Justin Sayre: A Thousand Judys & A Million Laughs



With one of our community’s most beloved events, “Night of a Thousand Judys,” coming up on June 6 at Merkin Concert Hall, I snatched the chance to speak with its flamboyantly witty and fun impresario, Justin Sayre. Already a near New York legend for “The Meeting*,” his regular convening of all things and folk gay, out, fabulous, and proud, Sayre flashed an impressively manicured hand with the most amazing purple nail polish.

He told me, “The Judys have become exactly what we wanted it to be, a special benefit occasion at the end of my season of ‘The Meeting*’ to give back and raise a lot of money for the Ali Forney Center and I’m really excited when we get into… it’s always such fun. Judy is an endless inspiration, and the cool thing about it is that it was never about imitations, but what does this artist mean to you and how are you going to interpret her music?

“This year we have Vivian Reed, Carol Lipnick, Alice Ripley, Lillias White, Barrett Foa, Gay Marshall, and others. Nathan Lee Graham is coming back, and I always write a sketch parody of a movie — and this year it’s ‘Summer Stock,’ which I love. Every number in it is great. You know, everybody always wants to sing ‘The Man That Got Away’ or ‘Come Rain or Shine,’ but we try to temper that with something more obscure, and two years ago Nancy Anderson brought in ‘Friendly Star,’ from that film, so smart, and sang it beautifully.

“Every year we give an award for volunteers at the Center, who did amazing work, and in a weird way, although it is a Judy show, the focus is still on why we’re here, this sense of community, and people really rally, saying, ‘Of course, I’ll be there for this.’”

Two years ago, Sayre became bicoastal, moving to Los Angeles to write for the show “2 Broke Girls.” Its creator, Michael Patrick King, had seen a videotape of him doing “The Meeting*” in Los Angeles, got his number from Bridget Everett, and made him the job offer.

“I’d never even thought about writing for television, but after our meeting, he said, ‘I think this is a great fit.’ I said, ‘Sure, if you think so. It’s your funeral.’ He wanted me to start on June 15, but that was the night of the Judys, and I said, ‘I can’t start that day.’ ‘Okay so we’ll start on the 17th.’ I finished the Judys, got on a red eye out, and landed in LA the next morning at 8 a.m. I had one day to get all my notes together and started working right away.”

Justin Sayre, here presiding over "The Meeting*," hosts "A Night of A Thousand Judys" on June 6. | MICHAEL SHIREY

Justin Sayre, here presiding over “The Meeting*,” hosts “A Night of A Thousand Judys” on June 6. | MICHAEL SHIREY

Even with a hectic traveling schedule, the TV show still allows for Sayre to do “The Meeting*,” with him flying here on Friday night and returning to LA Monday morning.

“It’s exhausting, but at the same time thrilling to get to do this and be bicoastal,” he said. “I was at the Anohni concert last night at the Armory, and people were saying, ‘You’re kind of like living the dream!’ I guess I am and what I’ve learned about LA is that they are looking for new voices with a new take on things. People are like, ‘Okay, sell me on this,’ and I’ve never had any reactions where my ideas are too weird. Whether diversity is really happening, with all this serious talk about it, I went into a meeting at Warner Brothers, saying, ‘I don’t want to write a show about a lot of white people.’ And they were like, ‘Thanks! Great, tell me what that looks like.’”

Sayre, who is also writing a film script, is one of eight writers for “2 Broke Girls,” and says friends who watch it can tell which jokes are his. The cast includes Garrett Morris — who regales with tales of being an original “Saturday Night Live” cast member and the heavy partying that went on in the ‘70s — as well as Jennifer Coolidge, who’s become a good friend.

Although writers are usually stuck in one room all day and don’t have much interaction with actors apart from a 20-minute run-through of the script before changes are made, Sayre knew Coolidge from the LA story-telling show “Un-Cabaret,” where they both have performed.

“It’s funny because she does all these voices, but when you talk to her, she’s like, ‘Hey man, that was a great set!’ She’s like a dude [laughs] while I’m like a little flibbertigibbet. Sometimes, we just write sounds for her, because she’s so funny she can just do a sound and it’s better than anything we could have written. Live performance she’s afraid of, saying, ‘I’m not a stand-up,’ but she’s so captivating and interesting, she always kills.”

Sayre lives in the Los Feliz near Hollywood and Silver Lake and, although he got a license upon arrival, does not drive.

“My road rage is so terrible that it’s a better thing that I don’t,” he said. “Friends have been in the car with me, and they’re like, ‘Holy shit! You need to calm down!’ It’s crazy because I’m not like that in real life, but I flip out.

“I wish there was something fabulous to tell you about my love life, but I don’t do well out there. It’s different. I moved to New York when I was 17 and came up with all these weird, freaky people. Last night at the concert there was this guy with a beard and head shaved in the middle and back, with like payos on the side, but blown out. He was adorable, and I was like, ‘Look at you!,’ but in LA people wouldn’t know what to do with him. I wore a brooch to work one day and people were like, ‘Whoa! What are you doing?,’ and I was like, ‘Well, this is a house that will not stand!’

“There was this other kid last night, who put in a hoop earring during the show. ‘That’s like catnip to me — a little fem touch, and whatever you need. I’ll sign a mortgage for you!’ And that’s a little harder to find in LA. Everybody wants to be very straight. There are certainly other different pockets and I love those people, but everybody wants to be on ‘CSI’ or something.”

NIGHT OF A THOUSAND JUDYS | Merkin Concert Hall, Kaufman Music Center, 129 W. 67th St. | Jun. 6, 8 p.m. | $45-$100 at kaufmanmusiccenter.org