Del Shores, Texas’ funniest chronicler of angry gay survivors of Christianity, begins a new chapter in his career: Standup
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Rose Room in Station 4,
3911 Cedar Springs Road. Jan. 14 at 8 p.m. $15.
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.