Actor, comedian and author Fran Drescher is taking the stage as this year’s Philly Pride headliner, June 14 at Penn’s Landing.
The longtime LGBT ally and activist has supported and appeared at events for such organizations as Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and became an ordained minister with the Universal Life Church Monastery so she could legally officiate same-sex wedding ceremonies.
She said she hopes lending her time and name to events like Philly Pride will help promote dialogue on LGBT equality in mainstream circles.
“I’m going to speak and lend my support as I always do,” Drescher said. “I’m on a path of trying to help the gay community as a demographic that counts on the political landscape and the heath landscape of our country. These are all different issues that affect every other demographic in America, and certainly families. I think that gradually moving in that direction is going to be very empowering and accepted by other groups that may not as be as tolerant as they are supposed to be. But at the end of the day, when you have a group that bands together and becomes vocal on an issue that may serve you well, then you suddenly learn how to smoke the peace pipe.”
Drescher also hopes to help the LGBT community through her Cancer Schmancer movement, named after the book she wrote about surviving her battle with uterine cancer.
The effort seeks to educate the public about cancer prevention and detection, as well as how to ask the right questions when dealing with doctors.
“Since I’ve officiated same-sex weddings, it seems like a natural that I combine my leadership in both spheres on this one particular thing,” she said. “A big campaign for Cancer Schmancer right now is family prevention, and I want to engage the gay community and their families to make this very present and visible historic collaboration, and I think it’s a mutually beneficial experience. I’ve been talking about that for several years at GLAAD events.”
Even apart from her activism, Drescher wouldn’t be a stranger to the LGBT community. She turned her relationship with her ex-husband, who came out during their marriage, into a sitcom, “Happily Divorced,” which ran from 2011-13.
Drescher said she hadn’t planned to pitch her and her ex-husband’s story when she initially sat down with executives from TV Land.
“I was called in to take a meeting with TV Land,” she said. “I had a few ideas for a TV series, none of which was ‘Happily Divorced.’ I was thinking that they were interested in me as a writer and producer, and not to star in it. I was conditioned to think that I should come up with something that is more youth-driven. Then at lunch I said, ‘Do you want to hear my ideas?’ What would be the idea if you were going to be starring in it? I said cavalierly that it would have to be the relationship between me and my gay ex-husband. Then I said, ‘Now do you want to hear my ideas?’ And they said, ‘Why? I just bought that one.’ That was the beginning of ‘Happily Divorced.’”
Drescher said the show struck a chord with people from all walks of life who related to the situations she and her ex-husband found themselves in.
“We got tons of feedback from people in a few different ways,” she said. “One was when the spouse comes out. Then the notion of being happily divorced became a catch phrase as a result of the series, because we discussed the fact that people who fall in love with others think in a very provincial way that the next likely conclusion is, We’re supposed to be married. Maybe you’re not supposed to be married. Maybe you’re supposed to be really loving friends for the rest of your days. That’s what you have to think about when the marriage doesn’t work. Maybe we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Maybe what made us love each other in the first place should be reinvented and put on a new shelf because the demands that we make of a spouse are very different than what we expect from a dear friend. Then a lot of people would say my spouse and I are divorced but can’t afford to live apart. That also was explored in the series. Those relationship things were very fresh for television.”
Drescher said the show’s cancellation in 2013 was a surprise to her, as it was one of the higher-rated shows on the network.
“We were disappointed when the network didn’t pick us up for a third season because our numbers when we were cancelled were better than the numbers of the other programs they put on,” she said. “We’ll never really know why, but it was what it was and we’re very proud of it. I tried to see if I could get someplace else to pick it up but at the time I wasn’t getting any bites. I was holding up the destruction of the sets and all the things that made the show the show. Then the talent started to go on with their careers and I kind of let it go.”
Drescher didn’t dwell on the demise of the show too long. Instead, she found new opportunities to perform when she made her Broadway debut last year, in the revival of “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.”
Now a veteran of the small screen, the big screen and the stage, Drescher said each presents its own unique challenges.
“I find theater to be particularly physically grueling, so I really enjoyed it. It was a great rush and I love the experience and the community,” she said. “But I would hesitate to do it again and have to do two shows on any given day. That’s the hard part. If I could do one show five or six days a week, I could manage that, but the two shows two days a week? That is really hard.”
Drescher is currently reading a movie script for which she’d have to travel to New Orleans, an aspect of filmmaking that gives her pause.
“That’s the thing about movies. I’m a newlywed and being away from my husband to do a movie, I’m not sure. It would have to be pretty good,” she said. “I like television but I don’t love not wearing all the hats in television. I like being the star but I like being the writer, creator and producer too. So I need a lot of stimulation to be comfortable with a longterm commitment. Just being the actor is probably not enough unless I was given the opportunity to stretch so far outside myself that it was all I should be focused on. But the business doesn’t really give me that opportunity and I’ve made peace with that. I have a very different personality, sense of humor and voice. I’ve made my mark being this way and that’s OK. If every character I ever play is a Jewish or Italian girl from Queens, so be it, as long as I get to write and create and produce and direct.”