Exclusive Interview: Mr Showbiz Murray Hill on the return of HBO’s Somebody Somewhere “it’s a slice of life for the misfits who chose our humanity”

Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen’s delightfully warm and poignant comedy series Somebody Somewhere makes a welcome return to HBO for its seven-episode second season tonight, Sunday, April 23rd at 10:30pm ET/PT. As the season opens, we’re reunited with Sam (Bridget Everett) who has returned to live in her hometown of Manhattan, Kansas where she’s still struggling to fit in, but has fallen into a comfortable, cocktail-filled, routine with her best friend Joel (Jeff Hiller) and is beginning to build bridges with her sister Tricia (Mary Catherine Garrison). New York City comedy legend Murray Hill reprises the role of Sam and Joel’s friend, the supportive, wise, and warmhearted soil scientist Fred Rococo, who has some major life news to share. Read our season 1 review of Somebody Somewhere.

Ahead of the season 2 premiere of Somebody Somewhere, Murray Hill spoke exclusively with The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann about the series’ approach to LGBTQ+ representation, being able to go even deeper with the character, his memories of seeing drag kings for the first time in 90s New York before going on to perform himself with an outlandish Elvis creation, and his love for gay icons.

James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: Great to see you again Murray.

Murray Hill: “Can I swear?”

Please do!

Murray Hill: “Since the interview is so early in the morning [2pm Eastern], you’re getting exclusive Elvis hair today. I looked at it and I decided, you know what, I’m going to keep it for James!”

Mr Showbiz Murray Hill on his return to acclaimed HBO comedy series Somebody Somewhere for season 2

You actually did Elvis way back when you first started doing drag didn’t you?

“Yeah, that was in 1992 or 1994 when I was still in grad school. I actually have a picture of it up on my wall. That was definitely one of the first things I did. A sweaty, pill-popping Elvis. I did it at this place called Cake on Avenue B and Sixth Street in Manhattan. That was Avenue B back then when it was sketchy. I did the fat, sweaty Elvis popping the pills because the drag queens that I saw when I got to Boston and New York were always so exaggerated and campy. They were taking parts of femininity and going crazy with it and blowing it up. So I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going do that!’ Elvis was a parody of himself at the end, but at the same time I loved him too.”

“I was so broke back then that I borrowed 150 bucks from Martha Wilson, the performance artists who founded Franklin Furnace. I used to work there as an intern. James, you’re getting all the exclusives today! She lent me money to buy that damn Elvis suit. We’re bringing it back today. Not the Austin Butler young Elvis, the chubby Murray Elvis!”

Murray Hill. mistershowbiz.com.

When was the first time that you saw drag kings and what impact did that have on you?

“I had seen so many drag queens when I was in Boston and in New York, then I saw a flyer for a club called Hershey Bar that was in the Meatpacking District before it was what it is today. It was real dark, industrial, and empty back then. There was a very tough, urban, hardcore dyke night there and there was a drag king contest. So I went in as a photographer and I took photographs of these guys. It was a long time ago so the drag was almost more about passing and being masculine and strutting. I have pictures of these very butch, masculine women who would get up on stage in their suits and strut and the women would go nuts!”

“Back then, there weren’t words like trans masc or trans man, there was none of that, it was butch femme and that was it. So I was at some of those early nights and I noticed that in that particular event at that venue there wasn’t that element of camp or silliness, that positive energy. It was more dark and masculine. So that was when things started forming for me and I decided that I wanted to bring some of the elements that I had seen in drag queens, along with a lot of the feminist stuff that I was reading, into the drag king space. Those early years of the stuff forming were very pivotal. I brought comedy and camp into my act. Showbiz!”

Bridget Everett, Murray Hill and Jeff Hiller in HBO’s Somebody Somewhere Season 2. Photograph by Sandy Morris/HBO.

I’ve just had the pleasure of watching the second season of Somebody Somewhere and I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed this show until the first few minutes. It felt so good to be back in that world. It’s like being reacquainted with an old friend, one that you don’t really have to dress up for or do anything for, who just accepts you warts and all. I love its gentleness and warmth and the inviting quality of it. How about for you as someone who is part of creating the show as one of the cast, what was it like to be back?

“We all know each other. Me, Jeff, Bridget, and Mary Catherine have known each other for a long time. We’re all very much individuals and kind of misfits in our own way. Jeff has his thing, Bridget has her thing. We all have our own thing that has made us outsiders our whole lives. So it’s amazing to be able to come together and create this world where we’re all equal. We’re all going through all these things just like everybody else. That’s the common denominator, the humanity of the show and the heart of the show, that people really respond to. Then you put this world on HBO, which for us kids in New York who have been slugging away in the business as outsiders for 20-plus years, is pretty special. Both getting validated by HBO and then seeing it be put out there into the mainstream. It’s not threatening. It’s not in-your-face. It’s like, ‘Hey, this is how other people live and it’s the same; we’ve got the same heart; we’ve got the same romantic problems; we’re lonely; and we’re silly.’ It’s a slice of life for the misfits who somehow chose our humanity.”

Murray Hill in HBO’s Somebody Somewhere Season 1. Photograph by Courtesy of HBO.

The characters deal with everything that we all have to deal with in life like love and grief.

“It’s relatable. I’ve had a couple of girlfriends in my life, James, some of the from the old days, and the thing that blows me away is that my ex-girlfriend’s mother, who’s in her late 70s, is obsessed with the show because she sees it as real and authentic. All these different people relate to it, but when a 77 year old woman in the suburbs is feeling it, that to me is what showbiz is, you can relate. It’s not a show where it’s like, ‘Fuck you, this is me’. It’s more like, ‘This is who we are’.”

Murray Hill in HBO’s Somebody Somewhere Season 1. Photograph by Elizabeth Sisson/HBO.

In the first season, it wasn’t explicitly mentioned that Fred is trans and then in this season it gets very casually mentioned. It does feel important to mention it, particularly given the show’s reach and with all that’s going on at the moment in terms of the misinformation and the anti-LGBTQ legislation.

“In the poker scene in the first episode of the first season there’s a trans and gay pride flag in the background. So anybody who saw that episode might have seen that. We wanted to mention it briefly because it’s more about everyone is the same, but because of what’s going on—that has been continuing since we filmed the show—it’s really important. Representation matters. As a character, Fred is handled just like everybody else, but we did mention how he identifies because of what’s going on in the current climate.”

Murray Hill in HBO’s Somebody Somewhere Season 1. Photograph by Courtesy of HBO.

We first got to meet Fred doing his emcee duties in season one, and although we did see him off stage, I think there’s less of his showbiz persona this season and you had a chance to go even deeper with the character.

“Yeah, and James, between us—even though this interview—most of the time drag queens, drag kings (though there’s not a lot of drag kings on TV), trans people, gay people, they’re often portrayed as tokens on shows, as stereotypes, and have very limited scopes. So, yeah, Fred had a little showbiz razzle-dazzle the first season and what excites me this season is that this character got to have some more depth like everybody else and if there had to be a little less showbiz for that, that’s okay with me. We get to see Fred as a person with with a heart, not just with his friends Sam and Joel, but with his own heart. I’m happy that the writers chose to show a fuller emotional picture of Fred this season because we also need that on screen. It’s tough out there, James!”

Mary Catherine Garrison, Mike Hagerty and Bridget Everett in HBO’s Somebody Somewhere Season 1. Photograph by Elizabeth Sisson/HBO.

Mike Haggerty sadly passed away before you shot this season, but there’s a lovely tribute to him in the way that his character, Sam’s father Ed, is talked about. What did you make of the way that the writers handled that? Fred gives a very touching speech about him at one point.

“It was tough because the writers and Bridget had to make these last minute adjustments before we started filming. He was such a special guy and he brought so much heart to the show. I think we all felt that and wanted to honor him and his spirit and his heart in the second season. There wasn’t a lot of time to figure out how to deal with it because we had pretty much started production when it was going on. He was there in spirit for sure.”

“My relationship with my biological father, who has also passed away, was incredibly strained and when I did that scene with Mike in season one we had this connection. I guess that’s the magic of show business. I didn’t even think that I was acting. We were both in a field with the cameras and what he was telling me and what I was telling him back, I believed it, and I cared for him that much. It was like some kind of therapeutic transference or something. He was more of a father figure than I had personally to everybody on the damn show. So I miss him. The whole thing sucks.”

Murray Hill in HBO’s Somebody Somewhere Season 1. Photograph by Courtesy of HBO.

I know you’ve been writing your memoir. What’s that process been like, reflecting back and then trying to structure it into some kind of narrative?

“I keep thinking that the title should be How To Clear A Room! I came from the old school like Lady Bunny, where we were these characters and you never knew anything behind them. You didn’t know our real names, or birthdays, or where we lived. As time has progressed, and as things have become more open and there’s more language, I think my story of how I grew up and how I became Murray and getting to this point—plus all the the biopic struggles in between—is a story that needs to be out there for the same reason as Somebody Somewhere does. You live this very specific kind of life on the outskirts and then you put it out there and people can relate to the humanity of it. My act, my whole vibe as Murray, has always been about that. I’m going to come in, tell some jokes and I’m going to relate to you. Then we’re all going to be fine. You’re not going to see me be all in-your-face. It’s more like, ‘Oh, there’s uncle Murray. He’s funny, he’s a nice guy. I like him’.”

Bette Midler performing at the Continental. Photo credit: Pierre Venant/Penske Media/Rex/Shutterstock.

Last question for you. what’s your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ or a person who identifies as LGBTQ+; someone or something that’s had an impact an you and resonated with you over the years?

“We could do a whole interview on that!”

Last time we spoke Bridget was with us and you chose her as a gay icon and she said if there’s a season two, you’d be in it! So that’s the only person who you can’t mention.

“I saw Hello, Dolly! with Bette Midler three times on Broadway. Does that make me gay? Or something? I mean full-blown?! I love Liza and all of the gay male icons for some reason. I love them all. I saw Marilyn Maye at Carnegie Hall recently. I like a strong woman who makes it and that’s why I said Bridget last year.”

By James Kleinmann

Somebody Somewhere returns for its seven-episode second season on Sunday, April 23rd (10:30pm ET/PT) on HBO and will be available to stream on HBO Max. A new episode will debut every following Sunday, leading up to the final two episodes of the season on May 28th.

For more on Murray Hill visit his official website and follow him on Instagram.

Mr Showbiz Murray Hill on his return to acclaimed HBO comedy series Somebody Somewhere for season 2
Somebody Somewhere Season 2 | Official Trailer | HBO

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