December 27, 2006

Mario Cantone: From "Sex and the City" To Broadway

Our Kitty Merrill cuddled up with Mario Cantone before he went onstage at the Bay Street Theatre earlier this season. The result: "He's in love with me," she announced. Duh . . . he's so GAY, Kitty!

We all have our career goals. For Mario Cantone, it's appearing on the irreverent Comedy Central hit "South Park." He lists it as his "favorite show ever in the world," and said he'd love a guest shot slot on the show "even if they make fun of me."

It's no surprise Cantone, who brings his stand-up to Bay Street Theatre (725-9500) in Sag Harbor this Saturday night, would have an affinity for a cartoon made for adults. "Steampipe Alley," his 80s answer to "Wonderama" became a cult fave among some adult audiences. Recalled a fan, "It was just so wild to see this crazy queen with all those kids and puppets."

From the small screen Cantone made his debut on Broadway, taking over Nathan Lane's role in Terrence McNally's Love! Valor! Compassion. Tony award-winning director Joe Mantello saw him headline at Caroline's Comedy Club and tagged him to take over the part when Lane left to film The Birdcage in 1995.

His Broadway credits are impressive, but it's the role of Anthony, Charlotte's deliciously bitchy gay friend on "Sex and the City" that served as an HOV lane on the road to superstardom. A big plus of the recurring role was the chance to work with "one of my best friends," Kim Cattrall. The show's syndication and daily airings have added to name recognition.

So, too, have dozens of appearances on "The View."

He's become the talk show's official post awards show critic. In an interview recently he said he looked forward to "goofing on" participants in the Daytime Emmy Awards. Lasering in on dippy stars and starlets on "The View" is as far as he'll go, though. He's been asked myriad times to troll red carpets a la Joan and Melissa Rivers and refuses. "It puts you on the other side of them [stars] and f*** that, I'm one of them!" he said.

And he is. His Tony-nominated one-man show Laugh Whore was a must see on Broadway. Showtime presented it as a special and will release it on DVD this summer. Transforming into his celebrity persona, he directs the interviewer, "Call them and find out when it's gonna be released, cuz I'm f***ing curious." Described as a master of the comedy of outrage, one reviewer called him an artist of "extraordinary tantrums and extraordinary gifts."

Not that we'll see any of those tantrums displayed on reality shows. He's been invited to participate in those as well, and declined all. Reality shows are simply too much exposure of a personal nature for Cantone's tastes. He says he can't even watch them; "they're too much getting into people's lives."

With a keen sense of career dos and don'ts, Cantone knows to be grateful. Little does he mention of his successes without offering a laundry list of others involved in any step up the ladder. He is generous in crediting costars and producers, directors and authors, even audiences.

Recently he appeared in Boston, bringing his stand-up to his hometown for the first time in 12 years. It was a magical night in a 1000-seat theater peopled with fans, and family and friends. "People I went to high school with came out," he said, his voice hinting surprise.

And what a voice it is. "On" he's one part Richard Simmons, one part Ethel Merman and one part indescribably acerbic. Soon, his voice will hit a national note as he reaches yet another benchmark towards superstardom, playing characters in a full length animated feature. Not just one, two. He costars with John Travolta, playing a cat, in the upcoming American Dog. That'll be out in 2007. The following year he takes a turn in playing sidekick to Christopher Walken's villain in Surf's Up.

Working on animated flicks is "such a blast," Cantone related. "I love sitting in that booth." A fan of old animated movies, Cantone collects framed cells from lesser-known movies, such as Disney's The Black Cauldron. "It was a bomb, but I liked it."

Saturday night's show won't represent Cantone's first visit to Sag Harbor. He rehearsed Laugh Whore at the theater — "They've been so good to me" — and has participated in fundraising events there. "I love Sag Harbor," he said, admitting he doesn't have a house in the Hamptons. "I don't own anything. I spend money like I'm rich, but I'm semi-poor." He stays with friends or at "that place that looks like a Scooby Doo episode."

Like most folks he finds the trip east a chore. "I can't deal with the helicopters," he said, "Taking a Xanax for a half hour ride wastes the day." (Not to mention the Xanax.)

With a live comedy schedule, work on the two animateds and visits to "The View," Cantone is keeping quite busy as he waits to hear from "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. "I think they're brilliant, ballsy," he exclaimed. "Did you see the Scientology episode?" Tom Cruise reportedly used his juice to pressure the network to refrain from airing it in reruns, and the episode may have been stashed on a shelf somewhere, never to be seen again. "Tom Cruise was crying like a baby," Cantone said. He'll see it again, though. "I TiVoed it. Boo hoo Tom."

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