Neil Patrick Harris Lets it all Hang Out

What does out actor Neil Patrick Harris think about
something? Lately, he’ll tell you — in sometimes eyebrow raising detail.
Consider the last month and a half:

  • Harris talked to Hollywood Reporter about his coming out, joking at one point,
    "I made out with Cobie Smulders last week on the show, and when I watched
    it, I got an erection. And she’s a chick, you know what I’m
  • He appeared on The Howard Stern Show, where he revealed intimate details of his
    sex life, telling Howard when and how he lost his virginity, that he slept with
    12-15 women before accepting his gayness, and that he and partner David Burtka
    are monogamous and versatile.
Harris (left) & partner David Burtka

Photo credit: Noel Vasquez/Getty Images
  • When Britney Spears guest-starred on Harris’
    sitcom How I Met Your Mother, he was
    surprisingly blunt to E! about how it
    came to be, saying, “It gets the name How
    I Met Your Mother
    out more, which I think is important, but it
    should be clear, and I hope you state this, Britney’s camp came entirely to us
    with the idea of it, and in fact, we all thought it was a joke.” He was just as
    frank to an AP reporter, saying, among other things, “I worry that if they
    start ’Will and Gracing’ us too much, that the show will suffer.” This caused
    such an outcry that Harris had to issue a statement saying he’d been misquoted
    and that, “Britney did a great job on the show.” The AP stood by their story.
Harris & Britney Spears

Harris first came to widespread fame in 1989 as the
16-year-old star of Doogie Howser M.D., an
ABC “dramedy” about a child genius who becomes a doctor. The role brought
Harris enormous success, but cemented his public image as a sensitive, somewhat
nerdy prodigy.

In the early 00s, Harris made what seemed to be a concerted
effort to break out of the typecasting caused by Doogie Howser with a successful turn as the lecherous Emcee in a
Broadway revival of Cabaret, and in
an attention-getting cameo as a drug-addled, horny-heterosexual version of
himself (he wasn’t yet out publicly) in the 2004 movie Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.

“I did a whole slew of made-for-TV telefilms where I was a
serial arsonist, I hacked up my parents with a wood maul,” Harris told the NPR
radio show Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!
“Good times.”

In 2005, Harris took the role of Barney Stinson, an amoral
womanizer, on the CBS sitcom How I Met
Your Mother
. The character was enormously popular and revolutionized his
career, landing him a 2007 Emmy and People’s Choice Award nominations.

Josh Radnor (left) & Harris in How I Met Your Mother

In November of 2006, after some Internet writers began
speculating on his sexuality, he came out in a statement to People, saying, “I am happy to dispel
any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content
gay man.”

Next page! What Bruce Vilanch says about Neil!

Harris’s announcement, like T.R. Knight’s two weeks before
it, was revolutionary: a gay male actor known for playing heterosexuals was
choosing to publicly come out in the very prime of his career.

In the immediate aftermath, Harris did a delicate public
relations dance, steering clear of gay press and avoiding talking about his
being gay in the mainstream media for a time, though he eventually discussed it
on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and

Now, however, the floodgates seem to have opened.

While publicizing the recent Kumar sequel Harold and Kumar
Escape from Guantanamo Bay
, he’s
been game for any question and any gimmick — even allowing Ellen Degeneres to
“decapitate” him onstage.
And he played a necrophiliac in a recent episode of the web comedy series Powerloafing:

Kumar creators Jon
Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg are reportedly considering another movie for
Harris, this one centering on the horny, drugged-up “Neil Patrick Harris”
character in their films. Harris’ response? More of his now-trademark
frankness: “Part of me thinks that would be really hilarious … then part of
me thinks that it is just truly jumping the shark.”

What’s behind Harris’s sudden candor?

Gay humorist Bruce Vilanch, who’s been known to tell a few
blue jokes himself, doesn’t dare hazard a guess. “All I have to say is that I’m pissed off at both Neil and
David for being monogamous, as I’ve just had my romper room refurbished,” he

The truth is Harris, who declined to be interviewed for this
article, may simply be resorting to form. The actor drew attention, and buzz of
a future as a talk show host, during his time as a replacement host for Regis
Philbin on Live with Regis and Kelly when
Philbin was absent for six weeks in 2007 undergoing bypass surgery. Harris
impressed many with his quick wit and easy on-air charm.

"You can notice a growing confidence when he’s on talk
shows these days or doing something like subbing for Regis,” says longtime
entertainment reporter Greg Hernandez of Out in Hollywood.
“Being out and speaking his truth has only made him more appealing, it’s
only made him a bigger star. And he’s done all of this in the mainstream which
is not an easy thing."

But Harris’ recent forthrightness also appears to be
somewhat contextual, which makes it seem more intentional on the part of the
actor. He rarely, if ever, mentions his partner on Live with Regis and Kelly, which has a decidedly Middle American
audience. In describing how he and his co-host spent Valentine’s Day earlier
this year, Kelly spoke specifically about her husband while Harris talked in
odd, gender-neutral terms.

Kelly Ripa-induced demureness aside, Harris may be well on
his way to becoming the U.S.’s answer to the U.K.’s John Barrowman, the
enormously popular, openly gay Torchwood
star who has a penchant for speaking his mind and saying often ribald things.

Other GLBT American celebrities have developed reputations
for speaking plainly. In addition to Vilanch, there’s Alan Cumming and Alexis
Arquette. But Harris may be the first
gay celebrity of his stature to do so.

Next page! Neil wins over homophobes!

Is Harris giving too much information? His most revealing
comments came on The Howard Stern Show,
where the host is known for getting his guests to say and do outrageous things.

But as Hernandez notes, television audiences are responding
favorably to Harris’ growing comfort with himself, and his willingness not to
take himself, or his gayness, too seriously — a rare event in an era when
television often still presents homosexuality as a “controversial issue.”

Indeed, Harris’ honesty on The Howard Stern Show had the effect of helping humanize gay
people in the eyes of Stern cast
member Artie Lange, a self-described homophobe (who also has become friends with George Takei via Stern’s show). "I joke around about this stuff
a lot and talk about it in my act, but I’m being dead honest right now,"
Lange said in the segment. "If my son ever [told me he was gay], the first
thing I would do would be to give him a hug and tell him there was no way I
have a problem with this and I love you."

"I think Neil’s growing candor is such a great thing
because he is a funny and articulate man who happens to be gay,” Hernandez
says. “He seems to downplay the significance of his coming out, but it is a
very important thing. He’s a major television star who has been famous since he
was a kid. Now people feel like they really know him for the first time, and he
is a high-profile example of a seemingly happy and well-balanced gay

Photo credit: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images