At a certain point in Mario Cantone’s one-man stage show—perhaps when he’s singing “Hakuna Matata” while humping a barstool—it becomes clear that for him, Laugh Whore isn’t just a title, it’s a quasi-religious credo. This week, his high-energy mélange of stand-up, cabaret, and diva impersonations will be beamed out to the TVs of unsuspecting viewers, most of whom know him best as the high-strung stylist from Sex and the City. Adam Sternbergh spoke to Cantone about working blue and wrestling Billy Crystal for a Tony.
How do you describe your show to people who haven’t seen it?
It’s a one-man variety show. It’s old-school entertainment, with the impressions and everything, but then I’m also plowing a puppet up the ass.
Do you think Laugh Whore will translate to the rest of America?
There’s some hip people across the country, believe it or not. But there’s some ridiculously retarded people across the country, too.
Who’s your typical fan?
You’d be surprised. Couples, a lot of women. Some blue-collar boys here and there. And a lot of gay boys. But then there’s also people in all those types that don’t like me.
How about Liza Minnelli, who gets her fair share of abuse?
I love Liza, as much as I make fun of her. She was supposed to come to opening night, but I was like, “No, that’s too scary.” Then she was going to come later, but she didn’t after she heard I make fun of her mother. I was like, “I make fun of you, but I don’t make fun of your mother.” I adore her mother.
With so many one-person shows on Broadway this year, were you worried Laugh Whore would get
lost in the shuffle?
Yeah. What a friggin’ season to do it. But I held my own. And when the Tony nominations came out, I was like, Okay, good, this was the right season.
How are you feeling about your chances?
I’m sure I’ll lose, but I’m in there with the biggest heavy hitters in the comedy world. I feel included for the first time.
The Avenue Q folks probably didn’t think they’d win either.
Please don’t get my hopes up. I’ll come and kill you. But I’m No. 2 in the Vegas odds behind Billy Crystal. So there’s a little bit of hope.
Would you bet on yourself?
Who do you think I am, Pete Rose? I don’t bet. I come from a long line of compulsive gamblers. Gambling scares me.
You’ve said some people hate your show. What do they hate?
Oh, you know: the obnoxious factor.
Does that bother you?
Look, you’re either loved or hated. Which is a good thing, as Bette Davis used to say. Because if they just like you, you’re fucked.