When Mario Cantone hits the stage alongside fellow actor-comedian Susie Essman, it will be the culmination of nearly three decades of kinship between two performers with oddly parallel careers.
Cantone won't reveal much of the specifics of "A Conversation with Susie Essman and Mario Cantone," which plays New York's Stage 72 on Nov. 20. But audiences can no doubt expect that signature blend of frank, sassy candor that made their respective roles on "Sex and the City" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" so memorable. It's also a rare chance for fans to see Cantone and Essman, who both worked the stand-up circuit for years before HBO shot them to stardom, up close in an unscripted performance with ample room for spontaneity.
"We're going to talk and gab and rage and laugh and hug and cry," Cantone said. "It's just going to be kind of a chill show. She always knows how to set me up, that one!"
Cantone, 53, has crafted a campy niche in the world of comedy, pairing hilarious anecdotes about growing up in an Italian-American family in Massachusetts with side-splitting impressions of Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli, among other stars in his stage act over the years. Although he's always been open about his personal life (he tied the knot with husband Jerry Dixon in 2011), the out and proud star remains hesitant to define himself as a "gay comedian."
"When I started out, I certainly was never openly gay onstage," he noted. "There was always that fear of being called 'faggot' at 2 in the morning when you were doing an improv set in the '80s and '90s. It was scary, and sometimes it happened." Still, he added, "I was doing impressions of women -- if you didn't know, you were an idiot -- so I always say I was gay much too early in this business."
Of course, many of Cantone's contemporaries have struggled with gay themes and comedic references to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in their own work. In 2011, "30 Rock" star Tracy Morgan had to publicly apologize after he joked during a stand-up performance that he would "pull out a knife and stab" his son if he were gay. Meanwhile, former "Howard Stern Show" fixture Artie Lange told HuffPost Live last week he was "embarrassed and ashamed" over his infamous use of "faggot" and other anti-gay slurs in some of his earlier performances.
Cantone was quick to praise Lange, calling him as "the most open, cool, loving, wonderful guy" both onstage and off. "That was always inside of him; I think he always felt that way, so for him to say that publicly now is awesome," he said. Still, Cantone seemed less adamant that gay slurs be removed from the comedic context entirely. "Don't get me wrong, that word ['faggot'] should carry some weight, just as much as any other slur," he said. "When there's hate behind it, there's hate behind it. If there isn't, there isn't -- and you know when there is."
Next up on Cantone's plate after his reunion with Essman is a hopeful return to TV. If all goes according to plan, his new onscreen home could be Atlanta, where he's recently shot a pilot for a planned VH1 series alongside Donna Murphy, Brian Kerwin and "lots of young, pretty and talented people."
Cantone says he has never seen "The Carrie Diaries," the CW's teen "Sex and the City" prequel, but he keeps in regular touch with original SATC producer Michael Patrick King and co-star Cynthia Nixon. While he says he is eternally grateful for the hit HBO series' international success, Cantone feels that being so closely associated with his role as Anthony, Charlotte York's wedding-planner-turned-gay-best-friend, on both the show and its two big screen incarnations, has its challenges: "It's on TV every f**king day. Try looking at yourself 10 years ago every f**king day -- it's not fun!"
As for the prospect of a third SATC film, Cantone says he'd absolutely be on board, although he's skeptical over whether or not one will ever be made. "There's always hope, I think, but I keep saying it's going to be 'Sex and the Sunshine Home' by the time it gets done," he said. "We're all going to be on walkers!"
"A Conversation with Susie Essman and Mario Cantone" plays New York's Stage 72 on Nov. 20. Check here for more information.