Best known for his role as Damian in mean girls, Daniel Franzese was also the frontrunner of other indie cult classics, such as bully & I spit on your grave. He was most recently a series regular on Mark Gordonfrom the ABC series, Conviction. Before that, he was a regular on the Freeform series Recovery road.
Originally from Brooklyn, Daniel has become a well-known supporter and speaker of the LGBT community. He reached 8 million views on his YouTube video series Damn italian moms say. A self-proclaimed mama’s boy, his upbeat and energetic stand-up comedy number, ‘Yass! You are amazing! Comedy Tour’ captures his incredible and quirky life in the entertainment industry, along with hilarious stories about his New York parents.
We discuss musical theater with Daniel!
How does it feel to have the audience and the theater back?
Live hearings are a privilege at this time in history. at the height of the pandemic, i watched all my stand-ups and appearances dissipate from my touring schedule like sand in a broken hourglass until there was an empty schedule. It was horrible. Now that we are healing and the shows are returning, each one is precious and I have such gratitude to hear a live audience laugh in unison. When an artist hears the roar of the crowd, it reminds us why we do what we do. It has been a year of reflection so far.
What inspired you to pursue a career in show business?
My grandfather had 13 siblings who all moved into the same building in Gravesend, Brooklyn. W 9th St. I was born in this same block, so when I learned a song or a joke like, say, the ABC, I played it on every parent’s coffee table that I now lovingly refer to in my early days on the “Coffee Table Circuit” I learned early on that being funny and entertaining was a way to be seen and appreciated. Growing up, I told jokes like squid ink. It caused me to lose more than a few black and blue eyes. It was a great escape to be someone else when I didn’t know who I was yet.
What were your influences?
What was the first professional theater production you saw?
I saw Fiorello in high school and I knew I wanted to sing and be funny and run around on stage in costumes. The first real pro tour I saw was The Pointer Sisters in Ain’t Misbehavin’ and my first Broadway show was $25 standing room with obstructed view for rent.
What is your favorite musical?
I love RENT and Gypsy and Little Shop of Horrors and would see any production of those, but I have a soft spot for all Aherns and Flaherty musicals, especially My Favorite Year.
What is your favorite musical song?
Gypsy’s Rose Ride
What’s your favorite musical song to sing?
Mr. Cellophane of Chicago. Fred Silver was a former musical theater expert who wrote a book that I studied called Auditioning for Musical Theater. I heard he was retired in South Florida near my hometown, so I tracked him down and begged him to teach me some songs. It took some persuasion but he finally decided to give me special lessons and Mr. Cellophane was one of them. His teachings and affirmations gave me confidence at the start of my career. It’s no longer with us and to this day when I walk around certain places with certain pianists, they know it’s my favorite song. I always think of Mr. Fred Silver when I sing it.
What other role would you like to play?
I would love to play Pseudolus in Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum. In each production, I’ve seen the performer take ownership of it a bit and it’s so funny and delicious to play.
Tell us more about Italian Mom Loves You!
It’s a love letter to Italian moms. To my mom to the moms of my friends to all the moms. Jacques LaMaare approached me to work on it together or was obvious. Jacques wrote for Varla Jean Merman and Coco Peru who are two of the world’s best and most renowned comedic drag performers and my absolute favorites. I was frankly honored to develop this with him. In her play ‘I love, I lost, I made spaghetti’ the actress makes pasta from beginning to end on stage. He knew what would catch my attention! This piece is going to make people laugh so hard and cry softly too.
Are you done with your stand-up tour and we heard you just took a trip to Minnesota?
Yes, I like the store from Aribella in Duluth. I appeared at the new opening they had and there were so many Mean Girls tributes in the store it was really cute. I took my mom with me and we had a blast in Minneapolis the next day. We went to Mall of America and we did the nails. Stopped by At Surdyk cheese factory for a trip that we returned to Florida with and devoured the next day for my grandmother’s 91st birthday, which actually inspired the plot and timeline of my new play called Italian Mom Loves You. Which takes place a few hours before the 85th birthday of chicks.
Do you have a favorite place in Minneapolis, Minnesota?
Just before our flight, we all went to Flip Phone Events drag brunch with my friend the swap king Mr. Patrick Dufy a friend of mine from Minneopolitan to this fabulous place called have a strong desire to. And I loved taking pictures with my mother near the Marie Tyler Moore Statue
What else do you like to do?
I love thrift stores. Purchase from local manufacturers and artists. I love finding artists to make and augment clothes for me, I love buying gifts for my nieces and nephew. Whenever I’m in a new town, I try to find the local gay owner bookstore restaurant and bars and go there and frequent them, post them and tip really really good. Post the queens on my Snapchat. There are many queer communities in our country and I hope to visit them all.
I am a discreet amateur theologian. I have a podcast called YASS Jesus. It gives a non-judgmental, sex-positive look at Christianity through the queer rainbow lens. My co-host Azariah Southworth was a televangelist on TBN but got fired when he came out. So many so-called followers of God want to tell people they have to choose between being gay and God. It’s just not true
And don’t forget to catch the star of hit film Mean Girls and HBO’s Looking, as he brings his wildly popular Italian mum character to the stage in this world premiere comedy! It’s the day of Nana’s surprise birthday party and everyone comes ovah. While trying to throw a proper Italian party, Antoinette also juggles her ex, drama with her kids, a real estate deal, and spying on her neighbor. Co-written with Connecticut playwright Jacques Lamarre (I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti; Love & Spumoni), Franzese plays his beloved character on YouTube and Instagram for the first time in this hilarious solo tour de force. With laughter and love galore, Italian Mom Loves You! is a tribute to Italian Americans and mothers around the world. It’s going to be PHENOMENAL!
Thank you very much Daniel for your time!
Ticket link for “Italian Mom Loves You”, coming soon! Be sure to check here!
you can follow Daniel Franzese on social media @whatsupdanny
Photos courtesy of Daniel Franzese