Kelsey Grammer is a flaming Republican. He’s out, he’s loud, and he’s proud. He attended George W. Bush’s inauguration in 2001, and he once joked while guest-hosting The Late Show With David Letterman, “I’ve recently come out of the closet. I’m a Republican in Hollywood.” In 2007, he donated money to Rudy Giuliani and later stumped for John McCain and remains casually friendly with them both. Yet Grammer’s “secret” can still rankle his fans. “I was talking to a gal I know, a massage therapist,” he says. “She said, ‘I heard something that’s upsetting me. Are you a Republican?’ I said, ‘Well, yes. I am.’ She said, ‘How can you?’ ”
Grammer is not only Republican; he’s pro-liberty (“The greatest treasure in all of America is the individual”), anti-stimulus (“I’m not sure that it stimulated anything”), pro-choice (“but I don’t advocate for abortion”), unmoved by health-care reform (“If it takes six weeks to get a license plate, imagine what they’ll do with an MRI”), and agnostic on Sarah Palin. “I don’t like that so many women are willing to beat up on an attractive woman. That said, she wasn’t ready. Obviously. In twenty years, she could be a formidable force.”
We’re having lunch in a corner booth at Ben’s deli in midtown. It’s me, Grammer, and Grammer’s personal assistant, who’s keeping an eye on the time. Grammer’s explaining to me why he’s a bootstraps conservative. “Take Captain John Smith. When the [Jamestown] colony was settled, during that first winter, you had all these settlers who weren’t accustomed to doing things for themselves. They were used to being elitists. So John Smith said to the settlers, ‘You guys are going to have to start planting food. And you’re going to have to do things to survive. And if you don’t, you don’t eat.’ ”
As we talk, his assistant scans the menu and picks out a lunch for him. She suggests the Hungarian goulash and stuffed cabbage and holds out the menu. He glances at it and declares cheerily, “Yeah, let’s have it. That sounds great. What the hell!” The waitress, who’s been circling our table like a planet orbiting the sun, soars in to take Grammer’s order, then spirits off to the kitchen. My order is not taken. I have Diet Coke for lunch. But I blame myself. I would not have survived long in John Smith’s Jamestown colony.
Grammer concludes: “I’m a real small-government guy, that’s where I live. I come from a fundamental place that you help the people who can’t help themselves. But there are precious few who can’t. And that’s it.”
If his positions sound like a stump speech, it’s not by accident. He’d like to run for the U.S. Senate one day in California, as a Republican. For now, though, he’s got other places to be. He needs to finish lunch and get back to rehearsal by 2 p.m. He’s about to star in a revival of the musical La Cage aux Folles, as one-half of arguably the gayest couple ever to alight on a Broadway stage.
It’s absurd to point out that Grammer is best known for playing Dr. Frasier Crane, first on Cheers, then on Frasier, a role for which he won four Emmys, two Golden Globes, and pretty much every other trophy you can win for being funny on TV. And you might have trouble picturing Frasier—the Chardonnay-swilling, tweed-wearing, no-doubt-arugula-favoring psychiatrist—as a willing wingman to John McCain, let alone his potential heir.
It’s not hard at all, ironically, to picture Frasier as one-half of a gay couple. The relationship between Frasier and his brother, Niles (played by David Hyde Pierce, a gay actor), had the crackle of a romantic entanglement as imagined by Noël Coward. “We always called it the Recessive Gay Gene on the Frasier show,” Grammer says. “We were very open about it. So yes, my rendition of a straight guy is probably a lot more minty than, you know, a stevedore’s.”
Grammer has roots as a song-and-dance man—or, at least, a song man. (“I’m not much of a dancer. I have notoriously challenged feet.”) One of his last jobs before Frasier Crane was in Sunday in the Park With George in 1984.
Grammer had taken a long, strange road to the New York stage; as he writes in his autobiography, So Far … , his life has been haunted by tragedy. He was born in the Virgin Islands, and his parents split when he was 2. His estranged father, a former bandleader turned magazine publisher, was shot to death when Grammer was 13. By 17, Grammer was a long-haired surfer hooked on acting: He moved to New York in 1973 to go to Juilliard on a full scholarship, where he was classmates with Robin Williams, Mandy Patinkin, and Christopher Reeve, but got kicked out in his second year. The next year, when he was 20, his younger sister, Karen, was raped and murdered in Colorado. When Grammer was 25, his two younger half-brothers, fraternal twins, both died in a scuba accident.