When did you realize you wanted to be a performer?
I used to come home from school and watch The Carol Burnett Show in re-runs. She was so hysterically funny. But my best memory of the show, was a skit that in the situation that would later become Mama’s Family with Vicky Lawrence. Eunice (Carol Burnett) was on The Gong Show and she was gonged! The look on her face was devastating. Heart breaking. I was so upset as a child but it stuck with me. I realized that so much comedy is actually based on tragedy and humiliation. I decided to laugh at myself before anyone else could!
It’s been said Varla Jean Merman is the “spawn” of Ernest Borgnine and Ethel Merman. Why these two?
Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine were actually married for 38 days. When I was in college, a friend told me to read the Ethel Merman autobiography. There is a chapter entitled “My Marriage to Ernest Borgnine.” When you turn the page, it is blank! I love this bitterness, and in print! Well, I guess, in NO print. I thought if they would’ve had a child, Merman would’ve sent it away because it reminded her of a relationship that was too painful and horrible. Varla was born.
Who was/is your biggest influence/idol/inspiration?
Carol Burnett, Joanne Worley, and Ann Margaret!
Who would you LOVE to work with?
All of the above!
What’s an average day like for Varla?
Varla doesn’t have days. Only nights. Very late nights.
What does Jeffery do in his down time (if he has any)?
I was morbidly obese for 28 years of my life. I now thrive on exercise. I am a big CrossFit fanatic.
Care to share a guilty pleasure?
I love the television show “Nashville!”
What’s next for Varla?
Varla is doing a version of “Designing Women” playing Charlene in New Orleans in May. And then she will do her new show in Provincetown this summer. What the hell that is, or will be, is anybody’s guess at this point! Varla doesn’t like to insult an audience with a “prepared” evening.
Have you ever been to Pittsburgh, PA? And if so, what was your favorite experience? If not, is there anything you’re looking forward to experiencing while here next month?
I have been to Pittsburgh before. I did a run of my circus-themed show “Under a Big Top” at City Theater, and I also made my Broadway touring debut in the first national touring company of “Chicago” at the Benedum Center. I don’t know if I still have my “favorite experience’s” phone number. I guess I’ll have to look back in my journal. Oh, I don’t keep a journal. Well, here’s to some new experiences!
You can experience Varla Jean live and in person when she twirls into Pittsburgh for a special one night only performance for the PATF 27th Annual Benefit