Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tony Tripoli!

Tony Tripoli
"It takes an awfully good man to be better than no man at all."
-Julia Sugerbaker, Designing Women


Happy Saturday!

Today I am writing about someone that I have become a big fan of.
One of my guilty pleasures is watching Joan Knows Best? starring Joan and Melissa Rivers. This inside look into their world sucks me in every time. I have become enamored with the entire cast but one in particular, Tony Tripoli. Yes, he's pleasing on the eyes but I'm touched and drawn in by his honesty and vulnerability each week and his respect and awe for Joan Rivers. After watching the show the other night, I wrote to him and said that I would like to interview him. He wrote back immediately and said yes!
We spoke over the phone yesterday and this is the result of that interview! Ladies and gentlemen, today I'm celebrating Tony Tripoli!
Tony told me that when you grow up as the "girliest" little boy in Phoenix, Arizona, you better get into the Phoenix Boy's Choir or children's theatre very quickly.
He felt that he was this queeny little boy (his words) that was getting beaten up every day.
You learn how to run fast, or throw a punch, or come up with some clever quip to get out of it.
He chose option number three.

He developed this wit that would say things to people that was the truth. There was a power in that. There is a strength in that just like a strength of throwing a punch.

It started out as a defense mechanism but ended up being a form of survival. He suddenly realized he had a gift of making people laugh.It was a great feeling.
Everyone wants to laugh. Otherwise, you'll find that you'll not have one friend in your entire growing up.By the time he was ten years old, his mom had him singing and in shows. She knew he was clearly "different" from all of the other kids. He is so proud that they recognized that. His parents were both 18 when he was born. Although I don't believe in accidents, Tony says he is one and he's been causing accidents ever since!

 I asked Tony what one person has had the most impact him as an artist and as a person. He says there are two actually. First and foremost (as with me) was his grandmother. In Tony's case, it was his mother's mother. As a little girl in Iowa, she had polio. In those days, they took part of the defective bone out. So they took part of her hip out and she had one leg that was about two inches shorter than the other.
  She walked with a limp because of it.
But she was two vain to ever wear orthopedic shoesor a lift. She only wore regular store bought shoes or high heels her entire life. Because of that, she had terrible back pain and, we're talking the 60s and 70s, doctors simply gave her pain meds. She ultimately died from Oxycontin poisoning. She was the person who always said, "It's so great to be different."
It was a blessing. People make fun of you or they stare at you because of the way you walk.
She made Tony feel that he was special as a kid because he WAS different and, because of that, they shared a special bond. She passed away and Tony misses her every day. Then one day, Joan Rivers came into Tony's life. From the day they met, Tony felt that somehow, THROUGH Joan, that his grandmother had returned! The minute Tony's and Joan's eyes met, they "fell in love". He has a similar relationship with Joan that he used to have with his grandmother.
Tony tells me that he is not a very spiritual person. However, he can't deny that him and Joan were meant to be together. He feels as if his grandmother has returned to him.
"It's pretty sweet ".

I asked Tony how Joan came into his life. It was another one of those "accidents" in Tony's life. At the time, he was writing for a television show called "The Dish" which was a "girl's" version of "The Soup" on the "E" network.  On a Monday night, at the end of summer, two years ago, he went alone and saw Joan's documentary, 'A Piece of Work". (He didn't know her personally, at the time.) He had been working in Provincetown in the summer and didn't get to see it when it was playing in theatres.

The next day he gets a call in his office at The Dish telling him that they are reviving Fashion Police with Joan Rivers and they want three funny "gay" men to make the promo commercials hilarious. Tony was asked if he wanted to go to Joan Rivers' house to write jokes the next day! Tony says it was the weirdest coincidence having seen the movie the night before. He said, "Of course!" The next day, after 10 minutes of Tony pitching dirty obnoxious jokes, Joan took off her reading glasses and just started staring at him. Joan said, "You!" and Tony couldn't tell if it was good or bad.
Tony immediately thought, "Oh my God! Am I being too dirty?" At the end of that writing session, as everyone was leaving, Joan pulled Tony aside and said, "I need to talk with you." Tony knew then that he was in big trouble.
She said goodbye to everyone else, stuck her head out the door and said, "Don't wait for Tony! He's going to use the men's room." She then shut the door and she latched it. He then felt he was in for a real tongue lashing. His childhood comedy idol, the only comic he ever paid to see...when he was 16, in Phoenix!
Joan then spun around and said, "If you do not agree to be my head writer on Fashion Police, I will lock you in the basement and starve you until you agree!" That was it. It was done. Melissa came running down the stairs and said, " I've already called "E". You are not under exclusive contract." Joan knew instantly that Tony was the "gay" guy for her. Tony says she is unbelievable, that she is the most wonderful person that he has ever met.

Photo: WINDLE+CARRINGTON
Joan has taught Tony that you treat everyone nicer than you need to. Not because of the usual reasons that people are nice to each other. Most people feel that when they treat people nice, there will be something in it for them. Joan believes that she...and Tony...are so damned lucky that they get to do what they are doing for a living. In Joan's case, she gets to live very comfortably because of it. Joan has taught Tony that you better be grateful for it every day and be nice to every person you encounter. Treat them nicer than they expected you to be. You owe people that. Tony has adopted that as his life philosophy. He feels that he has definitely become a much more stronger more generous person because of this and his time with Joan.

On a side note, today is the birthday of another Joan, Joan Crawford. Crawford once said, "Be nice to everyone you come in contact with. The person sweeping the floor may be running the studio tomorrow". A friend of mine went a step further, "The person running the studio may be sweeping the floor tomorrow"!

As those of you who follow my blogs know, ALL of my blogs focus on Arts in Education. I asked Tony for his thoughts on this issue. Tony feels, as I do, that it is absolutely criminal that they are gutting these programs.
Of course, the area that are most at risk and where they are removing these programs, are the very cities and schools that need it the most. The reason Tony didn't "kill himself" growing up was because he had this outlet, he got to go and do these shows with children's theatre and such. He got to be told by grownups, "Wow! You're very talented. You're very good at this. You really have a VALUE." Young people need to be told they have a talent and a value. That special gift that every person has. Tony also feels, as I do, that sports are great. It's great that athletic kids get to excel in sports and win trophies. The theatre kids and the performing "geeks" and the gay kids that gravitate to the arts deserve the same encouragement and respect. Sometimes they need it a little more. The fullback of the football team is probably going to be ok, anyway. He probably has a pretty good day to day experience going through the world. The little gay boy who is getting stuffed into lockers every single day. That "arts" class that he has two times a week may be the thing that makes his life bearable, that keeps him holding on.

The advice that Tony would give kids who are passionate about pursuing a career in the arts is to Just do it!" Everyone is going to tell you, as they did with me, that you shouldn't do it. They think they are being smart and telling you the "right" thing.
If it's truly a passion that comes from deep down inside you, it will never go away. Just do it! Just explore it. "Work in a bank if you have to and paint or write or whatever when you go home at night." Don't deny it. To Tony, it is exactly the same as those stupid ministries that try to "pray away the gay". To try and take gay people and make them "no longer gay". They will tell you, "You're always going to have these impulses, but we're going to teach you how to fight them." Tony feels what a sad way to go through life. If you have this passion, these artistic creative feelings coursing through your veins inside you, don't try and keep them bottled up. They are not going to go away. They are going to make you crazy if you don't act upon them. Again, JUST DO IT!

I've been campaigning as part of the Dr. Carol Channing-Harry Kullijian Foundation For The Arts for the past 5 years. All of you who read my blogs know my passion for arts in education AND Carol Channing. I also am campaigning on behalf of Carol winning a 2012 Kennedy Center Honor (See below on how you can get involved on both issues). I asked Tony for his thoughts on Carol and whether or not he feels she deserves the Kennedy Center Honor. Tony says that it is a no brainer that she should receive this honor. As he understands it, The Kennedy Center Honor is specifically designed to pay respect to individuals that not only excelled in their careers but found a new way to elevate it to a new level. By that definition alone, Carol deserves it. You could take everything in her career but Hello, Dolly! away, but just for Dolly ALONE, she has done more performances of a single role than any other performer ever has or ever will in the history of time. Anyone who ever saw her in that role came away feeling that it was happening for the first time. She has inspired how many generations? 6 probably! Countless people from all of those generations have had the same wonderful experience of seeing her perform LIVE on stage. People who have been touched by her and have said, "Oh my God! THIS is what I want to do with my life." You can't quantify the power of that achievement. She has survived and endured for an entire lifetime with such grace and dignity and always with a smile on her face.

I asked Tony about his most recent appearance. He is doing his stand-up all the time and he is now opening for Joan Rivers. On Fashion Police, he is the head writer. He also warms up the audience for that. He entertains the audience during the commercial breaks. Ever Tuesday night, he is on Joan's reality show. He is opening for Joan in Phoenix on Friday, the 30th. That's very exciting because that is his home town and he has never done stand-up in his home town before. This is his homecoming and he is opening for our greatest living comedy legend. That's going to be a good day for him. It's going to be a good day for anyone who is there. Then Saturday the 31st, Joan is doing two shows in Chicago. Tony is also opening for both. Those will be taped as an upcoming special for Showtime. Tony says that people are surprised when they see Joan's stand-up comedy act. This may not be the Joan you are expecting. She is at the top of her game right now. She is filthy, and she is angry, and she is hilarious. She is telling some truths and revealing some dirt and it is dynamite.

Tony says he considers his most recent successes his biggest successes in show business. Joan allowing him to be on her reality show is a big success. There was a whole episode a few weeks ago about Tony doing his stand up and making Jokes at Joan's expense, her plastic surgery, etc. She finds out he's doing these jokes. Is he going to get fired? Is she going to be mad? Joan allowed the cameras to show all of that. She is the executive producer. She can edit anything out that she desires for the public not to see. There aren't two many comics who have their own shows who would allow another comic to be funny. That show is there for Joan to be funny. For Joan to leave in jokes about Joan was incredibly generous of Joan. This show has taken Tony's career up a couple of levels. Because of that, and the exposure, Tony gets emails, mostly from young people saying, It is so great to see someone on TV that I can relate to, someone that is like me, you sound really gay, you act really gay, but you're also not weird or creepy. You seem like a nice upstanding guy and you look like someone we can aspire to." My God! That is amazing to receive emails like that.

I asked Tony to talk about his lowest low and how he surpassed that. Without missing a beat, he said turning 40. His birthday is in December. Two years after Valentine's Day of that year, he was in a relationship that went south. He was crushed. He thought they were going to be together forever. He was broken hearted. Then he realized, "OMG! I'm going to be 40 in 9 months." He didn't see it coming because he was in his "wedded bliss". The nine months leading up to 40 were the lowest, most depressing period of his life. He had not met Joan yet. He felt old. "Turning 40 as a gay man is like 60 as a straight man. We are so youth obsessed in our culture. Gay gays are doubly guilty of it. I'm never going to be Zac Efron. That's it! I'm going to die alone. I'm no longer sexually viable or interesting." It was an awful time for Tony and career-wise, it was the pits. He would go to auditions and they would tell him, "We love you but you're too old. We love you but we want a 30 year old." It was a terrible summer and fall. Then, the weirdest thing happened. He turned 40 and overnight, everything in his life got better. Like everyone says, 40 is the beginning. Tony's career suddenly caught on fire. He met Joan and it was if gasoline had been poured on his career! Dating wise, he has never had more people coming over that are willing to say hello to him at a bar or an event. Granted, he says, they are 19! "But, you take what you can get in this life!"

The one change Tony would like to see in this industry is for gay people to get to play gay people. Tony says you would never hire an African-American to play a Chinese delivery man on a show. That would be considered distasteful. The argument, of course is that someone like Meryl Streep just played Margaret Thatcher. Why not get a British actress? Of course, art and artists should be able to be expressed anyway. Tony goes on to say that for a straight man to play a gay man may be an interesting journey and educational. He did love Eric McCormick as Will on Will and Grace. He thought he was phenomenal. None the less, Tony is sick and tired that every time an audition is being held for a gay person, the powers that be are sometimes reluctant to see "out" gay actors for those roles. He sees it happening every day in LA and is a problem.

An interesting question that was given to me recently for my blog interviews is to ask if the artists' clothes on stage are just clothes or costumes. I love this question! Tony says every time you leave the house, you are in costume. Every minute of your life, especially nowadays with Twitter and cell phone cameras, you are constantly on stage no matter what your profession is. Whatever you are wearing wherever you are is communicating something about you to other people. Tony doesn't dress any differently on stage than he does in "real life". A lot of comics have a character or a persona. Setting them apart from their off stage personas. Tony is 100 % him on stage. He doesn't tell jokes. He tells true stories of his experiences that have happened to him that are usually humiliating.

At this point in Tony's career, he is happy, and he is grateful, and he's busier than he has ever been and that;s wonderful, BUT he's not satisfied. He reached out to INSTINCT magazine. He knows Mike Wood, editor and chief, and everyone on that staff since the magazine first started. He called them to let them know that he was going to be on Joan's new reality show and that he's head writer for The Fashion Police and that he is opening for Joan on the road. The man behind a legend Tony feels, as I do, that it would make an interesting story, a story that gay man could relate to. There response was that Tony was "too old" and that his story was "regional". Tony still has challenges getting "gay" press. That is a very big frustration in Tony's career. He needs to be getting higher-profile jobs. He desires to be on television more. With his name and face recognition, he would be able to do more things.
Instinct Magazine's loss is my gain!

It would be sad to be "done" at 42. Tony desires to be the "gay Oprah": to have a daily show, to make everyone's decisions for them...just like Oprah did. When he tells the women of America that they are wearing the wrong bras...like Oprah did...he desires those women to go out and buy the RIGHT bras! He's not going to stop until he achieves that goal.

When life's hiccups get Tony down, he opens his eyes and drives around LA. He doesn't mean the obvious misery, the homeless people, or people being mistreated. Tony says walk into any gay bar in West Hollywood and see the toxic unhappiness all around, the amount of phoniness that pervades our community. It's not because these are bad people. It's because they are just so afraid all the time. Everyone is so afraid not to look cool for one second. What a terribly sad way to go through life. Tony looks around at these people who are so afraid to ever let their cool down even for a minute. Tony says once again that he has a lot to be grateful for. He makes a living being exactly who and what he is, flaws and all, and frankly, the flaws are the gift. That's where the comedy comes from. So, thank God!

I asked Tony how to reach audiences today when there are SO MANY entertainment options for people. He says you really do have to hire a publicist. He is at the point now where he simply doesn't have the time to do it anymore. He desires to respond to EVERY person who writes to him on Facebook. He desires to respond to every tweet that comes through Twitter every Tuesday night when Joan and Melissa airs. BTW, the season finale airs this Tuesday night at 9PM on WE. Everyone will definitely want to see that.
Again, just responding to the nice things that people are saying will take up hours and hours every day. Then there's the exploring and trying to get into new markets. Studying websites and publications and trying to stay on top of things is a full time job. Tony is going to have to hire a professional to do it! That's $3-10,000 a month!!

A genie pops out of a lamp and grants Tony three wishes. Those three wishes, for Tony would be his own show on network television. He knows that has to happen when it is the right time and when the networks are really behind it and people are really ready culturally to accept it So the first wish is for all of those things to line up.
 Tony wishes for his family and loved ones to be happy and well.

This is a very difficult business to survive and pay your bills in. They NEVER said to him, "Maybe you should give up your dream and get a real job". They always said "We'll find the way to get the money.
You just keep doing what you have to do
.Keep going to those auditions." 
Joan has always been that way as well. She keeps saying you have to say yes to everything. Do every show that you are asked to do. It doesn't matter how tired you are. If they want you, do it.

Wish number three? Tony is aware that he is supposed to say world peace, a cure for AIDS, an end to diabetes...if he has to make a wish for the world, he wishes that people would cut themselves a little more slack. He thinks we're all running around so terrified all the time, that we are not good enough, or thin enough, or sexy enough, or smart enough, or tall enough. Maybe we should start celebrating what we are instead of what we aren't.

Tony's favorite song? He was only allowed to pick one. My Funny Valentine.

The last stage show that Tony saw was Rock of Ages Thursday night at The Pantages Theatre in LA. He said he had so much fun and this this cast is so fantastic. Now he's tweeting and telling everyone in LA that they have to see this show.

I asked Tony what he does to prepare for his shows. He says to get lots of rest. He can't be tired. He has to be focused. Again, he is not getting "into character". He doesn't have to remember lines but he does have to remember the progression of the stories he tells. There are certain "lines or phrases" that you have thought of that you hope will hit just right. When he walks out on stage, the desire is for the room to suddenly ignite and you're going to have a wonderful hour together. He is going to be in charge. You have to be the lion tamer with the chair and a whip. The audience cannot be the boss. You just have to get revved up and get out there, that type A mindset where you realize that that audience has invested their time to come and see you. You HAVE to own them 100%.

When does he know that it is time for a Tony Tripoli show? Whenever there is a bar or a stage or a venue or a microphone that is turned on and ready for him to stand behind and talk, THAT is when it is time. He, like Joan, will go anywhere and perform his show for anyone. He loves getting up in front of a crowd of people and doing his thing.
 Tony wishes for his family and loved ones to be happy and well. He has a family that has always supported him and never looked down on him. He was broke all through his twenties and they were there for him.
Something as simple as a child mastering a cartwheel was exciting. Seeing them going from something they couldn't do to finally doing it because of Tony's efforts. That feeling is so great. He loved his job so much and he did that for five years. He ended it because of Kathy Griffin. They were very good friends and she was starting her reality show. She asked Tony to be part of that first season. In order for that to happen, he would need to leave his day job and go back to focusing on a show business career.
The best compliment that Tony receives in this business is when people tell Tony, "Wow! You're not afraid to really be you." Tony feels that sometimes the person saying it may not think of it as a compliment. However, he is going to take it as a compliment. At the end of the day, all that we have are the things that make us unique. Tony is who and what he is and he chooses to celebrate that. All he can be is who he is.
And I celebrate that and Tony! Tony, the world is a better place with you in it!
NO COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT INTENDED.  FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY!

Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!


                                 Tomorrow's blog will be..Jack Dyville's Memories of Hello, Dolly!
Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!






  Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!






 
TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED DAY
Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com
                                
This Blog is dedicated to ALL ARTISTS: Past, present and future and the gifts they give to the world! I WANT YOU TO SUCCEED!



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