stars John Leguizamo; Fisher Stevens directs.
It was a combination of less pressure and more liquor that got comedian/actor John Leguizamo back onstage for his new one-man show, Ghetto Klown. Leguizamo suffered from stage fright a few years back and had stayed away from doing live theater. Recently he was talked into doing a few college "talks"; they were really stand-up gigs but without the normal trappings. Even so, the comedian found he needed a little liquid courage before he performed.
"I put my resume on index cards, got drunk...and just riffed," he tells us. "The kids [laughed] and hooted and stood up. I said to myself, 'Damn, John, you got yourself your best show here.' Then I ran home and wrote it all down before I passed out."
Getting back onstage, albeit with a freewheeling, unstructured show for college students, whetted Leguizamo's appetite for the real thing and Ghetto Klown was born. "I love the stage. There's nothing like having a feisty crowd to keep you real."
Ghetto Klown, like Leguizamo's other one-man shows, is based on his life, both personal and professional. It's a mix of multimedia, dance, music, stand-up, characters and vignettes. It's a formula that has served Leguizamo well: He's earned an Emmy, along with Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards for his previous efforts (Freak, Mambo Mouth and Spic-o-Rama among them).
Leguizamo's favorite subjects are all covered in Ghetto Klown: family (at an awards ceremony, his father congratulates him on being the first-place loser when Leguizamo doesn't win) and relationships (his fights with his wife are featured verbatim). "When I'm onstage, I give 300 percent. I wanna have real experiences onstage, not simulated (it's like simulated sex, what's the point? You're wasting everybody's time). I want to be lost and just be on pure instinct."
There's also quite a bit about his famous co-workers; Leguizamo has come to blows with a couple of them. One of his sparring partners on set was the late former Houstonian Patrick Swayze. It was during the filming of To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything. Swayze, Leguizamo and Wesley Snipes played drag queens on a road trip in the film and the trio spent most of their time in heels and full makeup, which led to short tempers and, eventually, a knock-down drag-out fight.
Leguizamo backpedals a little before he dishes dirt on one of Houston's most favored sons, telling us, "I just want to say that Patrick was a super kind and gentle soul all of the time and real man's man. But we were doing this movie as chicks with dicks and I guess we were so into character that we both started PMSing at the same time. Needless to say, we were hyper-emotional and bloated and craving chocolate, so we got into a little skirmish and we started fisticuffing...but I'm in Daisy Dukes and he's in sex-me-up pumps and we're pulling wigs and we realized how "riddonkulous" we looked. [We] started laughing and kissed and made up."
Then there was the time Steven Seagal knocked him into a wall during the filming of Executive Decision. To be fair, Leguizamo was just trying to be polite. Seagal had walked up and started talking in his tight-lipped, overly dramatic way. He was hissing things like, "My word is law," and "I'm in charge here." Thinking Seagal was joking, Leguizamo did the polite thing and laughed. Seagal hit him in the chest and the diminutive Leguizamo flew across the room into a wall, before crumbling to the floor, breathless and confused.
Leguizamo says nothing is off-limits in his show. " I think comedy is powerful but only when it has something to say. It's the best way to smuggle meaning, life lessons and sociopolitical messages [onstage].
"My heroes have been Richard Pryor and Spaulding Gray. They revealed it all and made you feel that no matter how messed up your life was, it was okay. So nothing is off limits as long as it has a purpose. I'm not doing a reality show where it's all exploitation. I've got a point and a reason."
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He credits friend and director Fisher Stevens for making Ghetto Klown a success. "He made me be real and honester (that's not a real word), 'cause he knows me. He calls me on things, so we could be brutal in this show... and thanks to him I got the Drama Desk, Outer Critics award, a Drama League nomination and Artist of the Year in New York City.
That's not bad, considering it all started with a couple of index cards and an excess of alcohol.
John Leguizamo performs Ghetto Klown at 8 p.m. February 23 to 25 at the Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, visit www.ghettoklown.com or call 713-222-5400. Tickets are $34.50 to $54.50.