Comedian Mario Cantone is bringing his new one-man show On the Way to Broadway, to Fort Lauderdale’s Parker Playhouse on Saturday.
Cantone is coy, however, about whether the show’s title actually refers to a future booking on The Gay White Way.
“There’s something I’m going to do this fall that will take me out of doing any concerts. I can’t announce it yet because negotiations aren’t done yet,” says Cantone, frequent co-host and guest star on TV’s The View and The Meredith Vieira Show.
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Cantone, 55, spent years doing impressions, stand-up, theater and TV guest spots before his overnight success in 2000 as Charlotte’s gay best friend Anthony on HBO’s Sex and the City.
“I’ve been an out performer for years. And I lost probably two-thirds of my workload because of it in the ’80s and ’90s and the 2000s,” Cantone says. “I was lucky that Sex and the City came along, and that The View came along. It was sacrificial in a lot of ways. I’m just being who I am and talking about my life here and there. For me, that’s the way I try to be, just the gay man that I am in the public eye. I was doing it a long, long time ago. That alone says a lot about who I am and that was much more important to me than the work and the money.”
The nadir: losing a gig on The Tonight Show.
“I remember getting booked on the Johnny Carson show Oct. 26, 1986,” says Cantone, recalling that a Tonight Show talent coordinator saw him perform at The Improv, taped the set and loved it.
“He came out into the bar and was like, ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do but you’re going to be great, blah, blah, blah.’ He booked me, gave me that date and a week before he called me and said, ‘I looked at your tape. I just think you’re great but your act has a gay edge to it, and it will make Johnny nervous.’ And they canceled it,” Cantone says. “There’s about five other, six other, 10 other stories like that, too.”
Early in Cantone’s career, he didn’t talk onstage about being gay.
“But I certainly wasn’t lying about it and talking about blind dates with women or anything like that. And I was doing Bette Davis and Julia Child and Katherine Hepburn. Yes, you can not say anything about it and still do those impressions, and that’s your way of kind of easing into it. Finally in the early ’90s, I was like ‘OK.’”
Of course, the world and show business have changed dramatically in the past two decades.
“Now I’m not gay enough, which is unbelievable,” he says. “I lost so much work for being too gay, now I’m not gay enough. Because I don’t talk about it every minute or because I’m not political about it. Believe me, I have my moments when I am political about it if you listen, but that’s not my whole thing. I’m a comedian who happens to be gay. I always said that about myself.”
Cantone’s most loyal audiences are women and gay men.
“I’m a big Sex and the City fan,” says Jameer Baptiste, 30, an LGBT activist and staff reporter for Guy magazine in Fort Lauderdale. “I think he’s extremely funny and like that he stays true to who he is, not changing his persona to fit mainstream.”
Cantone and his husband, Broadway musical director Jerry Dixon, have been together 24 years and married for five. Dixon prepares much of Cantone’s musical material.
“If I could just get out there with a microphone, I could, if I really wanted to. I just don’t want to,” Cantone says. “I like the music as part of the show. It’s a big part of the show for me.”
Early in Cantone’s career, he became nervous before going on stage. Not anymore.
“It’s not that I don’t care as much — I can’t do that to myself anymore,” he says. “I did it for years. I used to be so nauseous when I had to go perform. I would do the clubs in New York — the Improv, Catch a Rising Star and Greenstreet, the Comedy Cellar — all in one night, I’d book these three or four clubs on a Friday and Saturday night, I’d wake up on Friday morning and my stomach was twisting. It was horrible. I went through five or six years with really a lot of fear about going on stage and then that went away.”
Cantone says he likes to do “topical stuff,” but also includes more timeless material.
“I remember my first show, Laugh Whore, when they were editing it for ... Showtime, the stuff they cut was the stuff that was going to run out. They kept the stuff that was timeless, which kind of makes sense to me,” he says. “I just want to entertain and make people laugh. Jon Stewart said I’m the white Sammy Davis Jr., which I love. It’s true. I’m an entertainer. That’s what I love to do.”