Drew Droege Explains Why Gay People Are the Best and the Worst

Raise a glass to his new solo show, “Happy Birthday Doug.”

Doug’s having a 41st birthday party, bitch, and you’re invited.

Following the success of Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, funnyman Drew Droege is back off-Broadway with his latest solo show, Happy Birthday Doug, a boozy celebration of gay culture set in a Silver Lake wine bar. Everyone you know is there: The not-so-sober crasher, the bitter ex, the old queen, the husband twins, the millennial waiter, the big whore, and more.

Presented by Michael Urie and directed by Tom DeTrinis, Happy Birthday Doug has extended through March 29 at the Soho Playhouse. Droege, known for his viral “Chloë” vids and countless comedy roles, chats with NewNowNext about how messy gay get-togethers are gifts that keep on giving.

Happy Birthday Doug/Russ Rowland

After seeing Bright Colors and Happy Birthday Doug, I assume you enjoy an alcoholic beverage.

[Laughs] I do. It’s a part of our culture, and it fits a lot of the characters I love. I like to write rambling, ranting, emotionally unraveling people, and they usually need a cocktail in their hand while they’re doing that.

What hellish party inspired you to write Happy Birthday Doug?

It was a combination of several of my birthdays and also other events where gay men are all thrown together, where we can get really insecure, neurotic, and mean. All of our weird shit comes out when we get around each other. I don’t know why, but I used to have birthday parties and invite more than 100 people—people I didn’t know very well, some people I didn’t even like. It was exhausting. And like in the show, I did have someone come up to me and say, “I know I wasn’t invited.”

If Bright Colors was a criticism of gay marriage and assimilation, is Happy Birthday Doug a criticism of gays in general?

I just love exploring our culture, raising questions, and putting people on stage that I actually know. It’s not a total criticism of gay people as much as it shows us warts and all. Gay men are my favorite and least favorite people in the world. We need each other so desperately, but we can also be horrible to each other. It’s fine if people see the show as a vicious read, but as I was writing it, I realized it was about holding on to the people in our lives who really matter.

It’s interesting that Doug is turning 41, not 40.

If it were a 40th birthday, it would’ve been a bigger deal for Doug. I didn’t want to make this about turning 40, feeling old, or whatever else that means—we’ve seen that narrative before. It’s like, what do you learn when you turn 41, when it’s not a magic number? I recently turned 43, actually, and it was great—I didn’t feel any anxiety about it.

Happy Birthday Doug/Russ Rowland

Have many people told you these characters remind them of themselves or people they know?

Yeah, it’s fascinating. When I first did the show in L.A., I actually had a lot of friends asking, “Is that me?” It’s fun talking to people afterward who want to guess who these characters are, but they’re all amalgamations.

Is there one you relate to most, or does it change from day to day, drink to drink?

In a way, they’re all me. They all came out of my head, and I feel like I’ve been all of them on some level. I guess I relate most to Doug, who we finally hear from at the end of the party. I wanted him to be drunk, really raw and honest, not pulling any punches, yelling about all the assholes. It’s therapeutic for me to have him go through that.

I feel like I’m turning into Christopher, the old queen.

Christopher is definitely who I want to be when I get older. He’s so kind, not bitter, and he can laugh at things. He’s based on a lot of the lovely older gay men who took care of me when I was younger, sort of shepherding me into that world. I try to write older and younger characters with hope and empathy, because I feel like we have a lot to learn from each other.

You also invite Oscar Wilde’s ghost to the party. What inspired that?

My friend Liz Feldman told me years ago that I needed to play Oscar Wilde. Then I had a realization at some party where I could just feel everyone there trying to outwit each other, one bon mot after another. I was like, Wow, every gay man thinks he’s Oscar Wilde, and none of them are.

Happy Birthday Doug/Russ Rowland

As a writer on AJ and the Queen, you wrote “Jackson,” a.k.a. the Latrice Royale episode.

Yeah, I came on as a consultant, sitting in the writers’ room two or three days a week, throwing out ideas with Michael Patrick King and RuPaul. Halfway through the season, they offered me an episode to write on my own, which was the first time I’d done that. I was so happy I got to write for Latrice.

What was it like working with Ru?

Ru is incredible. He’s so refreshingly down to earth, and he was really interested in what everybody was bringing to the table, always asking, “What do you think?” It was a great time. I hope they get to do another season.

Do you and Ru have a herstory?

We’d met a few times. He’s always been very supportive, giving me shout-outs on Twitter. He’s seen me in some shows, and he saw Bright Colors in New York when Jeff Hiller was in it. A friend and I had actually met with RuPaul about another project that he couldn’t do—he’s a little busy!—but then a few weeks later, my manager called and said Ru had recommended me to write on AJ and the Queen.

Maybe now you’ll find yourself at the same birthday parties.

I hope so! RuPaul is smart when it comes to parties. He DJed the AJ and the Queen premiere party, so he got to have a good time, but he didn’t have to go around talking to people all night. I thought that was a genius move.

Happy Birthday Doug runs through March 29 at Soho Playhouse in New York.

Celebrity interviewer. Foodie and Broadway buff in Manhattan. Hates writing bios.
@brandonvoss