According to Drew Droege’s new one-man show, turning 41 calls for quite the existential party.
In Happy Birthday Doug, the titular character is visited by a variety of people—and in one case, a ghost—over the course of his 41st birthday. From friends to ex-boyfriends to nightmares, Doug interacts with eight distinct personalities. Playing all of them with his signature humor is Droege in this follow-up to the actor’s 2018 solo comedy, Bright Colors And Bold Patterns.
Now playing through March 1 at NYC’s SoHo Playhouse, Happy Birthday Doug is a hilarious reminder to focus on who your real friends are, no matter what age. I spoke with Droege about the show, his iconic Chloë Sevigny impressions and viral videos, and more.
ALEX KELLEHER-NAGORSKI: What inspired you to write Happy Birthday Doug?
DREW DROEGE: I’ve always been fascinated by the gay social scene – how we are simultaneously most comfortable and most nervous around each other. We are each other’s greatest supporters and hugest enemies. After Bright Colors And Bold Patterns, in which I played one character talking to multiple people, I wanted to do a show in which multiple people talked to one person. And I wanted to play a bunch of people that I love and despise at the same time.
Though the show is specifically about turning 41, why do you think it appeals to audiences of various ages?
We’ve all been stuck talking to that bitch at the party! I’m playing nine characters of all different ages, and I think this play explores how different generations interact with each other in our community. We have so much to learn from our elders – those who lived through AIDS, oppression, erasure, etc. And I am fascinated by younger people who are so open about gender and sexuality and femininity without the hang-ups that guys my age might have. There are common threads in all gay men, regardless of their age, that I hope people will recognize.
What was your own 41st birthday like? How did you celebrate?
It was honestly wonderful – just a small dinner with a few friends and then a bit larger group joined us for drinks. I’ve had to learn how to have a birthday. For years I was known for having these giant parties where I couldn’t talk to anyone—my “polite” Southern ass invited people I hated or didn’t know very well—and I was always exhausted. That’s what this play is about: curating your parties, recognizing your real friends, and not inviting the assholes.
Bright Colors And Bold Patterns was extended several times during its celebrated 2018 run. How did that show’s success inform how you approached Happy Birthday Doug?
We had to do Bright Colors in short stints at first, due to my schedule and the theater’s availabilities. I live in LA, so the idea of ever doing it in New York was daunting. I booked two nights at Ars Nova, then a weekend at Barrow Street Theatre, and we came back a few months later for a three-week run. Then almost a year after that, we started our five-month run at SoHo Playhouse. The best thing we did, unwittingly, was go slow and not bite off too much at once. I’m doing Happy Birthday Doug for only 16 shows, and we’ll see what happens after that.
If someone were coming to New York and were planning to only see one show during their visit, how would you pitch Happy Birthday Doug?
It’s 60-minutes long and cheap! You’ll have plenty of time and money left to spend on spirits, steaks, and souvenirs!
Is there a primary takeaway that you hope audiences leave with?
We’re all horrible, but we are all we have.
What are the most rewarding aspects of having Michael Urie on the show’s creative team (as producer)?
Michael is a boundless source of energy and joy. He’s hilarious and brilliant and holds everyone around him to the same standard. Plus, his belief in me legitimized me to much of the New York theater community, who if they knew of me, only recognized me as that guy who does the Chloë videos on YouTube. I am forever grateful.
The show’s limited engagement wraps on March 1. Where can your fans catch you next?
I’ll be on the next two seasons of Search Party, alongside my gut-busting pal Sam Pancake, on HBOMax this summer. And I have a small part in Charlie Day’s incredible new film, El Tonto, coming soon.
Bright Colors And Bold Patterns is captured on BroadwayHD. Why do you think more shows haven’t yet embraced this platform? Do you think that will change?
At first I was terrified of filming my show because taped theater usually looks and feels like cold shit. But BroadwayHD is genius – they totally understand the medium and don’t try to turn theater into a comedy special or a concert or a film. They somehow capture the magic and make you feel like you are in the audience. I have heard from so many people who weren’t able to see the show live and experienced it this way, and they loved it. I’m so happy it can live forever!
Your Chloë Sevigny is simply iconic. What is the origin story of this impersonation and when can fans expect the next video? What can you tell me about it?
Thank you. It was a happy accident – I was doing a sketch show, had on a blonde wig, looked in the mirror, and saw Chloë. Then I read an interview with her name-dropping the most fabulous and hyperliterate references, so I created my version of her. I don’t know when I’ll do more videos – I keep saying Chloë is over for me, but I have been playing her since 2002 and always love it. It’s changed my life, put me on the map, and I look forward to whatever’s next.
You were a staff writer for Netflix’ AJ and the Queen. Now that the show is out in the world, what has the reception to it felt like? Anything you can tease about season 2?
I have gotten so many lovely notes from friends and fans of the show. It was an incredible experience. Ru is a true treasure, Michael Patrick King is a genius, and I learned so much. It was my first TV script, and I’m so proud to have been a part of it. I love that it portrays drag queens, queer people, kids in America, as real humans just trying to figure it all out together. I have no idea if there’s a season 2, but of course I hope there is and I hope that I can be involved!
You also work on Bob’s Burgers and Big Mouth. What are the biggest differences you’ve found between creating animated versus live-action comedies?
I guess the biggest difference is that animation is limitless. Anything can be drawn and characters can say the filthiest and most insane things. With live-action, it has to be more grounded and believable. But I will say that I love that both Big Mouth and AJ were very focused on honesty and integrity of their characters, as opposed to just making jokes.
Purely as a theater fan, what are some Broadway productions opening in 2020 that you can’t wait to see?
I will watch Laurie Metcalf do anything and I’m dying to see her take on Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I am a huge Tracy Letts fan, so I cannot wait for The Minutes. And I’m counting down the days until I can see this new production of Caroline, Or Change.
If you were running for President this year, what would your campaign slogan be?
We can’t fuck this up anymore!
CLICK HERE to purchase tickets to Happy Birthday Doug, now playing through March 1 at the SoHo Playhouse (15 Vandam Street, between 6th Avenue and Varick Street in Manhattan).
PHOTOS | RUSS ROWLAND