Comedian Todd Glass has been doing stand-up for 30 years, but he’s been an out man for less than two. In his new memoir The Todd Glass Situation: A Bunch of Lies about My Personal Life and a Bunch of True Stories about My 30-Year Career in Stand-Up Comedy, the comedian writes about “his decision at age forty-eight to finally live openly as a gay man—and the reactions and support from his comedy pals, from Louis C.K. to Sarah Silverman.” I talked to Todd about his cathartic experience writing the book, and doing the right thing by speaking up for others.
How did the book come about? Was it something you pitched or were you approached to do it?
I was approached — as a matter of fact, about three months before that I said I could never write a book because I just didn’t think I had it in me. I was approached by Simon & Schuster about writing a book, so I had to go, “Holy sh*t, can I do this?” It was a cool process. It was a fun, therapeutic (which I did not expect) process, and I enjoyed it.
This is your first book you’ve written, but you’re a writer in other senses. What was the writing process like? Did you find it difficult?
You know, it wasn’t really difficult. It was a little overwhelming. I had a ghostwriter (Jonathan Grotenstein), and it’s in my voice but I still had help, and once we got the process down, which was, he would talk to me and talk to me for like 5 days straight, we’d just get together for like 6 hrs, 5hrs and just talk and talk and talk. Then when we started to write the chapters, he would ask me, “Tell me about… some experience, talk about this,” talk about whatever it was, and then I would leave voice memos for him. I would tell him in a voice memo then he would put it into words and then I would read it and say, “Uh, I wouldn’t say that, so can we change it a little,” because I wanted it to be in my voice, so I would never use that word, but 90% of the time – that’s why I had a great experience with him. He was brilliant. His job was always well done, because the job was to take what was in my head and put it on paper, but not interject, just take what I wanted to say, and he was great. It was really good.
Why did you want to write this book?
None of your f*cking business, you hear me? [Laughs] You know, at first I didn’t but then — I thought I had some good stories, the comedy part of the book, and then I thought I had some things to say, a lot of feelings that I had kept bottled up for years, a lot of my opinions that I really couldn’t… you know, I couldn’t really express myself because I was hiding who I was. So I had a lot of things to say, maybe influence people to think different ways, and, well, I thought that that was cathartic for me, and also I hope it changes some people’s beliefs and makes it — obviously the funny part of the book, that’s self-explanatory, a funny story, but the other part, I was just hoping I could change people’s beliefs.
You came out a little over a year ago, was there anything you were nervous about revealing in the book?
Sometimes just revealing personal stuff. When we did it I would ask, “Jonathan, why do I have to tell this?” and he would go, “Well, if you want people to understand your plight, then you have to sometimes bury your soul a little.” So sometimes it’s personal stories, you know I’m not used to — even when I talk about meeting my partner, feels a little embarrassing because I’m not used to talking about them, I’m used to hiding it, all the sudden I’m putting it down in the book? But I knew that was a good thing to do, because if somebody was talking about meeting a girl, they wouldn’t be embarrassed about it. So I knew to just get over it and write it.
The book has a lot to do with coming out after many years of keeping a part of your life quiet. Do you feel like writing this book was almost like coming out again? Or an extension of it?
I think it helped me. You know what it does, indirectly, it helps you figure out who you are. You don’t think you’re doing that, so it just happens very casually, but you start going, “Ohhhh,” you understand who you are really crystal clear after you do something like this. Everything makes sense, and so I go, “So that’s why I do that.” I even joked around and said everyone should write a book even if it’s just for themselves and their family and their friends, like you’ll know my story, because you don’t really know anybody’s story. Even my family, I realize they’re gonna read the book, they didn’t know I went through that, they didn’t know I went through that, but I also understand I don’t know a lot about them. So that’s when I thought, maybe everyone should write it, go around and read it, then we’ll all understand each other. It really does help you understand people better if you know where they’re coming from, and maybe you can put up with a quality about them that used to bother you, but maybe if you understand why they have that or why they’re insecure that you go, “Oh, thats why,” and you can have a little more empathy for them.
What would you say is the biggest thing you learned about yourself?
Well, I understand — look I always say this: I’m not acting like I’m a saint, or get up on a pedestal, I do wrong things, I lie, I steal towels from hotels sometimes, but I do speak up for people. I do speak up, and if I’m somewhere and I watch somebody, a customer’s treating a waiter or waitress horrendously, I’m not talking about if someone’s a little rude and the waiter can handle it, but when it’s just egregious, I speak up. I don’t yell, I don’t mirror their behavior, but I speak up. I go, “Hey, you don’t get to talk to that person like that.” And I’ve done it, I don’t look to do it – but I always joke around, I think I would score very high on that show, What Would You Do?, and I learned it’s because, so many years I would sit around and I remember people not speaking up when somebody said something like, you know, it didn’t have to be as vile as, “f*ck fags,” or “f*ck black people, f*ck women,” I never heard anything that vile in my social circles, but I heard things I didn’t agree with, and I heard people say things and then nobody said anything. I’d be sitting at dinner and somebody would say, “I don’t know about this gay marriage,” and people just sort of let it go.
But the good news is, I remember when people did say something, and I remembered it forever. Ever. So that’s what I learned, I learned that’s why I speak up, because I remember when people speak up and said… didn’t have to go on an hour dissertation, but if you’re sitting at dinner somewhere and somebody says something sexist or racist, you don’t have to stop the dinner and make a 20min dissertation, sometimes a simple, well placed, “What year is it?” Over. That’s it. You let them know, “I don’t agree with you.” And if they hear that enough, some version of that, maybe they’ll stop, because they realize the world is evolving past them and maybe they’ve evolved themselves. Or maybe they’ll stop because they’re embarrassed, so they’ll just go inward with their closed minded view. But at least they’ll stop it. So that’s why I always say something.
You know when I realized that? Whenever I say something, I am telling myself too. The other day, we were talking about Joe Paterno, and really what he did was he made his life easier by maybe silencing – he didn’t say something, he thought he said enough and it made his life easier. I thought, before I judge him, — and hey, I’m gonna be honest, I will, but look inwardly. Because maybe my silence is — by the way, even though I say I want to speak up, I still have times where I’m silent, I was still sometimes lazy, I didn’t want to say anything – maybe my silence didn’t perpetuate the destruction that his silence did, but that’s not the point. The point is, your silence might have caused somebody’s sadness, or made it hard to breath easier. So I always think, look inward and have you ever been silent? That’s what I say to myself when I go,”Remember, that’s what it’s about. You can judge him, but judge yourself first.”
Well it’s like the saying, “All it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to stand by and do nothing.”
Yea, I love that quote because it just really cleans up what I just said in 30 minutes. (Laughs) But it’s true. You remind yourself of that. You know, I’m never preaching, I’m re-saying it to myself, just so you know, when somebody reads this, I’m saying it to myself. Speak up. You might not have money to give to a charity, there might be some things you want to do in this universe to make it a better place, you might have really big visions, like you think, “Well, I haven’t done that,” well in the mean time, just speak up, because I really do believe that there’s a lot of great people in this world, and I think there’s a lot of people, including me – in one sentence I said I speak up, but not all the time. I’m always reminding myself, “Speak up.” And again, the most important part of that or you wont learn the lesson you need to learn, is speak up because it’s not always egregious comments you might hear, it’s not always, “F*ck this group or f*ck that group,” it’s a type of racism or sexism, or something homophobic you think, “Ah, it wasn’t that bad,” it’s bad enough, say something.
I think there’s never a wrong time to remind someone that those casual sexist, racist, or homophobic phrases are bad. That’s how you learn growing up, just constant reminders of what’s right and wrong. There’s a lot of people that I don’t think are bad people, but just repeat certain words/phrases casually that they hear a lot of their peers say without thinking.
Right, and by the way, as much I’m a fierce defender of not using anybody’s being as an adjective, anybody’s. You don’t say, “Jew me down,” you say, “bargain;” you don’t say, “retarded,” you say the adjective; you don’t say, “That’s gay,” you should just say that’s stupid or lame. And this really perplexes me, it really does. I don’t understand when you look someone in the eye and you go, “You do understand why you wouldn’t want to use a human being as an adjective for negative? You don’t understand why that’s wrong?” With no sarcasm at all, that’s going to affect your life, because it’s just about being aware and kind and if you think it’s just about using the word “gay” or “retarded”… ohh, no no no, it’s going to affect your life. There’s a blockage, it’s not agree to disagree, you are wrong and if you don’t get it, there’s a blockage. Go to any therapist, go to 100 therapists and find the one that’s going to tell you that it’s ok to use those words and those other people are sensitive. Find the therapist that’s going to say, “Oh yea, the world’s really messed up, those words are fine. I need to get the world in here for therapy, you’re fine, you just keep saying those words,” it’s not going to f*cking happen.
I think everyone can relate to that feeling. Even if you can’t be lumped into a certain group, at some time in your life, somebody’s probably said something simple about you or to you that just messed you up for a while.
Right. It’s harder, but you should be able to draw from something.