Stephen Guarino, an alum of Logo’s The Big Gay Sketch Show who has also appeared in Confessions of a Shopoholic and I Hate Valentine’s Day, is spellbindingly chatty in his recurring role on Happy Endings as the “sterotypically gay” pal Derrick. Derrick crackles with pop culture references and even outpaces the insanely fast cast’s dialogue, which makes him both the broadest and most subversive character on the show. And perhaps the funniest, if we’re being honest.
Guarino also co-stars as Quincy in the new Logo webseries Eastsiders, the Silver Lake-set dark comedy funded mostly by a successful Kickstarter campaign. Against the wry tone set by castmates Van Hansis, Constance Wu, Jon Halbach, and Matthew McKelligon (as well as star/creator Kit Williamson), Guarino is a standout, since his role bubbles with auctioneer-quick jokes.
We caught up with the out 37-year-old actor/comedian to discuss Eastsiders, Scruff suitors, and competing for laughs with the cast of Happy Endings.
The Backlot: How did you get involved with Eastsiders?
Stephen Guarino: John Halbach and I met in like 2002, I think. When did we meet? When the hell did we meet? He was on Broadway doing Tartuffe. Didn’t he do Tartuffe? Maybe. I was briefly dating T.R. Knight then, back before he was famous. [Laughs.] He was in the show with John. I think we met there. Or we may have been friends with someone in Tartuffe. So I’ve known John for years, and I’ve known Kit [Williamson] since then. They asked me to be in Eastsiders when they got it going. I knew very little about it, but — such a hit!
TB: Your character is a standout — your snappiness offsets the dramatic love triangle at the center of the show.
SG: Yeah, I agree. I’m not sure how it fit in the first place, because most of these guys are hip and subdued. I have more of an old-school over-the-topness. I think they utilized me for something over-the-top at that party, and they enjoyed having me, so they had me back. Between you and I — and this article — I was probably meant to be a one-off, but I think they liked what they saw! They’re trying to use and abuse some of my cachet with Logo.
TB: Your character on Happy Endings is similar, but is it more fun to play the fast-talking, funny role on a series like Eastsiders when you’re the only one going so fast?
SG: It’s not as fun as you think, because — well, it’s fun because it usually goes quite quickly and you get to be outrageous, but I’m having an issue with that in my career anyway where it’s fun, but it doesn’t feel like acting a lot of the time. It’s just not real. I think I’m one of those people who does over-the-top stuff, but it somehow remains just grounded enough that you believe it. But it can be very limiting, you know? Happy Endings can be so much fun, shooting that stuff, but I never feel like my character is actually going through some kind of arc or anything. That would be very tiring if I were on every episode doing that.
TB: Derrick is a character who is more defined by his mode than an arc, yes.
SG: Yeah, exactly. As an actor, that can get really tiring. But as a comedian, it’s very rewarding. You get a lot of praise for not doing a lot of work, but rather feeling the room and doing what’s funny.
TB: But it must be gratifying to be able to turn out such a strong, emphatic, memorable performance, even if it’s exhausting.
SG: Yeah, it is very gratifying. In fact, I’m doing this new show on NBC called The Gates, and I’m not doing all the things we just talked about, and I already immediately miss them. I’m actually required to be subdued and act. I’m like, “Ugh, the crew isn’t praising me. What’s happening? I didn’t get to do something outrageous and have everybody talk about it on lunch break.” So my ego’s in check.
TB: Are you determined to take roles that are different than what you’re known for?
SG: I would like to diversify myself a little and be considered a more legitimate character actor [rather] than just a screaming queen. But I pride myself on the fact that every time I go to a screaming queen audition, I beat out 30 or 40 guys I know. There’s still something to be proud of. But I’d like to diversify my portfolio here. It’s going to get real old soon. [Laughs.]