Out and proud writer/director/personality Del Shores is perhaps best known for his award-winning plays, which include “Daddy’s Dyin’: Who’s Got the Will?”, “Southern Baptist Sissies“ (the play, it seems, that‘s arguably the closest to his heart), and most recently “Yellow“ in 2010. In 1999, he directed the cult classic movie “Sordid Lives”, which was later made into the first original series for the fledgling gay network LOGO in 2008. “Sordid Lives: The Series”-- which starred Olivia Newton-John, Rue McClanahan, and Bonnie Bedelia-- became one of the highest rated shows in LOGO‘s history. The well-loved series was equally famous for having a controversial journey during its lively but short-lived run on TV. Shores has made his mark as a playwright and director, but with his filmed one-man stage show “Del Shores: My Sordid Life”, just released on DVD, the 54-year old Shores proves himself as a very successful raconteur and comedian as well. Even for established stand-up comics, a one-man or one-woman show can be a risky proposition when their act is translated for the movie or TV screen. This production works, largely because Shores knows how to keep the audience’s motor running. The minute he steps out and launches his verbal torpedoes, the highly animated artist becomes as large as the stage. Offended by an empty seat in the front row, he demands that an “really cute person” come and fill the space. (“We don’t want any ugly on the DVD! We‘re filming tonight!“). That’s just the beginning! His energy continues right on through to the near-final scene, where Shores treats us to a searing monologue from “Southern Baptist Sissies” which was omitted from the play for being too controversial. In “Del Shores: My Sordid Life”, the playwright/filmmaker has a LOT to tell, all of which draws from his own life and career. He has never made it a secret that many of the over-the-top characters in his plays were based on real life people, mostly relatives. Shores’ journey as storyteller apparently started with having a vivid imagination as a child. Fast forward, and he finds himself as a writer for a modestly successful TV show called “Ned and Stacy”. (Warning: Names will be dropped. Thomas Hayden Church, be afraid. Be very afraid!…) Shores also gets personal, and we learn that it was shortly after his work on “Ned and Stacy“ that he decided to come out in a big way.
In “My Sordid Life”, Shores offers some truly keen observations about coming out: never an easy thing for anyone, but especially challenging for gay man from a Southern Baptist family in Texas. His pathway to self-discovery is a mix of provocative drama and laugh-out-loud comedy. Who was the first one he decided to come out to? It was … flamboyant actor Leslie Jordan! Then, it was on to his family. The reactions by his mother and father were both dramatic but widely different. His father didn‘t want to talk about it. His mother, conversely, DID want to talk about it, perhaps a little too much. She wanted details! Listening to Shores’ awkward attempt to explain gay sex to his mother (“I skipped rimming. I didn’t think she could handle that. I barely could!“) is one of the film’s comedic highlights. In the vein of fellow comedian Margaret Cho‘s live shows, the act really comes alive when Shores starts channeling his well-meaning but doting and somewhat misguidedly supportive mom. And, like any talented comedian, he is able to take a worldly, even serious subject like religion and inject some humor into it. He recalls how his mother, in that idiosyncratic style of support I mentioned earlier, tried to understand her son’s sexual orientation by doing her own research. In retrospect, Shores holds up a Bible and opines, “Lately I’ve been thinking, especially with this rash of suicides from all these young people-- and how most of them are from the South and from fundamentalist Christian homes-- and I just wish that more people and more families would do research on their gay children’s behalf, rather than holding on to those five scriptures in this book while eating pork and shellfish, and wearing polyester… which, Biblical or not, it’s not right!” For pop culture aficionados like me, the show also features many priceless behind-the-scenes anecdotes from Shores‘ memoirs. One is them is an episode of “Queer as Folk” that Shores wrote which got rejected for being (Get this…) too offensive, and also Shores’ meeting at a restaurant with late great Rue McClanahan and uber-blogger Perez Hilton. Oh, to be a June bug on the wall for that scenario!
Since coming out , Shores-- in his own words-- has “made a living out of being gay”. Shores may be modestly selling himself short. Indeed, it takes more than just being out to be successful in showbiz. However, it would be a major understatement to say that Del Shores has made his mark on queer culture. We can thank him for sharing his colorful (and, apparently, a little bit “sordid“ as well!) life with the masses!
(Del Shores and some of the cast of "Sordid Lives: The Series" at the show's charity fundraising premiere in 2008.)