Funny boy Matteo Lane has many talents to share on his résumé.
You may recognize the illustrator, opera singer and stand-up comedian from his various gigs with Logo, MTV or at a comedy club near you. He even performed on Seth Meyers’ late-night show last year, showing that mainstream audiences may finally be ready for an open and honest gay comic like him.
But Lane is about to put stand-up on hold for a night, channeling a young Barbra Streisand in a new show, Matteo Lane: Streisand at the Bon Soir. We had the opportunity to catch up with him to discuss his love for the gay icon and how homophobia is still a very real thing in late-night television.
You were fantastic on Seth Meyers’ show. I was so excited to see that.
Seth Meyers was a wonderful experience for me. I actually filmed a set with another late-night show — I will not mention who — and they told me it was too gay after I filmed it. They told me if I wanted to come back and re-do it I would have to talk less about my sexuality. So I said no. And then my agent submitted to Seth. They said yes. They didn’t ask me to change a thing. They were wonderful, warm and welcoming. It was a beautiful experience, and the people at Seth Meyers could not have been any more lovely.
“Too gay,” huh? That’s insane!
I felt like I was 13 again. I felt like being myself was wrong, and I felt confused and I felt ashamed and conflicted about the material I was speaking on. Luckily my friend Liza Treyger, with her help and confidence, I was able to collect myself and really come out on the on the other end much better. It actually really was a blessing in disguise. It set me on a good path. It showed me what is important, what is not important and what matters. In this business what matters are your friends, valuing your friendships and working on being as funny as you can. I am not for everyone, and I accept that.
When I was asked a year later on the exact same date to do Seth Meyers — which is so bizarre — it was a wonderful experience. I felt like I was coming into a new part of myself.
We all have our divas. What do you relate to or love about Barbra Streisand?
First of all, I don’t want to sound like the biggest gay hack on the planet, like, “I love Streisand!” but my mom would play Funny Girl for me when I was little. Her and Garland have something in common. They are very approachable for children. They are easy to digest. There is something about them that I think kids are very attracted to. I always was really attracted to her because her voice is amazing and I just loved her in Funny Girl.
When I started singing opera at the age of 15, I was looking for really good singers to learn from, and she was my number one. She was such a great technician, and I have always been in love with that voice. And obviously she didn’t fit the mold. She looked different. Those gay icon kind of things. For this show specifically I am very interested in who people were before they became famous, and what they were like then. She is someone who was wildly different before she was famous, and that is what this show is about.
What were some of those differences, and what does this show cover?
She was a real weirdo in a good sense. This is 1960. She was opening for Phyllis Diller at the Bon Soir, which was a club in the Village at the time where a lot of young artists came through. Lenny Bruce played there. Barbra would wear men’s clothing with long fingernails and Egyptian eye makeup, and her hair way up high. She was just so different than any other singer. She wasn’t trying to be beautiful; she was acting. She was learning Italian and French at that time, so she could speak in those languages to the audience.
If the audience tried to buy her a drink, she would say, “No, I want a baked potato, soft on the inside, hard on the outside.”
It was wild. She was giggly. She was talking to the audience. She had no fear. She was just a 19-year-old who was beyond her years. I think when she became famous she became a recluse. Like the opposite happened to her than most people. A lot of time people have stage fright at first and then they open up. She was already out and open, and when she became famous she retreated.
She carried a cot around with her. She slept in six different apartments. She was poor, and it was truly fascinating. So I am interested in exploring that.
Tell me about the music.
Weird obscure jazz standards. People don’t know “Sleeping Bee.” She sang these weird songs. She used to sing “Are You Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”
I wish I could freeze that person and go back to that time. That is why I am recreating that show. I do stand-up every night, I speak Italian and French and I can be a wacko and just be myself. Because I am that weird person.
What are some other things you’re working on?
Well, I’m doing a lot of stand-up. I do a lot with Logo and MTV. I have an animated show — which I can’t talk too much about — that I drew and wrote.
You’re also an illustrator?
My job before stand-up was illustrating television commercials and fashion ads for a living. I lived in Italy painting for a while, and when I came to the States, I was a professional full-time illustrator.
You’re so multi-talented! You’re an opera singer, comedian, illustrator and you have an incredible body!
And I’m wildly desperate and single, so …. [Laughs] You can add that onto that: “He is looking for a man that is beautiful and doesn’t hate him.”
So why this Barbra show now?
My whole life I have been drawing. And then I started singing opera, and then I started doing illustration. My dream has always been to sing jazz standards in a New York jazz club. I was trying to make it in Chicago as a singer, before I was doing stand-up. I booked a nightmare gig with this troupe.
We would go to gay strip clubs in Chicago with bad drag queens and really bad burlesque dancers. The reason why I wanted to do that is because I could sing, and they let me choose my own music. It would be like 4 a.m. after the drag queen goes up, and the stripper is fluffing himself. I would go onstage and sing Barbra Streisand and then men would be like, “Take your clothes off!” They didn’t get what I was doing. I almost did that for two years until I finally figured out that stand-up was the way to go.
Now that I have some recognition because of that, I want to go back and do this properly and get a jazz show and work with a real pianist and get a real fucking venue and make this happen. This has been a wild dream of mine since I was a closeted 14-year-old boy.
Matteo Lane: Streisand at the Bon Soir plays at New York City’s Pangea on Friday, March 24. Get your tickets here.
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