Seth Rudetsky Reflects on Attending Willie Garson’s Memorial Service With Jason Alexander, Matt Bomer, Nia Vardalos, More

Seth Rudetsky   Seth Rudetsky Reflects on Attending Willie Garson’s Memorial Service With Jason Alexander, Matt Bomer, Nia Vardalos, More
 
This week, Bowen Yang recalls a high school sex scandal and Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer talks about Funny Girl.
Mark Levin, Jason Alexander, Matt Bomer, Nia Vardalos, Steven Webber, James Wesley, Jennifer Flackett, and Seth Rudetsky
Mark Levin, Jason Alexander, Matt Bomer, Nia Vardalos, Steven Webber, James Wesley, Jennifer Flackett, and Seth Rudetsky

Hello from NYC—I’m back after a few days in California. First, I visited my Dad and his wife, Gloria, in Palm Desert with my friend Jack. It was Veteran’s Day, so I recalled the story my Dad told us a few years ago about his stint in the Korean War: When my Dad was drafted, his sister saw the letter and was devastated for him… so she hid it. He didn’t find out until right before his induction date that he had to join the army. He remembers when the list went up after basic training that told each soldier where they were going to be stationed.

He admitted his legs were literally shaking, and he was so happy when he found out he was going to go to Germany and not Korea. Other soldiers he knew had to go to Korea and actually fight. He was very thankful to be in Germany and wound up being there when the war ended, but he still had a few weeks left in the army. He was overjoyed that he was approved for a month's leave before his final discharge. That meant he could treat it like a European vacation.

Seth Rudetsky_Dad_HR

My Dad said he got to use the army plane for free and he flew immediately to Paris. He was all set for a delicious month of museum-going, wine-drinking and dame-dating. His first afternoon there, he was sitting in an outdoor café, drinking espresso. Suddenly, two army men came up and told him he had to come back to the base. He had no idea what he had done but he had no choice but to go with them. When he got there, he found out the "good" news: a few weeks before, he had told his mother that even though the war had ended, he couldn't get an early leave. At that point, he didn’t yet know he’d be able to treat his last month as a mini-vacay. Well, after they spoke, she made tons of phone calls and told the powers-that-be that she was having emotional stress because her son had been away for so long and she convinced the army to let my Dad end his service early. Yay? He was allowed/forced to curtail his 30 days in Paris to leave Europe immediately—for Brooklyn. It was 65 years ago. He’s still devastated.

After Palm Desert, Jack and I drove up to L.A. and, on the trip, we listened to my podcast Seth Rudetsky’s Back To School, which I make for SiriusXM/Pandora and you can listen wherever you get your podcasts. It’s all about celebrities in their high school years, and Jack and I were loving the one with SNL’s Bowen Yang. Bowen knew he was gay in high school, but, when he was a freshman, he had a running joke with a female classmate about how they were going to have amazing sex one day. He took up a whole page of her yearbook with fake details about what they would do when they consummated their lust and he ended it with “I can’t wait to f*** you!” Well, a few days after the yearbook came out, he came home to around 30 hang-up calls on his family’s answering machine. Suddenly, the phone rang and, this time, he answered. It was the girl’s stepfather.

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Bowen Yang Simon Luethi

The man told Bowen he was disgusted and horrified by what Bowen wrote and then told him that he was a very high-powered attorney and he was going to make sure Bowen got expelled from high school. Poor Bowen hung up and didn’t tell his family anything. Can you imagine how scared he was? He just went into a silent panic. The next day arrived and, when Bowen got to school, he was called into the dean’s office and, he wasn’t expelled…but he was suspended for five days for “sexual misconduct.” He was such a goody-two-shoes student that his first thought was “I guess I’m going to have to write about this in my college essay.” Remember, he was a freshman, but he immediately knew it would be on his record and, when he applied to college in four years, he’d have to explain it. In conclusion, he hasn’t been in touch with the girl since high school. But, as a final callback, I ended this section of the interview by asking him if they did indeed finally have amazing sex. #TwistEnding

You can listen to that podcast and all my other Back To School podcasts here.

James and I were in L.A. for the memorial of Willie Garson. Willie starred in shows like White Collar and Sex And The City and we connected with him because he adopted his son out of foster care. James and I do fundraisers for You Gotta Believe, which is the only agency in NYC dedicated to finding home for older foster youth. Willie spoke at our benefit a few years ago and then did our Stars in the House fundraiser for YGB. Willie’s son Nathen was interning at the Discovery Channel over the summer while Willie was sick, and after Willie passed away, Discovery donated $300,000 to You Gotta Believe in Willie’s name. And from that, they’re starting the Willie Garson Fund to permanently benefit YGB. Everyone at his memorial was encouraged to donate and you can, too, here.

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Willie Garson Jeremy Daniel

The memorial itself was so wonderful in terms of illuminating who Willie was. There was such hilarious light-hearted sassing. One person said “Look at this turn out! So many stars. This just proves one thing: Willie was indeed as famous as he said he was.” Two of his close friends, Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett, put together the entire memorial based on Willie’s requests which he outlined in an email, including having a gospel choir and a New Orleans band. Mark and Jen told James and I that they were going to start the memorial talking about Willie’s emailed requests and then Jen would mention one of her oldest memories of Willie: the cabaret act he did he was 18 years old which began with “If They Could See Me Now” and then segued into “I Made It Through The Rain” (Again, he was 18) and then came back to “If They Could See Me Now.” We all came up with an idea for how to begin the memorial that would set the tone; loving yet ribbing. So…Mark and Jen opened and eventually Jen talked about Willie’s cabaret act and finally commented that she wished they had somehow taped it but, unfortunately, it would only live in memory.

I ran onstage and asked her what key it was in. She randomly said, “I don’t know, G?” I said “G?! Jason Alexander—that’s your signature key.” Jason then suddenly stood up in the audience (with a mic) and said “Seth, they’re all my keys!” I played an intro and he immediately launched into the song. Suddenly, Jason was joined by Nia Vardalos, who began with “Jason, I have notes.” She told him “Jason, you’re a great singer....but Willie was a better actor. He could sell any lyric. Like this...” She then started singing the second part. Finally, Nia and Jason soon said they needed a third singer to complete it. Nia told Jason, “We need a great singer like you. And someone, like you, who pretends they’re straight.” Steven Webber stood up and said “I fit that bill. I’m TV’s Steven Webber!” He almost finished the song…but right before the last note someone yelled “STOP.” It was Matt Bomer who launched into “I Made It Through The Rain.” At the end of that section Nia reminded everyone they were there for Willie and added “Bomer! Quit f**king around.” They then all sang the parody lyrics I wrote:

NIA:
If he could see us now, and let’s be real he can
He’s waving down at all his friends from Wesleyan

MATT:
He sees his oldest friends…as well as the new

JASON/STEVEN:
(indicating themselves) He sees the A-list stars
(indicating each other) And people like you

NIA:
He’s up in heaven now
And he’s quite famous there

STEVEN:
Cause there are tons of fans of
Mr. Belvedere!

MATT:
And now there’s one last thing to do

JASON:
Let’s sing it together

ALL:
Willie Garson, we love you!

It went over so well. And, at this point, The Willie Garson Fund has over $460,000. Brava to everyone involved and everyone who contributed.

Back in NYC, Seth’s Broadway Breakdown is running for the next month at AsylumNYC and I’m having the best time. Here’s a quick video Jack did that features me spinning records of just some of the shows I breakdown aka obsess about in the show. I had to hold the exact position I was in while he switched the record albums in my hand. I felt very Haley Mills in The Parent Trap (#OldSkoolReference #NotReallyAGoodComparison). Tix for Seth’s Broadway Breakdown are here.

And, this Sunday at 8 PM ET is my live concert with Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer, fresh from Broadway’s Beetlejuice. Right after she graduated CCM (alongside other belters Shoshana Bean and Kristy Cates, both of whom played Elphaba coincidentally), Leslie was cast as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Years later, she was on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show, and talked about her audition for the (then) Broadway revival of Funny Girl which wound up having Lauren Ambrose cast as Fanny and then not coming to Broadway. Anyhoo, she ended the interview by hauling out “I’m The Greatest Star.” I love that she is able to sing so much of it while sitting down and I love that next to her is my other interview from that day, Max Mutchnick, the co-creator of Will and Grace. Watch how great she is and and then get tix for my concert at TheSethConcertSeries.com.

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Seth Rudetsky
A week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, host of Seth Speaks on Sirius/XM.