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Interview: Paul Vogt of Hairspray (and MadTV)

 This week we talk to Paul Vogt who is currently staring as Edna Turnblad in “Hairspray.”

Paul is best known for his role on “MADtv” and on NBC’s “The Rerun Show.” He previously played Edna at North Shore in Boston and in Las Vegas. Other theatre credits include “Assassins,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “The Magic Flute,” and “The Candidate.” Film credits include “Princess Diaries 2,” “Good Boy,” “Raising Helen,” and the upcoming “Blonde Ambition.”
 Paul Vogt Mad TV

This week we talk to Paul Vogt who is currently staring as Edna Turnbald in “Hairspray.”

Paul is best known for his role on “MADtv” and on NBC’s “The Rerun Show.” He previously played Edna at North Shore in Boston and in Las Vegas. Other theatre credits include “Assassins,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “The Magic Flute,” and “The Candidate.” Film credits include “Princess Diaries 2,” “Good Boy,” “Raising Helen,” and the upcoming “Blonde Ambition.”

To get tickets and to find out more about “Hairspray”  click here .


You can listen to this interview and many other great features for free on Broadway Bullet vol. 111. Subscribe for free so you don't miss an episode.

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BROADWAY BULLET: I’m not exactly a theater snob, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn't felt a little disappointed at the replacements in the past for Harvey Fierstein in Hairspray, the musical.  But when I saw that Paul Vogt was playing the role, I was definitely intrigued.  His comic timing has been impeccable on Mad TV and has even had his rather famous impersonation of Mrs. Garrett from The Facts of Life, and joining us in the studio is Paul Vogt.  How are you doing?

PAUL VOGT: I am doing great.  It’s nice to be here.

BB: Well I saw the show last night, or on Wednesday night, and I have to say that I was not disappointed; you really did a fantastic job.

PAUL: Thank you, I appreciate it, thank you very much.

BB: I saw Harvey Fierstein in the original and you really made it your own and you stole the show, you had the crowd going.

PAUL: Yeah, it’s so much fun to do and it’s a great role, and I enjoy doing it way too much maybe. 

BB: Now I was familiar with your Mad TV stuff, I’ve always been a fan of the show and I felt it was underrated.

 PAUL: Yeah.

BB: But I looked at your bio and I was surprised to see so much theater on there.  I don’t know why that surprised me, but you’ve definitely done a lion’s share of theater around.

PAUL: Yeah, I mean this is biggest thing I’ve done, and it’s always been a dream to hit Broadway, and what a way to hit it in one of the best musicals in the past twenty years and in this role.  It’s incredible to do.  I went to college, I’m from Buffalo, New York originally, and I went to college there I did a lot of theater even when I was in high school.  So theater has been, definitely, in my blood along with it was improv, I’ve been doing improv since I was in high school too because I loved the not knowing what’s next factor of it and stuff, and I loved mixing the two together.  I’ve been doing it for a long time.  TV, TV and film actually is the newer thing, so there’s that.

BB: What are some of your favorite roles you’ve played in the past?  Just to go dig that up a little bit.

PAUL: In Orlando we did a production of Assassins that I really enjoyed doing, and I played Sam Bick who tries to kill Nixon.  And in the show he’s got these two big monologues, and they are kind of comic and then they go to this really dark, dramatic edge.  And I’m actually trained like with Shakespeare and I love tragedies and I like to do drama, but it’s more fun to make people laugh.  So I don’t get that opportunity that much, so I loved playing that role, it was really great.  And I got to do there was a show El Grande de Coca Cola which is this ridiculous show that was done, I think, in the seventies, maybe Off-Broadway; again, we did it in Orlando and it was really fun.  I was Palo Pepe Hernandez, who has this family that he thinks is the most talented family in the world, and they’re not.  The whole show is him passing his family off as all of these professional performers, so I did that.  And I also did Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, which was one of the best things I got to do, and also in Orlando crazy.  So that’s theater wise; and TV wise I’ve been really lucky, I’ve had some good times.  Again, it’s so funny; I have a twin brother – identical twin brother.

BB: I was wondering, I saw that in your bio but I thought it was one of those quips and jokes that actors make.

PAUL: No, he’s real.  Yeah, he’s also an actor, he’s in LA doing his thing too, and every now and then people use us together.  They used us in Chicago Hope when it was on, when we first went out to LA, and we got to play these conjoined twins.  They built these real looking body suits that we wore so that we could take our shirts off and show that we were connected by the side.  And in the first episode we did we were kind of the funny side dish, and in the second episode – they liked us so much – that he dies and I won’t let them separate us.  And I have this five minute death scene thing with Lauren Holly and Barbara Hershey’s in it and that was really great to do.  Again because they saw us as really funny, but they knew that we could be honest and real and they gave us this opportunity to do that and I like that.  I like everything I do.  Not that I think I’m great, I’m brilliant, I just love performing, so any time I get a chance it’s the old adage “he’s chewing up the scenery” I eat the whole place.

BB: Now this isn’t, Broadway isn’t the first place you did Hairspray. 

PAUL: No I have, I’m kind of a freak with Hairspray, I did Vegas I took over for Harvey Fierstein in Vegas so I did the ninety minute version there, and then I did the first regional production in Boston this past fall, and ten they asked me if I’d like to do this and I said yes, of course the Broadway.  So I have a ninety minute version from Vegas, which they took out certain scenes, certain songs, and even at times certain lines, so the script is really condensed, and it was a great show very energetic, no intermission, the cast was amazing and it was really bright and fun and it was big.  The stage there is like the size of a football field, it was huge, the orchestra would come out at the end from behind and the von Tussles would be riding on the orchestra and it was great.  And the one I did in North Shore, in Boston, is in the round, so that was very odd, and it was a different director with different choreography because it was the first regional.  So they could use a certain percentage of the real choreography, but it was mostly all new.  So I had that sort of thing going on, in the round with a different director’s perception, which wasn’t too far from what we do here, and then I got to come here and do the actual full script, with intermission, all the scenes with all the lines intact, which I kept getting reminded “say that word”, “say that line”, “do that”.

BB: It got a little confusing sometimes?

PAUL: It was, it was a little confusing.  I think I have it down now, I think I got it down.

BB: How long have you been with the show now, on Broadway?

PAUL: I think it’s been like nine weeks now, nine or ten weeks.  It’s going too fast, I have to be honest, it’s really fun and it’s going way too fast.

 BB: You know, there are roles that I would imagine most actors would jump into without much hesitation, you know, as a replacement, and then there’s this role which probably has one of the biggest damps on it.  I’d imagine this has got to be a role where you think about what you’re filling in, and the heritage of it.  What were the thoughts running through your head when you decided to come onto Broadway?

PAUL: Yeah, I’ll be honest, when I took over Vegas from Harvey Fierstein I worked with him for two weeks.  He’s a great guy, I adore him as a person, but as a performer he’s amazing.  It’s kind of brilliant the way he can use his voice.

BB: He shouldn’t be able to, my god he shouldn’t be able to.

PAUL: His comic timing, he embodies the character of Edna so well as an actor, and then the voice is this great tool that he can use for dramatic effect or for comic effect, like when he would answer the phone he’d be like “Hellooooooo” and you would just bust up, and he knew it.  It also came from the reality of Edna, it’s really interesting to watch him and to study him and to figure out what he was doing.  And there’s no way I could ever do his voice.  The biggest mistake you could make would be to try and play Edna and try and be Harvey Fierstein because he was playing Edna the way he played it, so to copy Harvey doing it doesn’t make sense.  He gave me great advice, he said she’s a mother, she’s a wife, just be good to her, go for the ride just be good to this mother and wife who really loves her family, and that’s really what you have to do.  And on the technical side of it, you do have to drop your voice every now and then – I found – because you have to set up certain jokes that won’t work, if the audience has never heard you talk in a deep voice and you come in during the motor mouth scene and say “excuse me” then they’re going to be like “where did that come from?” so you need to find, I know I figured out moments to play the lower part of your range. 

BB: You know, I don’t want to slam some of the people who came before you, because I didn’t see them, but.

PAUL: Right, so they are all lovely, nice people.

BB: But it’s hard for me to imagine Bruce Vilanch giving the honesty that is needed for this role.

PAUL: You know I saw Bruce Vilanch do this role in LA on the tour with Marissa Winokur who won the Tony and played the role.  I had done Happy Days the Musical with her, it was great to see her in the role.  Bruce had honesty, I felt, in it.  He was adorable in it, and I know it’s weird to put adorable and  Bruce Vilanch together in the same sentence, but there was something really adorable about his Edna.  And I don’t know if it was his, he’s not really a song and dance man, but he got up there and did what he could and he did what he did and that’s what I felt was honest about it, that he wasn’t trying to do more than he could, or trying to become something else, he was doing Bruce playing Edna.  Which I think that’s the honesty, I think that brings, when you bring a piece of yourself to the role then you’re being honest, and I feel that he did.  I don’t know, he cracked me up.

BB: Like I said, I didn’t see him so I can’t judge, but you definitely did.

PAUL: Thanks.

BB: I think a lot of people, I mean the movie is beloved by drag queens, and I think it would be easy to miss in there that with that kind of larger than life attitude that this needs to be played by a real person.

PAUL: Yeah, I look at it as an acting piece.  And I don’t know why, but I play a lot of women and there’s something about it that I think that I, a large man, can convince people that I am a woman then I’ve done my job as an actor.  And I’ve always felt that because I’ve been playing women since high school back in Buffalo, I did a production of No, No Nannette and they couldn’t find anyone who was funny for the role of the maid.  They didn’t feel like anyone had the comic timing so the director and choreographer asked if I would be the maid, but they wanted to just put me in the program as P. Vogt, they didn’t want anyone to know I was a guy.  And I said “Yeah!” I took that as a challenge, as an actor, you know “can I pass myself off?” and it worked.  I’m sure it wasn’t great, I was only five, but it was fun to do and I love it, that’s one of the reasons I love improv, because I love the not knowing what’s coming next and when you get someone you’re working with and they toss something back at you it’s like you get such a rush off of that.  I like playing the piece as an actor, really playing the role, as opposed to “I’m a guy in a dress!” I want to play the character and get to the meat of it. 

BB: Now Mad TV.

PAUL: Yes?

BB: What was that experience like?  How long were you on it?

PAUL: I did three years.  Which was good, I had an out after my third year because of my brother, I didn’t want to be stuck on a show without him because we had always hoped to do something together.  And then I left and ended up doing Hairspray in Vegas and I’ve been doing a lot of stage work since then and he’s been in LA working, but we’re still working on our thing.  It was great, I had a great time.  We would do live shows in front of an audience; and the difference between us and Mad TV is our stuff gets edited – I mean between us and Mad TV – between us it’s Saturday Night Live.  So they’re live, and they get to see all of their flubs, which are hysterical and all of their stuff.  We filmed in front of a live audience, but if something didn’t work we could go back and fix it because it would be edited for air when you saw the show.

BB: I actually didn’t realize, I knew they were edited but I didn’t realize they were still in front of a live audience.

PAUL: Yeah we would do, it was kind of a one week on one week off.  One week we would have the audience and one week we would do what they call location stuff, where we would go out and film in the area.  But what we would also do with those, the things that we filmed without an audience, we would show them while the sets were being moved around in front of the live audience we would show the stuff the week before so that we always had a live audience reaction.  So it’s very rarely, like if they film something quick, and had to get it on air because it was topical and timely maybe they would put in canned laughter for those few really tiny few things, other than that all of the laughter is from a live audience.  I had a great time, it gets a little crazy, like you’ll hear, you have to pitch things Tuesdays we would have to read thirty sketches and only seven would be picked, and you’d have one that you wanted so bad but maybe the President did something stupid that week and we needed to get it on, so it gets a little political and a little crazy that way, but once you’re up and running and doing it it’s great.  And the group I was with there is great, I still talk to most of them, a lot of them have moved onto great stuff too.  I enjoyed it.

BB: Is it a lot like, you hear the stories about Saturday Night Live where it’s all very cut throat and you’re all trying to get your spots for that week?

PAUL: I think we’re a little bit different than Saturday Night Live in that respect.  I don’t know exactly how it works there, because I’ve heard things are because it is a live show I think it’s different there, and I’ve heard things like they might rehearse all the way to Friday and then somebody will say it’s not working and then on Saturday afternoon they are rehearsing a sketch that’s going on that night in front of a live audience.  So that pressure that’s insane, and they’ll do it and they’ll pull it off.  And sometimes you’ll watch the show and you might see a sketch and go “oh that’s a little clunky” it’s probably because they just did it an hour or two before, because maybe something else wasn’t working, something else they’d rehearsed.  With us, like I said we would have those Tuesdays where we would read all of these sketches and you’d want it to get picked and it didn’t or whatever, so just whatever they gave you that week you would work on.  So you always had something to work on and I never felt that it was cut throaty, like someone was trying to screw someone else over, or somebody was getting bumped.  I mean there were things that were picked and pushed and you were like “when are we going to do this?  When are we going to do this?” and you had to sort of fight for those, or you’d be like “I only had two things last week, I want to do more!”.  So you had to generate your heat, as it were, but not to an insane proportion I guess. 

BB: And you’re teaching now, as well?

PAUL: Yeah.  I have taught, I’m not right now because I am a large woman on Broadway, but yeah I’ve taught improv.  I’ve taught some in Orlando and I’ve tried to do some in LA, yeah I love a good improv workshop.  It cracks me up

BB: It’s definitely not a torturous thing to do.

PAUL: Oh no, I love it.  I like showing people, you know a lot of people think improv, there’s really a skill to improv and there are what we call improv tools and there is a right way of doing it.  And then some people teach it real rigid and it’s improv, you’re supposed to just take what happens and do something with that and move on; and my friend Mo Collins, she came from a group called Dudley Rigs out of Minneapolis and so I got, I was lucky I worked with people from Dudley Rigs, from Second City, from The Growling, so I collected all of their best ideas because I got to work with them.  My improv is based on that, based on all of these great improv companies that I’ve had a chance to touch upon.  And it’s great, improv you think of it as a gift like when you’re in a scene, you talk to someone they talk back.  You’re giving them a gift, they’re giving you a gift.  It just makes it fun, so I like to impart that type of thing and let people know that there is, you need to lay a base and layer an improv scene and then find the ending, it shouldn’t ramble on.  It’s fun, it’s really fun when people get it and you see them really employ it.  It gets me crazy, I love it!

BB: So if you were to give one tip, like one tool that you think maybe is the most important one.

PAUL: For?

BB: For improv. 

PAUL: For improv, listen.  Just listen, because it’s all there.  People give you everything if you just listen to the person across from you, and again I think one of the best things I’ve ever heard is give a gift.  Because then it’s not about you being clever and funny, it’s about you giving something to someone else.  You give a gift and then be gracious enough to accept that gift.  So if I say “Hey, this frog will make you well” the other person should take the imaginary frog and say “Thank you for this frog” and lick it and say “I see colors” so that’s a gift back to me.  So it’s a nice interplay between the two.  So I would say listen and give a gift, accept a gift.  And next week on shakra 101…

BB: Alright.  So how long are you in Hairspray?

PAUL: Right now I’m here till June 3rd, but you never know. 

BB: Do you have anything else you’re eye balling on Broadway?  Any plea to get out there?

PAUL: Well I always thought I’d be a good Elphaba in Wicked.  And lets see, I think I should take over for Sutton Foster in Drowsy Chaperone. 

BB: That brings up one last note, this seems to be a show that people have pride about being overweight.

PAUL: Yeah, I mean I’m not really overweight, I wear a body suit all the time, I only weigh one hundred pounds, but for those that are.

BB: At the stage door do you see any of this? 

PAUL: You know what it is?  I think because if you go back to the movie with Rikki Lake, I mean she was a big girl and by all she should never had been a movie star by Hollywood standards or be a star in a film, let alone a film about dancing and stuff.  And John Waters is just so great because he sees the world as what it really is.  I mean come on, America, we’re big people mostly, and she was normal, she’s not abnormal, she was normal and this is what probably did happen or could have happened.  So I think what it is it speaks to, not just to heavy people, but what’s even heavy now?  I mean if you go by Hollywood standards or the thin as a rail thing you could be ten pounds overweight and not be normal as far as they’re concerned.  But you do see a lot of, it’s really about being who you are and being yourself and accepting yourself, and loving yourself.  There are so many messages in the show that come out in a brillian t way, none of them hit you in the face or are political but they’re real and they’re honest and I do see a lot of people who say it’s their first Broadway show and they loved it, it was funny and they were surprised at how much it meant.  So I really thik it does touch upon a lot of people.  I have not seen like groups of large people crying for my autograph, and if you’re out there you come! You come you larges you fatties, you overly eaters!  We’ll have a party.

BB: Alright, well I thank you so much for coming in.

PAUL: Hey it was fun!



You can listen to this interview and many other great features for free on Broadway Bullet vol. 111. Subscribe for free so you don't miss an episode.

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