My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

Happiness with
a side of eggs and
a heaping helping of intimacy

Photos by Raul Da Silva

"Josh Groban is gay enough for Pride but we're not," sputters Brad Hampton in mock indignation. "It's just because we're not a big name. Yet."

Hampton is right to be smug: while Groban is one of the voices in a Saturday, June 14, Luminato Festival event that is billed as "a special one-night only performance in celebration of WorldPride Toronto," Hampton is headlining his hit cabaret/memoir/one-man show The Picture of Happiness on the actual Pride Day of Sunday, June 29. "Patti [Patti Loach is Hampton's accompanist and accomplice in creating and performing The Picture of Happiness] says every year, 'It's Pride, we should do a show.' Sybil Walker of the Jazz Bistro agreed and booked us. It's a great venue and great food, a great brunch."

Rae Ellen Bodie who directed The Picture of Happiness looks up from her martini to interject, "Load up on eggs and sausage and go stand in the blistering heat and digest."

"And wait for the Totally Naked Toronto men," enthuses Brad. "The naked men and PFLAG are the best parts of the parade. I always tear up."

"Ever since Patti's son came out she's been the ultimate PFLAG mom," notes Bodie.

"I think she always was," says Hampton. "Every Christmas she used to joke, 'I just want a gay son.' And we'd whisper among ourselves that we think it's Ned but we don't talk about it." Ned did come out and with his husband oversees the very popular 360 Screenings series.

"Didn't you play Nurse Ratched in one?" questions Bodie.

"Yes," sighs Hampton. "I had to soften up for that one."

The Picture of Happiness requires Hampton to travel through and project a gamut of emotions, after experiencing it no-one will doubt his ability to portray just about anyone he is required to. The material is deeply personal and Hampton incarnates a version of his damaged and eccentric mother that is both eerie and delightful without resorting to stereotypes.

"We took the show to Calgary . . ." begins Bodie.

"It was just like the Barbra Back to Brooklyn tour," interrupts Hampton. "But without the duet with my son. But I did almost sing with a dog. It was our Prairie Home Tour and we had sold-out runs full of people we don't know. In Toronto there's always someone you know. Or slept with, or . . ."

"In Calgary," continues Bodie, "Brad's mom came. I was sitting behind her and I kept glancing over, we were so protective of her."

"I Facebook-invited a friend of hers and the joke was they would all her 'Donna' all night so no-one would know who she was.'

"At the end," continues Bodie, "I went over and she was just sobbing. People who watch it often are in tears as it brings up their family secrets. It can be like a therapy session afterwards. The event is about the intimacy between Brad and the audience. The connection between the audience and Brad and Patti and the Nanaimo bars." [Loach and Hampton mingle with and greet the audience before the show, and serve Loach's homebaked, and sinfully delicious, Nanaimo bars. This delightful bonus feature of The Picture of Happiness may be 86ed by the waiters of the Jazz Bistro who are in the business of selling food, not giving it away.]

The intimacy can be overwhelming. "We had one man in Edmonton who stormed out," says Bodie.

"Some poor middle-aged closeted homosexual," notes Hampton.

"Trailing a veil of Drakkar Noir," adds Bodie.

"It's intimate but not audience participation," stresses Hampton. "Be sure to write that or people will run screaming. We will make out with people after the show but that's a different thing. And sometimes when people hear that it's a gay cabaret they hear 'He's going to talk about Barbra and Liza, it'll be drag.' It isn't."

"It's the essence of what Pride is," says Bodie.

"Pride's emotional," says a suddenly serious Hampton. "It's an experience my grandfather had. He had such a poignant end. We have a WorldPride festival, he didn't have that. I love that there's a thing called WorldPride. I love RuPaul's Drag Race and a bowl of smart food but we have other stories to tell."

The Picture of Happiness is on Sun, June 29 at 12:30pm at the Jazz Bistro, 251 Victoria St.,