If you watch television at all, no matter how infrequently, chances are you’ve seen Alec Mapa in something.
The out actor, comedian and journalist has appeared on a number of hit TV shows, including “Friends,” “Roseanne,” “NYPD Blue” and “Seinfeld,” as well as in films like “Bright Lights, Big City” and “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.” If that weren’t enough, Mapa also finds time to take his talents to the stage, having performed on Broadway in “M. Butterfly” and all over the country as a standup comic.
Mapa said there’s a very good reason he’s able to work so much.
“I bought a really expensive house, so I’m as busy as I need to be right now,” he said.
Currently he can be found as a recurring cast member on two popular TV shows, which happen to be his favorites of all the shows he has worked on.
“‘Desperate Housewives’ and ‘Ugly Betty’ I think are my favorites because they’re the first shows I’ve worked on that were gay-produced and written,” he said. “So you go on a set where gay people are in charge and there’s a completely different vibe. It’s open and it’s welcoming and it’s happy. I actually do feel the difference when I walk onto other sets. But those two sets, it’s one of those things where I can’t believe I get paid to hang out all day with those people because they’re all pretty smart.”
Being on two hit TV shows has lately required him to live a very bi-coastal existence.
“This year I’ve kind of been divided between the two,” Mapa said of the hit shows and the East and West coasts. “‘Ugly Betty’ has kept me busy. I appeared on half of their episodes this season and they shoot in New York. So I was flying to New York twice a month. In between that, I’ve been gigging. So it’s been half and half.”
It appears that working on shows with so much gay talent behind the scenes has inspired Mapa to throw his fashionable hat into the ring as well.
“I’m in the process of doing that now,” he said of his plans to write or produce his own TV show. “I have something in development that I can’t quite talk about yet. The way to go is producing your own content. I started doing standup as a way of giving myself a job whether I had one or not. It became my default position. Even if I didn’t have a television series, I could be on the road and supporting myself. And that way, I never really worried about getting work because I always had it. I think that will definitely be my future. I will be writing and producing and television is going to get a whole lot queerer.”
Mapa’s success on TV is all well and good, but it’s his comedic skills that find him headlining this year’s Philly Pride Festival.
“They can expect a whole bunch of rotten jokes and really sophomoric humor, mixed in with a little politics and wit,” Mapa said of his upcoming performance. “People have referred to my act as smart, which is always kind of shocking to me because I don’t think it’s very smart. But as long as people are laughing, I’m happy.”
Let’s hope the audiences are happy as well. Mapa, and probably the many other comics from past Prides, know that sweaty and march-weary revelers don’t always get into the spirit of a comedy show as easily as club audiences.
“That’s a real comedy killer: the heat,” he said. “But I’m hoping people will be in the mood to laugh and I’m hoping there won’t be too many children standing in the front, because Uncle Al’s club act really isn’t for the kids.”
Most artists who straddle such an entertainment fence usually favor one side over the other, but Mapa said there are elements of working on television and performing live that he enjoys equally.
“I kind of really enjoy the protective shell of playing somebody else and having somebody else write what I do, but it’s also very empowering to be kind of authentic and do my own stuff,” he said.
It looks like Mapa will continue to do his thing on the small screen and the stage for the time being. Both “Ugly Betty” and “Desperate Housewives” have been picked up for new seasons, which is good news considering that rumors of ‘Betty’ getting cancelled were flying around this season. Mapa said he wasn’t too concerned about the fate of the show.
“I’ve been an actor for more than 20 years, so I kind of believe in the inevitable death of everything,” he said. “I’m really cognizant of that. Regardless of how big a hit is, regardless of how successful something is, there will be a closing night. Part of me is kind of always emotionally prepared for that sort of thing. So the fact that we got renewed for season four [for “Ugly Betty”] is just gravy for me because I’m always ready to go. I’ve worked on television series where people wallpapered their dressing rooms, bought furniture and redecorated. I’m of the theater. On the very last day, my space in front of my mirror is clear. You’d never even know that I was there.”
One of Mapa’s recent TV shows that got the ax was LOGO’s “Transamerican Love Story,” a reality dating show hosted by Mapa and centered around a transgender woman, Calpernia Addams.
He said that one season of the show was enough to get its point across.
“We made our mark in transgender history and I was really proud to be a part of that, because if we’re crying for visibility as lesbians and gays, the transgendered are even more invisible,” he said. “I only did it on the caveat that all the men knew they were dating a transgender woman and wanted to. That was really important to me. I didn’t want it to be a part of it if it was going to be a cheap Jerry Springer-y-type thing. There was a BBC show where several men were in a “Bachelor”-type show dating a transgender woman and didn’t know. There was talk of bringing a show like that here and I feel like transgender people go through enough prejudice, ignorance and violence that I wouldn’t want to be a part of something that contributed to that.”
When PGN caught up with Mapa, he had just returned from a trip to Berlin — a trip he and his partner took for some fun before their next life-changing episode.
“My husband and I just finished parenting classes through L.A. County Foster Adoption,” he said. “We’re in the process of adopting a baby this year and we just finished classes, so we wanted to take one last trip where we were two irresponsible homosexuals bouncing around Europe. All of our friends work in clubs and know all the night scenes, and we were both in bed at eleven o’clock every night. So I think we’re ready for kids.”
Mapa added that he doesn’t think parenthood will completely turn him and his partner into some kind of gay Ward and June Cleaver.
“We hope that we can remain the people that we are,” he said. “We’re not going to change all that radically in personality. I know a lot of people that become zombie-parents, but I also know people that become even more authentic people once they have kids. I’m hoping that we will be among them, because stuff gets real really fast. In order to get ready for that, we went to Berlin.”
When asked how fatherhood would impact his career as a globetrotting entertainer, Mapa said he and his partner think the right gig could make things work smoothly.
“I’ve been missing performing live a lot and we’re both hoping that I get a job that just keeps me in one place for a while,” he said. “If that were a Broadway play, we would relocate to New York for six months easily. But we’re hoping more than anything it’s a series that keeps me in town.”
With all the changes on the horizon, Mapa is well aware that any gay couple together and/or adopting a child has to be mindful of the fluctuations in marriage and adoption laws in the country, especially if they live in California. For his part, he said, he isn’t too concerned because he focuses on the big picture.
“Well, here’s the thing,” he said. “The Supreme Court already voted to uphold Proposition 8 and I kind of saw it coming. I’m 43 years old. When I was a kid, Stonewall happened. When I was in junior high school, Harvey Milk was shot. When I came out, everybody was dying from AIDS. Living this long and being cognizant of what’s going on in the world, I always see the pendulum swinging back and forth and we always get further and further along. At this point, I know that gay marriage in America is going to be an inevitability and I’m embarrassed that California is going to be on the wrong side of history. I feel bad for California because I don’t think that’s a point in history where 52 percent of the population can hold their heads high. They’re going to be kind of mortified by it in years to come.”
At the moment, there is an organization other than the antigay marriage forces that has Mapa’s full and undivided attention.
“Right now, project one is getting this house ready for a baby,” he explained. “There’s a whole checklist from the county that if every parent in America had to cross this safety check, they would all have their children taken away. Right now, we’re going through our background check and going through this thing called a Livescan where you’re fingerprinted and there’s this disclosure form of whether or not you’ve been arrested, and I actually had to think about it for a second.”
Damn. Maybe they will be the gay Ward and June Cleaver.
Still, baby preparations don’t necessarily mean Mapa is going to be no fun after he’s performing in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.
“I love Philly,” he said. “Philadelphia is one of my favorite towns, so I’m hoping to go hop around and see folks. I’m not really a club person anymore now that I’m a mature young lady of the theater. I think that what’s great about Philly is a drink with a couple of friends can turn into a three-day adventure. I’ll just tend to tag along with whoever invites me and see where the evening takes me.”
That’s more like it.