As told to Jada Yuan.
The first time I came to New York was right after Glee’s pilot was shot. The cast had all come from different parts of the world, so when we got to [Los Angeles], no one knew anyone but each other. And then we were all so sad because we didn’t know if the show was going to get picked up or if we’d ever see each other again. So I made plans to go see Lea [Michele] and Jenna [Ushkowitz] as soon as we wrapped. They were doing Spring Awakening on Broadway, and I slept on Lea’s couch. It was my first big trip by myself. I was terrified. Clovis [California], where I grew up, is very flat, very farm-driven, very conservative, and very spread out. I remember thinking New York was so claustrophobic. I just wanted to go home. Now I come four times a year, and every time, I fall in love with the city even more.
That trip, I saw seven Broadway shows in six days—Hairspray, Shrek, Gypsy, Avenue Q, Mary Poppins, and Spring Awakening a couple times. I was 18, and I had my Fresno City College I.D. to get discounted tickets. Lea and Jenna would drop me off at one theater, perform, then pick me up. It was like day care.
Once the girls called and said to meet them somewhere and to grab a cab. I had never gotten a cab in my whole life! I didn’t know what to do: How do you know which ones are working? It was so stressful. I pretended that I was staying at a hotel, and had the doorman get me a cab! Now, even if something is three blocks away, I have to take a cab. It’s a safety thing so no one follows me.
This trip was insane. We filmed the episode where the glee club goes to nationals, and thousands and thousands of fans showed up to our locations.We shot a scene on the TKTS bleachers, and they had to get on the loudspeaker and say, “Please don’t scream.”
I got to see Wicked and Sister Act, though not The Book of Mormon, because we couldn’t get tickets. There are situations where I could pull the “I’m on a TV show” card and, you know, use my accomplishments for evil instead of good. But, I hate to say this, it really is almost dangerous for us to go out now because it gets so intense. It becomes a stampede. I’ve had to call the police. The minute Ashley Fink [who plays Lauren Zizes] and I sat down at Wicked, people started asking for autographs. A choir teacher said, “We have a group of about 300 choir kids behind you.” And I was, like, “Oh, no! [laughs] We’re going to get attacked!” But they were very sweet. They just wanted us to wave. But when we were leaving, a guy wanted us to take a picture with his daughter. We tried to explain to him, “It’s going to be crazy. We have to get out of here.” And he started screaming profanities at us!
[Everyone in the cast] agrees that I get it the worst. They invite me places and then go, “Actually, never mind. You ruin it for all of us, because after you’re recognized, we’ll all be in trouble.” I’m just so distinctive—my voice, my awkward features. You can’t hide me. I think it has almost everything to do with Kurt being one of TV’s first positive portrayals of a gay character. Sometimes people say, “Kurt helped me come out of the closet to my parents.” But the fans who come up most are dads—I think because Glee makes them think about what they’d do if Kurt was their son.
It’s insane who actually watches the show: Meryl Streep and Tina Fey and Courtney Love, whom I met at the Thor after-party at the Boom Boom Room. At the Time 100 dinner [Colfer was honored as an “influential”], I probably took a picture with the future curer of cancer. The entire night, it was, “Why am I rubbing elbows with the free world? I’m just a little actor kid.” I didn’t meet Michele Bachmann, but she got a picture with Darren [Criss, who plays Kurt’s boyfriend], which is a little hypocritical: “I don’t believe in your rights, but can I have a picture with you?”