A guy walks into a bar…

Del Shores, Texas’ funniest chronicler of angry gay survivors of Christianity, begins a new chapter in his career: Standup

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | jones@dallasvoice.com

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SORDID LAUGHS | Del Shores has transformed his one-man act about the fiasco following ‘Sordid Lives: The Series’ into the hilarious grist for his new standup routine. (Photo courtesy Brian Putnam)

SORDID CONFESSIONS
The Rose Room in Station 4,
3911 Cedar Springs Road. Jan. 14 at 8 p.m. $15.
Caven.com

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A guy walks into a gay bar. …

Actually, that’s not the beginning of a joke — it’s the beginning of a new comedy career for Del Shores.

“I know, 52 years old and starting a standup career,” Shores sighs. But like his entire professional life, what’s happened now was never what he expected anyway.

The Baylor grad and (in)famous native of Winters, Texas, headed for L.A. in 1980 intent on becoming an actor (which he did, mostly through voice-overs and commercials but some daytime TV). It was only after his 1987 play Daddy’s Dyin’, Who’s Got the Will?, with its title of pointed Southern Gothic style, that he quickly established a reputation as a writer.

“I quickly started getting writing jobs, so I just put [acting] away and never went back to it, though everything I do is from an actor’s point of view,” Shores says. Plays (Sordid Lives, Southern Baptist Sissies, Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife) led to episodic TV shows (Ned & Stacey, Queer as Folk) and eventually directing.

But as with most the major life-changing stages in his career, there was a tortured backstory that got him there.

Shores’ works may be the foremost examples of laughter through tears. His outrageous, broadly drawn characters — one-legged cheaters, cross-dressing uncles, libidinous psychiatrists, sexually promiscuous grandmas … and that’s just 10 minutes from the pilot of Sordid Lives, the Logo TV series based on his hit play  — mask (or perhaps reveal) genuine pain underneath but close to the surface of Shores’ life.

Sordid Lives deals with the shameful way people (who have no business judging anyone) can behave toward gays (Shores was married to a woman and had children before he came out in his 30s); Sissies tracks how destructive religion can be under the guise of serving God; and his current standup routine, Del Shores: Sordid Confessions (which plays at the Rose Room on Jan. 14), arises from his exasperating struggle to gain control over Sordid Lives: The Series after being cheated by his producer.

“I don’t regret any of it,” he says of his decision to put his life on hold while pursuing legal action to recover the $1.6 million in residual payments owed him and his cast from the series; the litigation put his career on hold for two years and cost him and his husband, Jason Dottley, their home. But it also opened the door on his current gig.

“I love my life — I’m not on the streets and my husband is wonderful,” he says. “I would not be coming to the Rose Room if [all that] hadn’t happened. It’s so healing [to know] that I continued to fight the good fight and not feel pitiful.”

Originally, Shores wrote My Sordid Life (which premiered in Dallas) as a one-man show about his experiences.

“Jason said, ‘You tell all these stories when you’re sitting at the table drinking wine — do a show of that,’” he explains. “I said, ‘How do I weave them together?’ I did the first show and talked about the stories. I did a lot of my mother because she was a huge influence. And I was very influenced by [longtime friend Leslie Jordan].”

After several good reviews, his friend, comedian Caroline Rhea, suggested he convert it into a standup act, which keeps it both topical and fresh. But the best part is how freeing the experience has been.

“I just don’t give a shit anymore,” Shores says. “I say whatever I want.” In his previous show, that meant stories about his racist upbringing, his real full name, how much he hates Judge Reinhold (and others) and his fondness for Rue McClanahan. The new routine follows down those rabbit holes.

“After I went after [Queer as Folk star Randy Harrison], I started getting hate mail from his fans — both of them,” he says with a wink.

“I’m the kind of celebrity who will write anybody back, so I read their letters onstage.”

Despite all the hardship that has fueled his comedy, things are looking up now for Shores. He won the rights to do all-new webisodes of Sordid Lives, which he will fund through his fans (“It will be more like sketches, like the ‘Mama’s Family’ segment on the old Carol Burnett Show, so ‘Ty’s World’ will probably be just boys fucking,” he says); My Sordid Life was filmed just this week as a direct-to-DVD comedy special; and he’s days away from securing funding for the film adaptation of Trailer Trash Housewife.

But if things are going so well, will Shores run out of material? Not likely. He is a queer Texan, after all — there’s always something to bitch about.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Movie Monday: Get your Cher fix with ‘Burlesque’ in wide release

If we could turn back time … we’d still want to see Cher in this campy hoot

In Burlesque, pop diva Christina Aguilera plays a small-town girl with a big voice who leaves the heartland to chase a predictable dream in L.A. She lands a job as a cocktail waitress at the Burlesque Lounge, meets a couple of hot guys (Cam Gigandet and Eric Dane), builds a friendship with one dancer (Julianne Hough), makes enemies with another (Kristen Bell), and learns a few life lessons from Tess (Cher), a broke, weary, but totally hot burlesque goddess with a heart of gold.

Big surprise: It’s not a great script. The mortgage is due and the moneylenders lurk and gosh, the lounge needs a miracle to survive! But who will go see it for the plot, the hokey dialogue or the not-so-great acting from Aguilera (her character is hardly full-bodied, with a backstory that is even slimmer than her hips).

But do go see it, because the movie is exactly what its audience is looking for: A campy, sexy hoot. It struts. It’s fun. It’s funny. There’s some serious eye candy with Gigandet and a box of cookies. There’s Stanley Tucci, playing Sean, the surly gay manager of the lounge.

And of course, there’s Cher. Cher still has the glam to pull the clichéd Tess off — and she still has that voice. The ups and downs of her life (both Tess and Cher) can be summed up in one show-stopping number: “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me.”

Burlesque is not supposed to be Cher’s movie, but she steals it anyway — along with Tucci, whose one-night stand with a potential life partner is heartwarming and real. Tucci may be playing a gay BFF to a burlesque queen, but Sean is not some kind of gay caricature. He’s the heart of a film that has no brain.

Three and a half stars.

— Angela Wilson

DEETS: Burlesque, Cher, Christina Aguilera, Stanley Tucci, Cam Gigandet, Eric Dane. Rated PG-13. 125 mins. Now playing wide release.

—  Rich Lopez

Dance 10, smarts 3

If we could turn back time … we’d still want to see Cher in this campy hoot

QUEER DELIGHT | Stanley Tucci as the gay BFF and Cher imbue ‘Burlesque’ with crazy camp appeal.

3.5 stars
BURLESQUE

Cher, Christina Aguilera, Stanley Tucci, Cam Gigandet, Eric Dane.
Rated PG-13. 125 mins.
Now playing wide release.

………………………………………

In Burlesque, pop diva Christina Aguilera plays a small-town girl with a big voice who leaves the heartland to chase a predictable dream in L.A. She lands a job as a cocktail waitress at the Burlesque Lounge, meets a couple of hot guys (Cam Gigandet and Eric Dane), builds a friendship with one dancer (Julianne Hough), makes enemies with another (Kristen Bell), and learns a few life lessons from Tess (Cher), a broke, weary, but totally hot burlesque goddess with a heart of gold.

Big surprise: It’s not a great script. The mortgage is due and the moneylenders lurk and gosh, the lounge needs a miracle to survive! But who will go see it for the plot, the hokey dialogue or the not-so-great acting from Aguilera (her character is hardly full-bodied, with a backstory that is even slimmer than her hips).

But do go see it, because the movie is exactly what its audience is looking for: A campy, sexy hoot. It struts. It’s fun. It’s funny. There’s some serious eye candy with Gigandet and a box of cookies. There’s Stanley Tucci, playing Sean, the surly gay manager of the lounge.

And of course, there’s Cher. Cher still has the glam to pull the clichéd Tess off — and she still has that voice. The ups and downs of her life (both Tess and Cher) can be summed up in one show-stopping number: “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me.”

Burlesque is not supposed to be Cher’s movie, but she steals it anyway — along with Tucci, whose one-night stand with a potential life partner is heartwarming and real. Tucci may be playing a gay BFF to a burlesque queen, but Sean is not some kind of gay caricature. He’s the heart of a film that has no brain.

— Angela Wilson

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Diva-licious

It’s unfortunate that Cher and Christina Aguilera don’t get a duet on the Burlesque soundtrack. Wonder who was the bigger diva voting against that. But we digress. Fact is, yes, Aguilera has the voice and uses it with all its might on eight of the 10 tracks. Playing with soulful rock, jazz and ’50s throwback a la Back to Basics, she’s in fine form.

Opening with “Something’s Got a Hold On Me,” Aguilera sets the tone, belting out a strong intro and morphing into something from a Jerry Lee Lewis album. In “Tough Lover,” she does her best Little Richard with the high-pitched “whoos,” but still growls her own signature.

When the songs go more contemporary, they deliver some radio-ready tunes. “Express” and “The Beautiful People” are fun highlights and she delivers  in the ballad “Bound to You.” She’s reliable that way.

Cher contributes only two tracks: “Welcome to Burlesque,” a cliche opening weirdly recalling Aladdin’s “Arabian Nights,” and “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me.” This one’s a beautiful gem for her. Oscar nom? Hard to say. But maybe. While never earthshattering, there is a lot of fun to be had on the album. Just hearing Cher again has a queer appeal all its own.

— Rich Lopez

Three stars

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens