other option is to record just a track of me singing to that track and then we can edit that over, almost make like a music video, you know, where you’re kind of lip synching. So there’s two ways to do it. It does get kind of tricky because in addition to performing, we also have to be like our lighting people and we have to be like the camera crew and you have to be hair and makeup and all that stuff. So it actually is more involved than say, go into 54 below and singing a song there.

Jose: I can’t imagine like well actually Diep and I do not believe in that delay and we prepared a performance Get Happy/Happy Days Are here again for you. So ready Diep? Kidding.

Diep: Jesus.

Jose: Obviously you would be Barbara cuz I’m a little bit slightly older but you know, we could talk about all the things that you could have been doing George, if there wasn’t like a crazy virus killing everyone, but instead, I want to talk about the things that you have picked up. Have you picked up any new skills in quarantine? Or have you learned anything new about your craft or your art that you’re like, I really want to use this if we ever go back to touching people again.

George: So my show, that was a skill of a huge scale that I conquered. This show we did, we raised about $10,000 in I think about eight weeks, eight or nine weeks. I had people like Nico Santos on, I had MJ Rodriguez, I had Joe Iconis. And so initially that show was built as like I said, a distraction from COVID. And then George Floyd’s murder happened and the Black Lives Matter movement, really I mean, I, it, it gives me so much hope to see how truly how huge that movement exploded. And so I decided that this show that was like light and fun was not the appropriate use of space and time.

So, so I put a hold on that show, but in the months that we did that, I learned how to livestream, I learned how to host a show, I was working with a producer, Sam Pasternack who, who’s typically a segment producer on various talk shows, he did like The Meredith Vieira Show. He’s working on Drew Barrymore’s upcoming talk show. And so I really kind of got to hone in on that side of things that I would like to do someday. And we’re revamping our show Sundays on the Couch in the coming weeks to be less of a fun time, hour and more of a conversation about personal experiences, I’m really interested in bringing all of my friends who are a part of various marginalized communities—my trans friends, my gay friends, my black friends, my Asian friends, my mixed race friends.

I have a really great following of young people. And they’re at an age now where they are their most flexible, right, they’re impressionable. And it’s an important opportunity, I feel, to have conversations with people that they don’t get to see on TV, to have conversations that they don’t typically get to hear if they are surrounded by you know, mostly white people. And so I’m really excited to share so many individual journeys and stories and experiences, you know, issues of race and trans-ness and gayness and all those things because I feel like I have a really, really great opportunity to, to kind of further the conversation and, and teach them a little bit, you know, teach them without them knowing that I’m teaching.

Diep: Wow the concept for your revamped Sundays on the Couch sounds like the concept for our show too. I don’t think we’re ready for the competition right now George.

George: We’re all doing it together. Right?

Jose: So so then we can come on your show and do our Get Happy/Happy days Are Here Again.

George: I think the delayed duets aspect of our show will stay. I love the idea of sharing so many people’s stories and trials and tribulations and struggles. Sharing two different stories. And then watching those two people, through all of their differences sing the same song. And yeah, it might be bumpy and yeah, the delay might be wonky. And yeah, it might be sloppy and messy. But it’s two people seeing through their differences and singing the same song together. So I would love to have you guys on it. Yeah, no pressure. I expect performance ready costumes, makeup, everything.

Diep: Oh, shit I gotta get a right light. So speaking of like, real conversations, I’m sure you saw the We See You, White American Theater letter and then what happened in June with George Floyd. Was that what inspired you to to tweet very frankly, about last year’s Tony Awards and the exclusionary environment?

George: Yeah, yeah. You know, I’ve been having a lot of really incredible conversations. And the most recent one was the day that I that I tweeted about my Tony’s experience last year. I was talking to an old classmate, who went to the University of Florida with me, about racism within that institution. And we were trying to get the ball rolling on, on issuing some sort of call to action to the university to, you know, to fix some issues that have been around in that school for quite some time. You know, I graduated there in 2008. And it seems like not much has changed since I was there.

And so in the process of having that conversation, and kind of for weeks leading up to that, every time I had a conversation about race, somehow the Tonys experience kept coming up in conversation. It was a really difficult, a painful experience for me, like really painful, and it was kind of a huge factor in my decision to move to LA. It just didn’t feel good, it didn’t feel good to have experienced that. And what also didn’t feel good was that I kept having these conversations about it. And it kept bringing up all of these feelings that I had worked really hard over the last year to kind of like, you know, process and deal with, and confront. And then say goodbye to. But I kept having these conversations, and it just kept working me up. And I felt like it was, you know, people are listening and people are watching.

I issued like a follow up that was like, “I’m not asking for an honorary Tony Award. I’m not asking for a performance slot in the next Tonys, in 2030.” I’m asking that these kinds of things don’t happen again. You know, it takes a little bit of thought. And I think the biggest issue in our industry is that there there aren’t very many people of color in leadership and power positions within the industry. So if there were, I don’t think something like that would have happened, because there would have been another kind of perspective to clock that and say, you know, maybe this is a bad idea, you know, maybe we shouldn’t have four white people singing a song that a mixed-race, gay Latino Asian sang. Especially if we told him from the beginning that there wasn’t going to be any time.

So, you know, I needed to get that off my chest more for my own mental health in the middle of like a pandemic and being trapped at home. But I also wanted to, like I said earlier, like, Be More Chill, has a really incredibly supportive community of young fans, and I’ve never taken that lightly and I’ve never taken that for granted. And it’s important to me that I be someone that I didn’t have growing up, you know, so even if there’s like one Brown kid out there who’s watched a bootleg video of me singing Michael in the Bathroom and felt empowered and emboldened to pursue a career in the arts, then it doesn’t matter how many Broadway shows I get, how many chances I have to perform on some big stage. That’s what it’s all about for me. And that’s what keeps me going. Especially in a time when it’s really hard to find the motivation and to find the hope and optimism sometimes to say to myself, ya know, we’ll be back on stage soon.

Of course, the Black Lives Matter Movement and the We See You letter had a lot to do with that. But really what it was was as a result of all those things happening, I couldn’t keep reliving that. And so I just needed to say that once in a public way. And you know, those feelings were something that I held inside for a full year, and my closest friends knew my feelings about it. But you don’t want to ruffle feathers, you don’t want to upset people, you don’t want to point fingers at people. You want to, especially as a person of color in this industry, you really want to play it as safe as possible because you don’t want to screw up your opportunity to continue to do work that is at a caliber that you’ve grown accustomed to. So you know yeah, that was the thought process behind behind sharing my feelings about that.

Jose: Yeah if we miss it, you know, we usually don’t get another one. But you know, it’s so perverse in a way like you know, the universe, destiny. Whatever. Because it seemed that pre COVID and pre quarantine things were kind of looking very good for people of color. You did a Little Shop and you know that cast was like, Diep got to see, I didn’t—

Diep: I’m very sad Jose didn’t get to see.

George: I’m sad Jose didn’t get to see it. I really really hope that there’s a there’s a possibility of a future for that show in New York. We sold really well at the Pasadena Playhouse but you know, during the stage door after every performance and seeing more color people of color in the audience here in California than I did the entire run of Be More Chill. I think it also speaks volumes about the inaccessibility of Broadway. The high ticket prices, how a lot of people just can’t. I know growing up, I’m in my mixed race household, we could never afford airfare to New York, hotel accommodations and Broadway show tickets on top of food and all that, you know, I heart New York t-shirts and stuff like that. There’s no way there was just no way we could have done that. And so having that show live in Pasadena, where the you know, the average ticket price was maybe like $40-$50 bucks. It was such a great opportunity to reach little kids who look like me. And it was a really powerful you know, Be More Chill, it means so much to me, but in a huge way, that production of Little Shop was was such a career highlight for me, because I got to tell a story that so many people know and love through a different lens. And it was moving to be a part of, and yeah, I mean just meeting all those brown kids at the stage door. It wrecked me in the best way possible.

Jose: You and MJ, sang in one of the late night shows right?

George: The James Corden Show.

Jose: And around that time my 12 year old niece, for the first time she realized that she wanted to go into a performing arts high school. So she wanted to audition with a song from Little Shop. And she was like, she had only seen, apparently high schools really like doing that show. So she had only seen, you know, white kids do it. And she had only seen you know, her sister had been in it and she wasn’t like, she had just been a prop person. And then I was like, No, no, wait a second. The week that she was applying for schools, you sang it with MJ in the James Corden Show, and she got to see it for the first time and that sparkle in her eyes, and like her mouth was like—she had no idea that that people with her skin color. And people who look like her could do that. And I was like, thank you for that. Although, you know, you weren’t there, George, but you were. And she got into the high school that she wanted to go to.

George: Yes! Work! Please send her my love and congratulations. I don’t even know her, but I’m proud of her. But that’s such a great point. I think this is a moment where people are people are free to—and by free, I mean, the pandemic has really allowed everyone to kind of sit at home, and think about what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. And so how many opportunities do we get to do that as like a nation, you know, marches and protests and in all 50 states—when was the last time something like that happen? It’s a moment where people are really amping up their compassion and empathy levels to understand other people. I hope that there are, you know, non Latino, non Asians who can watch that performance and understand what it must feel like to be a little brown kid seeing that on national television.

I mean, it was a huge honor to get to, you know, be on that show and to get to sing that number with MJ. And just knowing that that video is still circulating on YouTube and it’s still getting likes and views. Yeah, I mean, the sky’s the limit. It really it’s. It is such a simple idea to give a platform to people of all skin colors and backgrounds. The impact that that can have, we see with your niece, it’s important and it does make a difference and for as long as I can remember, there’s always been this conversation happening in the Broadway community about how the importance of the arts, right? We want to save the arts. We want to save arts education. And that’s all fantastic. But also there’s something really educating in a young brown person seeing someone that looks like them on stage. And that there is something to leading by example, in our industry and taking as many opportunities to teach and encourage young people as possible. And this is such a great way to do that.

Diep: And the thing is like, if you do something like that Little Shop of Horrors that you did with MJ on Broadway, then it sets a precedent for how that show can be cast because, what was really frustrating to me because I saw the New York production after I saw your production. And what was frustrating to me was the fact that it was cast exactly the way it was done in the 1980s. And the first production always sets the precedent for it. And so, the 1980s there was a lack of imagination in terms of diversity and so that precedent just perpetuates itself today, I watched Pasadena’s Little Shop and then I and then I watched Parasite, the Bong Joon Ho film.

George: I really loved your write up.

Diep: Really? Thank you. Cuz that’s what made the connection for me about modern income inequality that I did not see in the in the movie version or the version I saw in New York. And so like what’s your perception when it comes to revivals?

George: Well, in college, I was taking an intro to theater class and this was in freshman year. One of the assignments was: You are the artistic director of a regional theater and what is your mission statement and I really appreciated being asked that question as a freshman in college, because I realized that you don’t have to be an artistic director or a community theater or a regional theater to have a mission statement. So I have adopted my own personal artistic mission statement, but in the context of that assignment, my approach to it was, we reimagine classics. And we try to find new ways to tell the same story and that became kind of an obsession for me, dating back to, what was that, 2004 at the University of Florida. I remember, you know, trying to come up with a concept for a production of Gypsy I don’t remember what my concept was. I’ll have to find the essay somewhere and I believe that there are, you know, revival can serve two purposes right? It can give someone the the nostalgia that they’re craving, right? Um, but it can also be an opportunity, as we saw with Little Shop, to do a little more work. Sometimes for me a revival is just kind of lazy. There’s so many talented musical theater writers and playwrights, there’s no shortage of stories. But it’s just so much easier to say, well, people like The Music Man. I didn’t mean to—

Diep: Its OK, we can diss Scott Rudin on this podcast.

George: People love The Music Man, we should do The Music Man again, and we’ll do it exactly like it’s always been done. Then there are risk-takers, right? There are people who try to reinvent the concept of a musical, maybe maybe go too far with it. But what I think would Little Shop and this is such a testament to the Pasadena Playhouse, which I mean, I fell in love with the theater itself and the administration, Danny Feldman, the artistic director, and this is a testament to Mike Donahue as a director. On day one of rehearsal, he pulled me aside and he was like, “I want to make this with you, I want to make this together. And if you have any ideas or thoughts or concerns or questions or anything, please, please, please, please tell me, let’s do this together.” And it was the first time in my career that I was kind of in the passenger seat instead of, you know, in a trailer somewhere. So it was, I mean, it was awesome and we got to it. We had really, really great conversations.

Right now I’m with my friends Nico Santos, from Superstore and Zeke Smith, survivor and trans icon. We were talking about the decision. Zeke was asking, “What was the decision to change the key of ‘Suddenly Seymour’?” And I told him, I was like, you know, it’s actually, because we all agree that it was very powerful to see MJ kind of drop into that part of her voice. And especially after singing, you know, so high for the entire thing and then the sing lyrics like, ‘the girl that’s inside me’ and suddenly it’s this moment where Audrey feels like she can just be herself. And you know, Zeke was like, “It just felt like it should have been a trans woman the entire time, like it should have it should always have been a trans actors playing that part.”

And so we talked about specifically about the key and I told him I was like, it was a happy accident. The vocal part for Audrey gets super high. So then the question was presented like, you know, is this sustainable to do eight times a week And MJ, of course is like, “I got this.” And I was like, “You know, it’s actually kind of low in my voice because the original key I think would start with like, “Lift up your head, wash off your mascara.” I don’t have those notes. I don’t have a low voice. And so we played for about like an hour and a half. We sat with Darryl [Archibald], our MD and we sang through it and we raised the key, we lowered the key, we tried to find the sweet spot. We found that spot that was actually comfortable vocally for me, comfortable vocally for MJ, and then what happened as a result of that happy accident was this really powerful, almost like first time we’ve ever seen “Suddenly Seymour” performed. It felt so fresh, and it felt so new and vibrant and honest. If we’re going to revive old works, we really need to be doing the work right. We really need to be bringing a bring a fresh eye. And a Little Shop, fortunately, it worked. We didn’t change any of the lines. There was no mentioning of Audrey in our show being trans. We did the show as it was written. And it worked, you know? Sure our plant was pink.

Diep: I love the pink plant!

George: I love the pink plant too! I just I always felt like it was problematic to sing “Somewhere That’s Green” at the end and not have a green plant. But I wonder though if we do it again, if we do a green plant.

Diep: Hmm, or it can be two colors. The thing about that plant was I kept waiting to get you know, like, just steadily better and I know it was like a metaphorical thing. But the same time I was just like, I just want a giant plant.

George: That’s all of our, our nostalgia kind of creeps in in different ways. So you know, you wanted a big plant. I know a Kevin Chamberlin, who played Mushnik, there was one day and I still give him a hard time about this, but there was one day where they were showing us the plant. He turned to me and he goes, “I really hope someone comes in here on the weekend spray paints that shit green.” Everyone’s nostalgia kind of works in a different way. For me it felt so—I was like, so relieved to be doing a show that, it felt like we were doing the first world premiere of Little Shop, you know, we weren’t holding on to any of the precedent established by the first production back in the ’80s. It was it felt fresh and new and, and as an artist that was really satisfying to be a part of.

Jose: I love that. I was trying to tell someone the other day, usually, a lot of this Music Man, Scott Rudin revivals, people say they have no POV but I’m like yes, they do. They have like a make America retrograde again POV. That’s a POV also like, the white vision is a POV. So I’m glad that you mentioned Parasite because what I was saying is, you know, like, Little Shop and Parasite wins the Oscar and then we get hit by this thing. And it seems to be like stopping progress in a way, but instead you know Diep thinks I’m delusional but I have never been as excited about the future of theater as I am right now. Is there one thing right now that’s like giving you a lot of hope that you’ve seen? Because I actually am loving all the you know, the Zoom and all that the radio plays. Have you seen the Animal Crossing theater?

George: No.

Jose: Yeah, I am like so mind blown by what people are doing right now because you know, theater makers are, I don’t know.

George: Jose, people are bored. That is what that is. Animal Crossing theater. Wow, I mean that is basically like I mean, I guess it’s kind of like if you were—during quarantine decided to pick up like, you know shadow puppets. I guess that’s kind of along the same lines, it’s just a little more digital. Wow I’m gonna look that up. I can’t. I’m so intrigued. I don’t think I’m gonna like.

Jose: I was gonna say why don’t you do your Gypsy Animal Crossing crossing?

George: Maybe maybe. I find a lot of hope in actors who are so used to waiting by the phone for permission to work and permission to create, waiting to book an audition in order to do work. I find a lot of hope in seeing people create on their own, whether it’s like, you know, a group of four friends singing songs for new world or something like that, you know. And editing things together that I feel immense hope for. But then that hope you know, not to be a buzzkill, but then that hope is shattered by people who refuse to wear masks in public and are gathering and going to parties. The longer that this thing exists because of people not taking it seriously, the longer it takes for all of us to get back to doing and watching what we love. And so, yeah, you know, I try every day to find hope in one place. And then try not to invest any of my mental you know, brain space and bandwidth on like, you know, the harsh realities of the situation. But if I’m going to be completely honest with you, I’m not feeling totally hopeful right now.

I will say outside of the arts, I find a lot of hope in conversations with my parents. My mother is from the Philippines. Growing up, there was such an obsession and love of white beauty. There was such a, that idea of white beauty was just put on such a pedestal in my family—obsession with white Hollywood, obsession with what they’re wearing, obsession with their light skin, obsession with staying out of the sun so that they as Filipinos can have light skin. And then, you know, my father, who is you know, a macho Latino guy. When I came out to him a couple years ago, he slammed the door my face, we’ve fixed our relationship and, and he has become, like so accepting in such a beautiful way.

But I find hope in having conversations with my parents about race, about racism that I experienced growing up, that they were a part of, that I was a part of. Having conversations where we kind of clock all of our wrongdoings, we admit that we were wrong. And then we actively work to correct that and not repeat those same behaviors and actions. I find a lot of hope in having conversations with my parents, because they’re old, they’re old and stubborn, and they’re locked in their ways. It was kind of a struggle to get them to stay inside at the beginning of this. And so to see that my parents are capable of change and growth gives me hope that everyone, that we are all capable of changing. The message has to just resonate and ring in a certain way for people to catch it. I think it’s kind of like a dog whistle. You can blow and blow and blow. But the frequency is in such a way that it takes some time. It takes more time for others to really pick up on what they’re hearing.

And so, you know, for me going forward, it’s been less about blocking and canceling and calling people out. And I mean, this is so lame, because I feel like, I just read a controversial YouTuber use this, but like calling people in instead of calling people out and trying to have discussions, especially with my fan base that are so young, you know. I realized that they may not know what’s happening, they may not understand it fully, because they may be quarantined and trapped in an unaccepting home. And so I’m having the opportunity to bridge the gap and speak my mind directly to them has been a real treat. These conversations that we’re having now that, you know, I’m 34, it took 30 years for me to have any of these conversations with my parents, and they’re my parents, like the easiest people to talk to, you know, but it took years. I feel a lot of hope that we are heading in the right direction. We just need to get Trump out.

Diep: Tell your fans to vote.

George: Yes. Don’t worry. I’ve adopted the state of Florida to phone bank, to get people registered, truly seriously.

Diep: Oh my god, you’re adopted to state with Pod Save America?

George: Yeah, yeah.

Diep: Wait. So I’m part of this Facebook group with other Vietnamese-Americans about strategies to talk to your parents who are usually more conservative. And so like, what’s your strategy?

George: You know, this is an interesting thing. And a subject that I am really passionate about is the mixed-race experience in America. And I mean, being a first-generation mixed-race person, because the whole like, my parents are still married. They’re still, you know, madly in love. But our whole family unit was built on this idea of two people from very different backgrounds seeing pass all their differences and working together to create a family. So I find that the conversations I’m having with my parents specifically, they’re more understanding. They’re more understanding than I think some other other parents would be because they’ve dealt with racism from their own families. You know, when my family, when my mom’s side met my dad for the first time, the first question they asked was how much money he made. And, you know, there was a thing of like, find a Filipino guy or a white guy, and it was, you know, wow, you’re dating a Latino guy, and he’s a maintenance guy at the nursing home. Are you sure? So having conversations with my parents has been actually quite easy. All things considered.

It’s the conversations I’ve been having with other family members. I got into a really heated Facebook debate with a cousin of mine, who is a doctor who has been on the frontlines through this entire pandemic and he, as a response to the Black Lives Matter protests, he wrote this post that really he should have just stopped it after the first sentence where he said, “You know, I’ve spent all my time in the ER. I’ve been I’ve been saving people’s lives. I’ve been watching people die from this. And now as you know, now is probably not the best time to go out protesting.” But then he went off on this whole other thing that was like this model minority approach of like, you know, I have a millionaire neighbor who’s Indian and I’m Filipino. And, you know, we came from nothing, but we came here, we worked hard. If you just work hard and you’re not lazy, you can make things happen for yourself, implying that people who are not doctors or millionaires or business owners are lazy. It was just the wrong thing to say about it. And we started this whole dialogue that I was like, my hands were shaking as I was typing, because I couldn’t believe that a person of color—who is a doctor, you know, you’re supposed to have compassion in that field—couldn’t understand, or was refusing to understand. Days later, he deleted the post, which I took as an admission of wrongdoing. And so I was victorious in that conversation.

But, you know, I was trying to take a breath before I hit send. That’s been a thing you know, most recently with the Tony tweet was like, let’s take a breath. Let’s revisit this and then let’s put it out into the universe. Because I think we’re all feeling such heightened emotions because we’re locked up in our homes and because the world is in such disarray. And so that breath is so important. So my advice to people who are confronting stubborn family members is to just take a deep breath and try to frame your responses in as neutral way as possible. And it works. It does work even if they don’t admit it out loud. It works. I can share that from personal experience. Just take a deep breath.

Jose: I love that, like a Judy breath.

George: A Judy breath, exactly.

Jose: I was thinking about my favorite, I was telling Diep my favorite thing about Night of a Thousand Judys is the end, you know, when at a performance, everyone sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” together. And I’m like, wouldn’t that be like amazing like if we could replace the national anthem with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” that’s where we all want to go right? That place where if little birds fly, why the fuck can’t we?

George: And we can! We can. That’s the thing is like, we can. That’s what’s so frustrating is like we can. We can live in that world. It just, I said earlier when I was talking about revivals, it just takes work, we just have to do the work. And now is such an incredible opportunity because we have the time to do the work and I find hope in my white friends and white allies who are doing the work, you know. And so that’s it. I mean, you know, we have to do the work and we have to do it together.

Jose: So, George, thank you so much for spending some time with us. I love the fact that this year Night of Thousand Judys is on Bastille Day because that is like a good omen. I’d say, you know, Judy’s death in many ways, propelled you know, the Stonewall Riots and I’m like, you know, go Judy. So it’s your moment to plug everything that you’re doing and everything that you want our viewers and our listeners to check out that yourself and so, go.

George: July 14 at 8 p.m. that’s next Tuesday is a Night of a Thousand Judys, the eighth annual. Watch and donate, donate, donate, donate, if you can. All of those proceeds will go to the Ali Forney Center. They’re the largest organization dedicated to homeless LGBTQ youth in the United States. What else? Keep an eye out for Sundays on the couch. I think we’re going to try to get a show, our first new show up, not this Sunday, but the following Sunday. What else am I doing? Catch me hanging out on my couch or going from the couch to the fridge, and then from the fridge to my room, and then back to the fridge, seven days a week. Between the hours of, what time am I normally waking up, 3pm to 7am in the morning.

Diep: And from your room to the pool.

George: This week oh yes.

Jose: I want to give you two assignments and like homework if you want: either my Gypsy Animal Crossing crossover. Or, what I want is to see I Know What You Did Last Summer the musical, written by you and starring you as every character.

George: Honey, you do not want a musical written by me. I write the worst music. I would be rhyming rhyming a word with the same word. You know what I mean? It would be like serial killer, rhymed with serial killer.

Diep: Let me know if the album’s ever coming, the Little Shop album.

George: Ah, yeah, I will. When I find out you’ll find out I’m sure. I’m sure you’re gonna find out before I find out.

Diep: Yeah, I got Danny Feldman on speed dial. Yeah.

George: I just spoke to him this morning. We are trying to work on shooting a cabaret act on stage at the Playhouse. So stay tuned for that. We just had like a preliminary discussions about it, but it would be the band, we wouldn’t have any woodwind. It would just be kind of a guitar, bass, piano, drums situation. They’d be on stage six feet apart. And then I would potentially be singing from the house. An empty theater.

Diep: But they can still they can livestream it or something.

George: But it is very early, early brainstorming, I have to get a song list in by Friday. I think that’s gonna be a lot of fun.

Diep: Oh my God, if you can pull it off, that’s like a new thing that people can try out.

George: Yeah, I mean, we wouldn’t have an audience, it would be just the empty livestream situation but yeah, I mean, I can’t wait to go back. He told me, he was like, “Drive by the theater. There’s someone there every day. Tell him that you just want to go stand on stage and just go stand on stage.” I really think I’m gonna do it.

Diep: Oh my god, actors are junkies.

George: Give me my theater! Thank much for having me. You guys. You’re both the best. I really love this conversation.

Leave a Reply