A GoPride Interview

Daniel Franzese

Danny Franzese finds a fetching gay cabaret space on Southport

Sat. May 25, 2024  by Jerry Nunn

It’s not a show with music but I am working on an EP.
Daniel Franzese

danny franzese

photo credit // danny franzese

Daniel Franzese brings Mean Girls to the Mercury Theater Chicago

Actor Daniel Franzese will forever be remembered as Damian in the original Mean Girls film that debuted in 2004. Mean Girls followed the story of a new student navigating her way in high school and became a phenomenon that grew into a Broadway musical and a 2024 musical version inspired by that production released this past January.

Franzese has appeared onscreen in films such as Bully and I Spit on Your Grave among others. On television, he’s worked on ABC’s Conviction and RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race.

His popular podcast tackles religion mixed with comedy and is titled Yass, Jesus!

He’s bringing his stand-up act to Ginger Minj’s Big Gay Cabaret for Pride month.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) What name do you go by?

DF: (Danny Franzese) When I am in a film I like to be credited as Daniel, but the rest of the time people know me as Danny.

JN: Are your roots in Brooklyn?

DF: My family is from Italy and Brooklyn. We moved to South Florida when I was in elementary school. It was basically like Diet Brooklyn because my family would hang out with other Jewish and Italian New Yorkers in Florida. I was still in a New York bubble even though we were in South Florida.

JN: Did you always want to be a performer when you were growing up there?

DF: Yes. My great-grandfather tried to move to Brooklyn and the community said they didn’t want a greasy Italian living on the block. He decided that he would own the whole block and he pretty much did. He had 13 children who all bought a house on that block.

I was the first grandchild to be on that block when I was born. I started a coffee table circuit where I would go from relative to relative and perform in their living room.

I have been performing since I was a child. I learned early on that I had gifts to make people smile and that I could change people’s moods with a joke. This was my superpower!

JN: Well, now it is paying off. Have you visited Chicago much in the past?

DF: I have some great memories of times in Chicago, but I never have performed there. This is odd to me because I have seen so many good shows there. I am a theater junkie and I love improv. I am a fan of Steppenwolf Theatre Company and took classes at The Second City Toronto.

My career has not allowed me to spend much time there, but it is finally happening. I am coming to do an hour of standup and I cannot wait. I know Chicago is my audience. They are the people who get my sensibility and my humor. This is going to be fun and I am very excited about it.

JN: How did you get involved with the Big Gay Cabaret?

DF: Ginger Minj and her husband Ceejay Russell are very dear friends of mine. We met when Ginger and I did a production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show together in San Antonio, Texas with Laganja Estranja as Frank and Cynthia Lee Fontaine as Magenta. Ginger played Janet and I played Eddie. The four of us lived in a home together, including Ceejay. We were roommates for the run of the show. It was like living on an episode of Untucked. I heard all the juicy gossip and got close to them.

Later on Ginger and I did Rozeanne Live! where I played Dan Connor and Ginger played Rosanne. We planned on other projects and collaborations but then the pandemic happened. That canceled the production of The Flintstones parody we were going to do.

Fruit Wine Productions is finally coming to fruition with my show and hopefully, this will be the beginning of our reuniting to work together for many years.

JN: I’m heading to San Antonio next weekend for their Pride.

DF: What a great city for queer folks. I love San Antonio!

JN: Are you singing at the cabaret or just performing standup?

DF: It’s not a show with music but I am working on an EP. I am releasing the first song on June 1, so I will want to perform at least one song for y’all while I am there. It is not a show with a lot of music, but I will possibly sing a song or two.

JN: There are television monitors along the wall so you could show a music video there if you like. Do you have a music video yet for the music?

DF: I don’t because I am putting everything into the actual production of music. When it comes to visuals there is so much involved with performing it live. Until the EP comes out in the fall I don’t think there will be any music videos. I will just let the music live in other types of media because that is the way people like to consume music right now.

The point of the music is a very easy breezy, sunset, soul, country, yacht rock vibe. Let’s party on a boat as we go down the river and stroll on the beach. The song is perfect to hike to and be outdoors when listening to it.

I am not going to be the next JoJo Siwa and reinvent gay pop music.

JN: JoJo is performing at Chicago’s Pride Fest so you could always come see her a few weeks after your appearance.

DF: Honestly, seeing her live is the next thing on my bucket list. I might have to come back for Pride!

JN: You have had several standup shows in the past. Has your upcoming act constructed from that?

DF: I do a lot of schools and corporate events where I get 15-30 minutes of time, but it is rare that perform a full hour. I have hours of material so I am pairing it down. I will be using the highlights and some of my classic bits that Chicago audiences have not seen live yet.

I would love to craft a special sometime in the near future, so this is a test on which things should be in it or not.

I want this to be a very relaxed evening with friends. All of my comedy is based on trying to make my friends and family laugh.

I feel very connected to my fanbase and it’s interesting to be a part of the legacy of Mean Girls. When people stop me in the street they act like they went to high school with me or an affinity for me that’s connected to their youth. I don’t take that lightly and I embrace it. I want them to feel comfortable with me and hug it out after the show. The experience is like having a cup of coffee with me. I like to show who I really am to the fans who see my show. I’m looking forward to Chicago absorbing that they have the cerebral bandwidth to take in something on multiple levels of art.

I plan on telling some jokes and maybe some live questions and answers with the audience. I will go with the flow and give people my best bits. Hopefully, they crack up!

JN: There’s a bar in the back of the room away from the stage so the audience can partake in libations.

DF: The more they drink the funnier I will get.

JN: They should make a pink drink right?

DF: Maybe. It’s crazy because Damian never wore pink. The Plastics wore pink on Wednesdays. He did have a pink shirt but it went to Lindsay Lohan and he never got it back. Pink is such a part of my brand. I have to take a break from pink shirts at times and put them on moratorium for a while. People expect it from me and color has now enveloped me!

JN: Do you have a favorite musical?

DF: I have several, but I would want to play almost every character in My Favorite Year by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. The cast was Tim Curry, Lainie Kazan and Andrea Martin. It’s about putting on a comedy show like Saturday Night Live. It’s really cute.

If I am only allowed to watch one musical in my life it would be Gypsy. It has the best overture in the history of musicals.

I always wonder how the production will have a lamb in the story. Sometimes it’s real, a teddy bear or a cardboard cutout and sometimes it’s a Maltese!

It’s the same with the costumes for “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.” How will the strippers look? How will Momma Rose sound with her show-stopping song? Audra McDonald is next in line to play the role. If I have the flu I want to be wrapped up in a blanket and see the different women playing Rose to argue with myself on who is the best. I really geek out on the show.

JN: Ginger Minj’s show The Broads’ Way has an interpretation of Gypsy as well.

DF: When I was on Celebrity Drag Race I asked to do “Rose’s Turn” and the crew said yes but they changed the concept of having a Broadway segment.

One day I am going to do it even if I have to perform in socks!

JN: I can hear the passion in your voice. While you are in town you should swing by Sidetrack on Halsted Street. 250 TV sets play show tunes and Ginger Minj and Miz Cracker both popped into the venue to promote Big Gay Cabaret in the past.

DF: That sounds amazing.

JN: What are your thoughts on the latest Mean Girls movie?

DF: Anything weird I felt about it I have dealt with when it first came out on Broadway. I am living with this new extension of the musical. I would have liked to have been in it as a cameo, but that wasn’t my decision.

I loved it and met the cast at the premiere. They are all so gifted and talented.

For me, it is an honor to be the source material. I would like to have musical versions of all of my movies and TV shows like Looking the Musical!

JN: I heard you met Danny DeVito also since he was referenced by your Mean Girls character.

DF: I did meet Danny one time and it was more for me than him. I went up to him and explained who I was from Mean Girls and had a line where I said, “Danny DeVito, I love your work!”

He gave me a fist bump and went back to chatting with people around him. I couldn’t let that moment pass even though he was on a dance floor at a party!

Danny's show is postponed for a future date. 



Interviewed by Jerry Nunn. Jerry Nunn is a contributing writer to the GoPride Network. His work is also featured in Windy City Times, Nightspots Magazine and syndicated nationally.