Since proving his dramatic acting chops in Broadway’s M.Butterfly, entertainer Alec Mapa has mostly kept audiences in stitches with his comic work in television series such as Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty and his hilarious one-man shows. The versatile performer will display all facets of his personality with the Outfest Fusion world premiere of Alec Mapa: Baby Daddy on March 15, the same night Mapa will receive the prestigious 2014 Fusion Achievement Award. Directed by Andrea James, the documentary incorporates Mapa’s signature stand-up comedy into a behind-the-scenes look at how his life has changed since he and hubby Jamison Hebert adopted their son Zion. Mapa chatted with Queerty about his new movie, what the award means to him and how the entertainment industry has changed for people of color.
What does it mean to you to receive the Outfest Fusion Achievement Award at such a young age?
I’m 48. That’s 7,000 in gay years, so thanks for calling me young. It means that my work hasn’t gone unnoticed, which is surprising because I’ve always assumed it has. I’ve done a lot of mainstream gigs, but I started out as a fringe performer in night clubs and cabarets. I tend to still see myself that way as opposed to someone with a recurring role on ABC Family’s Switched At Birth.
OK then, what do you consider your most notable accomplishment so far?
Being a husband and father. I never thought that I’d be either of those things because as a young gay person I didn’t think those were options available to me. In the ’80s we called our significant others “lovers” because we were all about declaring our sexuality. Also everyone was dying so it was very sex positive thing to say. Then in the ’90s we had “boyfriends” because that was a step closer to being like everyone else, even though it sounded very adolescent. Now I’m married with a kid and I feel like a grown up. It’s wonderful and terrifying.
Why should people see the film version of your stand-up show Baby Daddy?
1. I’m a gay dad you’re not gonna see on television or in the movies. Gay parents on TV are scrubbed free of any hint of sexuality in order to make the audience feel safe. It’s unfair, but that’s where we are in the current media. [They seem to think] “You’re welcome at the table as long as we don’t know you’re fucking.” In our film, I’m a dad, but I’m also a sexual being because that’s part of being a whole person. I talk about sex just like any heterosexual comedian would, only it’s gay sex so it’s funnier and dirtier.
2. Depictions of LGBT parenthood are our biggest weapons against homophobia. LGBT families were the nail in the coffin in the argument against marriage equality. Using religion to discriminate against LGBT still remains acceptable behavior, but when that discrimination turns against children and when you start arguing that a child would be better off in foster care than in a safe, loving permanent home then you’ve lost all credibility. You’re a hate monster.
3. Laughing until you pee is really, really good for you.
I can only speak to my own experience. When I first came to town 25 years ago Asian people played Asian people. I could audition to play a solider on China Beach or a take-out delivery person who didn’t speak English. Going up for those parts always felt fraudulent to me because I was born and raised in San Francisco. Now I play characters with names like Dave or Simon when previously I only played Chang or Phan. I’m now called in when they need someone funny. I haven’t read for an Asian-specific role in years.
Who are some of the LGBT entertainers who’ve inspired you and why?
Seeing Lily Tomlin in Jane Wagner’s Search For Signs of Intelligent Life In The Universe changed my life. She was absolutely heartbreaking and hilarious and took you on this amazing journey all on her strength as a solo performer. I saw her and thought that’s what I want to do. Paul Lynde always killed me as a kid. He was never allowed to disclose his sexuality in the ’70s, but he stole every scene he was in just by showing up. Charles Busch’s live performances in the ’80s celebrated effeminacy and glamour in a way that was very liberating for a big sissy like me. That he could be celebrated and embraced for all the things I was taught to hate about myself really turned my head around.
What advice do you have for young performers about coming out early in their careers?
It’s such a cliché, but for God’s sake be yourself. I wasted so much time trying to be what everyone else wanted when the truth is I didn’t know what that was. People are hard wired to recognize the truth. When you show up as a fully authentic person with imperfections and vulnerabilities, those are the things that have universal resonance. Those are the things that are going to make you stand out. Stop trying to be perfect. Perfect is worse than boring, it’s not real.
Saying we’re mainstream is like saying we live in a post-racial society. It just isn’t true. When you feel safe enough to walk down any street in America holding hands as a same sex couple, let me know. For every stride we make as a community there still remain horrific injustices for LGBT people not just in this country but world wide. Kids are still being bullied to the point where they feel death is a preferable option. LGBT youth are still being rejected by their parents. People in Uganda and elsewhere are facing life imprisonment for being gay. Hearing our own stories told to us by fellow LGBT artists, empowers us, lets us know we’re not alone and that our lives are worthy of dignity and respect.
Also, a lot of hot guys attend queer film festivals. The eye candy. You can’t beat that with a stick.