Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Mapa the world


'Gaysian' comic Alec Mapa on porn,
product and being a 'professional queer'

Actor and stand-up comic Alec Mapa
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From his impressive theatrical beginnings starring in high school plays at San Francisco's George Washington High School, to Broadway, network TV and films, comic actor Alec Mapa has truly become what he calls "a professional queer."

With frequent roles on two of ABC's gayest and most popular shows, Desperate Housewives and Ugly Betty, Mapa is one of the most visible out gay actors in the world, with accomplished credits on stage and screen (large and small). And, he's a hoot to talk with. This Saturday, Mapa will be a special guest at the Gay VN Awards, held March 28 at the Castro Theatre.

"There's something about porn that's very authentic," said Mapa of his participation at the GayVNs. "I think that's why it scares people. It's all the stuff that culturally we're taught to deny. An event like this is just permission to let your freak flag fly."

On Ugly Betty, what Mapa calls "the queerest show on television," Mapa plays the vicious fashion gossip tele-journalist Suzuki St. Pierre, who was recently outed as straight with a suburban family. In that episode, Mapa's butch turn was just another surprise in his multi-faceted career.

"I hope the show continues," said Mapa. "I've been doing this for so long that nothing surprises me. But we're doing really well."

When we talked, Mapa, who is 43, had just returned from New York City for another few weeks of shooting episodes of Ugly Betty. He lives in Los Angeles with his partner, Jamison Hebert, and their dogs.

"The Cajun (Hebert) has been holding down the fort while I'm away," said Mapa. Their pets include a Dachsund-Chihuahua named Sleepy, and Ozzy, a rescue dog from The George Lopez Show.

"He got fired for being fat," said Mapa. "He was doubling for another dog and outgrew him. I met his trainer at the studio, and we adopted an out of work dog. He knew a few tricks, but now he's relaxed and doesn't have to work.

Alec Mapa (center) at Colt Studio's 40th anniversary party, with Gage Weston and Luke Garrett. photo: Jamison Hebert.

"If you live a really good life, you get to come back as a gay couple's dog," quipped Mapa. "I think Mother Theresa is now a Shih Tzu on the Upper East Side, having her poop picked up by a gay couple."

Mapa's love of animals has been part of his volunteer work, hosting events and fundraisers for many causes. This year's Gay VN cohost, Margaret Cho, also a San Francisco native, is an old friend, as is last year's host, comic Kathy Griffin.

"Kathy and Margaret and I are so often at award shows and benefits," he said. "Half of our work is community service. We're always on the bill. One year, every single fundraiser was giving an award to Margaret, and I did four out of five of those events. At one point, she said, 'Is this all we ever do?'"

Fortunately, for Mapa, the world is his oyster. Having starred in M. Butterfly on Broadway, and being frequently chosen for cameo roles as gay characters in TV shows and films (Marley and Me, You Don't Mess With the Zohan), Mapa's become one of the ubiquitous gay faces in media.

Along with traveling the world on the occasional Atlantis and Rosie gay cruise, Mapa said he enjoys unusual gigs like the Gay VNs.

"When I hosted the 40th anniversary party of Colt Studios, it was a blast. Remember when Fox's Bill O'Reilly went on the air, all upset about it?" The conservative news network blasted San Francisco's Mayor Gavin Newsom for officially recognizing one of the Bay Area's more accomplished businesses.

Mapa offers the more lighthearted backstage view of the party. "Carlo Masi was so fantastic. He is like a big clown, like Roberto Benini with muscles. He and his boyfriend were running around in their underwear, giggling like girls. Then, he pops out of a huge cake like a gladiator."

Mapa said he wasn't surprised to find different behaviors with porn performers. "People assume the persona for porn," he explained. "It's another form of drag. When your currency is your body and sexuality, it's another character that you assume, I think even more so for porn people."

Alec Mapa as Suzuki St. Pierre, with Ugly Betty costars Becki Newton and Michael Urie.

While performing on gay cruises, Mapa said he met a few other porn performers, sometimes without knowing about their careers in video.

"We'll hang out, they become my Facebook friends, and then I'll look at their movies online, and think, 'Ew, gross! That's my sister!' I need porn people to be complete strangers. I think that happens to (non-porn) actors, too. People expect you to be your character. I've had people who said they didn't expect me to be nice, because of Suzuki. He's carnivorous, and kind of a sociopath. I feel like that character wouldn't work on any other show." Mapa is 180 degrees from his vicious his Ugly Betty character.

"I was at the grocery store and saw the National Enquirer, and they were so disrespectful to Patrick Swayze, publishing pictures of him basically dying. I could never be like that."

Fortunately, Suzuki's fictional evil merely stirs the plot for the folks at Mode magazine. And like a lot of gay men, Mapa likes porn for fun. Asked if he had any favorites among this year's extensive list of nominees, Mapa quipped, "I'm rooting for Cum Dog Millionaire. I think it may have a big chance to cum from behind."

Mapa admitted a certain preference for older –and stranger– erotica. "I especially love weird porn where there's a lot of fetish, like the giant stuff, you know, with huge butt plugs. It's like watching the Olympics, seeing people do stuff I could never physically do. I also like the porn from the '80s starring Ryan Idol, where the guys have a lot of product in their hair."

Recalling his early days as an actor in New York City, Mapa waxed nostalgic for the furtive peep shows and VHS boxes of yesteryear. He also sees the physique trends as a reaction to AIDS.

Alec Mapa

"In the 1970s, everyone in gay porn was hairy. Then, in the '80s, everybody became really ultra buff and nubile. I remember being on Christopher Street and going into a gay porn video store, feeling like I was walking on the street in a spotlight, feeling like I was doing something so naughty."

That's quite a change from performing at an event honoring dozens of porn performers and videos. "To be where I'm at now, and so professionally queer, to be friends with these people and know them personally; it's very strange."

Who would star in a gay porn film if Mapa directed?

"Hugh Jackman. And me. I'd call it One Night in Bang-Cock." Until then, he'll settle for local talent. "This weekend will be wild. It's gonna be casting central!"

Reigning him in will be his partner. "Yes, the boyfriend's coming. He said, 'I am not missing this ... and not letting you go alone!'"

With family and friends still in the Bay Area, Mapa said he always enjoys return visits.

"I feel like San Franciscans have their own language and culture," he said. "It's a metropolitan city, but it still very much feels like small town. I don't mean that in a patronizing way. I can walk down Powell Street and run into teachers or old friends."

And more than a few empty storefronts. Yet despite the current economic turmoil, Mapa remains optimistic.

"This is just the cycle of life," he said. "There will always be shitty times." He looks to his own community for inspiration.

"It's interesting how gay culture always seems to reinvent the pop culture," he said. "In the 1930s, in the middle of a Great Depression, we designed musical and cabaret. We re-invented nightlife. We were all the artisans behind the glamorous musicals. During the '70s, when things were shitty, we invented disco. Only queens would come up with that.

"We're experts at making something out of nothing. Gay people have been rebuilding this country since day one. Every urban renewal is built on some area that we remodeled. I'm not worried about us. We 're re-inventors. We're survivors. I'm interested to see what we're gonna come up with next."

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