Actor Jeff Hiller Is Always The Life Of The Gay Party

The new “Bright Colors and Bold Patterns” star is RuPaul-approved.

Save the dates! Jeff Hiller has cordially accepted an invitation to headline Drew Droege’s celebrated solo show, Bright Colors and Bold Patterns.

The Upright Citizens Brigade comedian and Nightcap regular replaces original star Droege as Gerry, a boozy and bitter gay man who goes off the rails at a same-sex wedding in Palm Springs. Directed by Michael Urie, the extended encore off-Broadway engagement is definitely worth another walk down the aisle.

Hiller, who co-hosts a podcast with New York Is Dead’s Jenn Harris about being in the middle of a bright career, breaks down his bold pattern of playing colorful queer characters.

Santiago Felipe/Getty Images

RuPaul recently came to see Bright Colors and Bold Patterns and took a selfie with you. What was that like?

This sounds cheesy, but it was exactly what I wanted it to be. He was so sweet and said such nice things. It felt like he was genuinely into the show and the performance.

Where does one go from there?

Seriously. What else do I have to live for? I guess I could meet Oprah, but that’s about it.

Will you be watching All-Stars 3?

Uh, yes. I remember watching the very first episode of the first season on premiere night—I’m an early adopter. I never know who I’m really rooting for until the final three, but I do love Kennedy Davenport. I did not like Trixie Mattel in her season, but I’ve since fallen in love with her, too.

Before praising you, RuPaul tweeted that he was “a little apprehensive” when he discovered Drew Droege was no longer in the show. What’s it been like to step into Drew’s shorts as Gerry?

It’s been easy, honestly, because Drew wrote a really great play—a great piece of art, if I might be so pretentious. The character is so beautifully fleshed out, and the points he makes feel so real and true, so it hasn’t been that difficult.

Gerry’s drug-fueled rant is triggered by a gay wedding invitation requesting guests not wear bright colors or bold patterns. You’re married. Did your wedding have a dress code or theme?

Can you imagine? Yeah, we had a Margaritaville theme! [Laughs] No, our theme was “this judge is going to marry us so we can get some tax write-offs.”

Gerry is extremely critical of gay marriage and the gay community’s assimilation into mainstream culture. As a married man, can you still appreciate Gerry’s arguments?

There’s definitely something to be said for being different and not following some prescribed statement about how people should live their lives. But, you know, if my husband dies, I want the apartment.

Bright Colors and Bold Patterns/Russ Rowland

Did you become more boring after getting married?

I was pretty boring before I got married. Things are more exciting now, actually, because when people see my wedding ring, I can be like, “It’s to a man!”

I should probably point out that you and your husband are raising a cat with an Instagram presence.

Is that too on the nose? Listen, I’m just leaning into who I really am. I’m a mother and my cat-baby wants to shine.

One might describe Gerry as “a lot” or even “a bit much.” Is there any Gerry in you?

It’s been a long time since I’ve had an eight-ball of coke! I tend to play a lot of mean customer service representatives who make people angry, but I’m actually a people-pleaser who doesn’t like making waves. I would never say some of the things Gerry says for fear of offending someone. So it’s thrilling to play someone who’s not me—and who’s a three-dimensional character.

30 Rock/Ali Goldstein/NBCU/Getty Images

Gerry is unabashedly gay. Is that liberating to play?

Yeah, because we don’t really see that anymore. We give GLAAD Awards to straight actors who play gay actors like straight people, so it almost feels radical to play this slightly effeminate gay man who’s unapologetically into pop culture. I’m a bit of a gay cliché myself—I love a Broadway musical and won’t apologize for it. Somehow the pendulum’s swung so far that I’m not supposed to like stereotypically gay things? That’s unfair.

Plugging the show on social media, you wrote, “You’ll get to see me play gay for the first time EVER!” Sarcasm noted.

Well, I mean, my IMDb credits read like a hate crime. I’d like to play more different shades of gay, but I like playing gay. There are lots of straight actors who only play straight roles.

In the documentary Do I Sound Gay? you discussed how you only get cast as “sad, self-hating, bitter queens.” Have you always embraced that niche?

Yeah. But it’s something I wrestle with, if I’m being honest. There are a few things I’ve turned down or didn’t audition for because they felt a bit offensive. It’s one thing to play a gay man knowingly, but it’s another thing to knowingly play a stereotype. We all know bitchy gay guys working at the makeup counter, so I don’t mind playing that, but I don’t want to play some vacuous sketch of a human being. I don’t want to play gay monsters.

Ghost Town/DreamWorks

You’ve played many characters whose sexuality isn’t explicitly defined. Do you ever give them a colorful gay backstory?

I think you might think I’m a better actor than I am. [Laughs] I play a lot of weirdos, so if the character’s sexuality isn’t mentioned, I usually assume they’re asexual. The only time I gave a character a backstory was when I played a naked ghost in the movie Ghost Town, and I had to explain to myself why he died naked. I imagined he was an uptight guy who had gone hot-tubbing naked for the first time in his life, but he slipped and cracked his head open. I’m pretty sure the hot tub was in Fire Island.

You’ve appeared on some of my favorite TV shows, including Broad City, Difficult People, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. What gig really made you pinch your gay self?

I saw The Talented Mr. Ripley when I was in college and fell in love with Matt Damon. Like, I wrote about him in my journal. What’s really screwed up is that I might’ve also been in love with the serial killer he portrayed. The second time I did 30 Rock, Matt Damon was in the episode and we got to do a little fist-bump that we improvised. That was a pinch-myself moment.

Have you always been out professionally?

You seem familiar with my work—do you think there was ever a doubt? [Laughs] I’d come out of the closet before I moved to New York in 2001, but in my first improv class at UCB, I did think, Maybe I shouldn’t say anything about being gay. Eventually, I reacted to something gross somebody said, and they were like, “What, are you bisexual or maybe even gay?” I just laughed and said, “I’m maybe even gay.”

In 2005 you played a whiny gay guy trolling blind dates for an iconic prank on MTV’s hidden camera show Boiling Points. What do you remember about that?

It was the worst! So stressful. Like I said, I want to please people, but that job was all about making people angry. I had to keep telling myself that I was pleasing the producers, and eventually I might please these guys by giving them $100.

Bright Colors and Bold Patterns runs through February 25 at SoHo Playhouse in New York.


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