Writer/producer/actor Dan Bucatinsky’s new book, Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight?: Confessions of a Gay Dad, tells the story of how he and his husband, Don Roos, became the parents of Eliza and Jonah. As an actor, Bucatinsky appears on the television shows Scandal, and has been on In Plain Sight and many others, including The Comeback, of which he was also an executive producer. With Lisa Kudrow and Roos, he co-created the web series and Showtime show, Web Therapy (its second season premieres on Showtime on July 2).
Kudrow and Bucatinsky founded the company Is or Isn’t Entertainment in 2003. Here, she interviewed her friend and producing partner about his new book, being repressed and neurotic, and parenting—and declared to him after, “You should know that after reading this book I finally, FINALLY have respect for you.” What follows is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Lisa: So Dan, you wrote a book called, Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight?, does that mean that–are you gay?
Dan: For pay.
Lisa: For pay, you’re gay? Otherwise, you’re straight?
Dan: Otherwise I’m straight; it just depends. This is my coming out to you. The book was.
Lisa: All right, well, I want you to know that I’m fine with it. This is a joke because of course—I know. Now can I just say one thing? This book is really frank, I mean, it’s stuff that I know feels very intimate. You give very intimate accounts about things chiefly that make you really uncomfortable.
Dan: That make you really uncomfortable?
Lisa: No, that make you really uncomfortable.
Dan: Yes. And possibly you, too.
Lisa: No! It didn’t make me feel uncomfortable except that it was, uh, it was very clear how uncomfortable you were from the very first page.
Dan: I think the chapter’s called “Wake Up and Smell the Fingers” or something like that. I walked into the bathroom, and Eliza was brushing her teeth, which is, you know, innocuous, fully prepared as a parent for that, I mean I had a lot of practice with that. I wasn’t expecting the unexpected. And at some point during the brushing, she, with her free hand, she just held her fingers up and said those simple little words.
Lisa and Dan: “Daddy, will you smell my fingers?”
Dan: Which nothing ever good comes at the end of that, but that is what she said to me. And I obliged, because, what was I going to do?
Lisa: Right, and her fingers had been—
Dan: You know, at the time, I wasn’t exactly positive. But I figured they had been somewhere. In the piece, in the chapter, I discovered where they’d been. And the rest of it is a blur.
Lisa: Right, because you, as a human being, as a person I’ve known, you are particularly squeamish when it comes to talking about body parts—sex, stuff like that.
Dan: Yeah, I’ve always been that guy.
Lisa: Right, and I know you make fun of Don a lot, your husband, for being, you know, of the Victorian era. Except I think you actually give him a little run for his money.
Dan: Yeah, my inner petticoat. He wears his on the outside, but no, it’s true, I’m a prude, I’m a prude–in certain ways.
Lisa: Yeah, except that is also what is so alarming as you read your book—is how forthcoming you are with very intimate things; I mean, it’s like bare naked. Not literally. But it’s impressive too, and it’s funny.
Dan: I really had to work hard to not censor myself, because I felt like I had been doing that my entire life. To some degree, what I have encountered, or what I’ve at least realized–also with the help of a health care professional–you know, censoring myself was a large part of what my coming out was about. Like, I came out at 25 to my parents, but I feel like I spent 15 years trying to make up for those two words that you can never take back, which is “I’m gay.” And so when I started to write about being a parent or the squeamishness I had about sex, about all kinds of things, I had to really force myself, you know, to be naked. That’s a good way of putting it because to me it felt like I had been sucking in my gut for 20 years, and I finally sort of put on loose pants.
Lisa: But why did you suck in your gut?
Dan: Because I felt like it was what I needed to do to manage the impression I was giving to people.
Lisa: Why don’t you take the girdle off?
Dan: The man Spanx? No way.
Lisa: The cumberbun?
Dan: Don and I were trying to figure out what’s the perfect term for, like, a male girdle? They call them shapers.
Lisa: For men?
Dan: Yeah, they try to make them sound really butch.
Lisa: Well, now we’re getting off the subject, but no, I think that is one of your coping mechanisms. It’s like, throw humor at it.
Dan: Don’t look here.
Lisa: Yeah, don’t look over here. See my hand’s doing funny things over here, it’s waving-look over here, not over there!
Dan: Well, I have to say, part of the exercise of writing in this way, because I had been writing for TV for 10 years, playing make believe, for the most part, was really trying to force my head to look straight ahead, not to divert my eyes. Yes, I try to do it with humor, I naturally turn to that; I certainly hope that came across, too. But I really felt like as I kept going, it was very cathartic, to be that honest
Lisa: But that, to me, is what’s so relatable.
Dan: By the way, there aren’t any good options that come after “smell my fingers” even if your kid is a boy. If you’re a woman or a man or a kid or a teacher, you know–one of the reasons I put that in there is because I wanted to start, right on page one, in the way I was hoping would set the tone.
Lisa: Little kids say and do things that we just don’t do in polite society. In polite, repressed society
Dan: But, you know, after I was done, I went back, and you know the whole book is about what my kids teach me. I’m the neurotic mess, worrying about this stuff, and they’re so kind of not. They put their fingers where they want to put their fingers, and say what they want to say– they have yet to learn to feel the shame that I was able to learn over the years.
Lisa: You had open parents, too, though.
Dan: I did. I had open parents whose intentions were good. They were very liberal. Listen, a lot of it may or may not have been related to my parents, I don’t know. Growing up gay, at the time that I did, my mom’s a therapist, they were both very open, very accepting. It wasn’t that I wasn’t going to be raised in a family where they wouldn’t accept me, I knew that. But I had self-imposed expectations for myself. And you know, you can sit on a therapist’s couch, but I do think that led to me feeling the responsibility to be a certain way. And that then made me the crazy person that I am.
Lisa: And so, it wasn’t your interest in the entertainment industry? That thought, a gay won’t work here? Because you started out as an actor, and a writer.
Dan: But I was pretty closeted when I came to L.A. I met Don–oh my God, this is so embarrassing–I met Don and I was 27, not working as an actor, really aspiring, let’s use that word as a euphemism. And his movie Love Field was coming out like a month after we had met. And he invited me to go to the premiere, which was my first premiere ever, and we were going to go have dinner afterwards with Michelle Pfeiffer and David Kelley. And I was, like, “I’m not going with you, I cannot go with you. What if one day I’m in a movie with Michelle Pfeiffer and”—I can’t—I can’t even say this, it’s too embarrassing.
Lisa: Well, it’s too late now! “What if one day—”
Dan: “What if one day I’m in a movie with Michelle Pfeiffer?” Ah, just think about the amount of innocence, stupidity, and narcissism all combined into one cocktail.
Lisa: But what if then—what? She’ll know you’re gay.
Dan: Yes! Exactly. I had this ridiculous closeted worry that if I was in any sort of business dinner, especially with another actor, there as Don’s date, they would know that I was gay.
Lisa: Then you wouldn’t get to play the lead opposite Michelle Pfeiffer.
Dan: Exactly, exactly. See, and did I? No, I haven’t. Because I did go to the dinner. And I defy anyone at the dinner to remember who Don, or I, or–it really wasn’t about the reality, it was just a crazy, obsessive worry. But I think back to it, because I think wow, that was on my mind at 27.
Lisa: So you are someone who plans ahead, you like a certain degree of control and predictability in your life.
Dan: I think so. I mean I did then. I do think I’ve come a long way.
Lisa: Well once you have kids, that all flies out the window anyway. Because, you know, by definition they’re too little to be predictable. And they’re too little to fully control. They’re completely different human beings.
Dan: There’s even a section in the book where I talk about the book What to Expect When You’re Expecting. There’s something so ironic about that, just that book, because there are so many things that you can’t predict and not expect. And, I, for the most part, every emotion both good, bad, sad, petrified, horrified, frenetic, all of the emotions I felt when I became a parent, I couldn’t have predicted. And I like to be able to control my circumstances as much as possible.
Lisa: How having a child challenges every neurotic person’s inclinations.
Dan: Publishers ask me is this a family book, in what shelf–and I’m, like, is there a category, neurotica? Because that’s where it belongs, instead of humor and family.
Lisa: And you said neurotica, NEURotica–whoever is transcribing this, it’s neurotica.
Dan: Thank you, that could be a mess. For somebody who likes control, I’m learning the hard way.
Lisa: Well, yeah, we can see it in the book. And that’s why I keep saying it’s relatable, unless you’ve had children when you were very young. And you know, I wasn’t very young. But no, you already have a certain pattern, a way of doing things as an adult, and children don’t really go with the flow as it is. But I have to say watching you and Don, you are both phenomenal parents, and your kids are fantastic. I mean, yes, they’re beautiful, there’s that, but they’re also just so easy to be around, and well-adjusted and friendly. This is sort of an era of children with issues, just off the bat, because schools are constantly scrutinizing them to begin with, you know, schools and doctors and what are the milestones in developmental this, and oh my god, and all that stuff, and just–hat’s off!
Dan: Well, thank you. I don’t know how much I can take credit for it, but it’s one of those big issues I also talk about in the book.
Lisa: No, I think you have to take credit for it because you both have provided your kids with a consistent environment where they are safe. They are loved, they are safe. There are rules. I think it’s what every parent is striving for, anyway.
Dan: I talk to a lot of parents who have a lot of expectations for their kids. Their kids are in kindergarten or first grade, and they talk about college, actual achievements, what it means.
Lisa: It is shocking, isn’t it? That in kindergarten, parents talk about college
Dan: I mean, I just don’t want them to do porn. I mean if I can keep it there. And I feel like as a parent, in a way, if I can just keep myself in check, and do things for the kids that it’s not about me, and really delight in them, really let them see in my eyes that I delight in them and keep them safe, it’s like that’s such a big part of the job.
Lisa: It’s true that every kid would like to make their parents proud. So if you can make them feel like they’re achieving that just by being themselves, then that’s the big chunk.
Dan: Oh that’s well said, you’re right, instead of feeling like–if you learn Mandarin, then I’ll be proud of you.
Lisa: Right. I don’t think parents set out on an “if…then,” but I think kids pick up on an “If…then.”
Dan: I certainly did. My parents didn’t set out to feel that way but I certainly wanted to be a certain way to make everybody proud. And then I was bullied incessantly in elementary school. I remember thinking the only justice would be if one day I can overcome this. That if some way or another there would be justice. I didn’t know what it meant, I didn’t have a real picture of what it looked like, but I remember feeling like this has to turn around. There’s a lot of talk about bullying right now and I didn’t really connect to my own bullying until I was writing about it, but I realize now how it actually formed me. I became ambitious because of it.
Lisa: So you’re saying bullying’s good thing.
Dan: No. Well, in some circumstances it’s a very good motivator. No, it wasn’t a good thing for me.
Lisa: But that’s also part of who you are, like looking at, here’s why it’s OK. Here’s why this horrible thing that happened to me is OK. But there’s also a lot of heart to all your stories. They resonate very deeply. For everybody, or specifically personal to you, you can feel that it runs very deep.
Dan: Well, thank you. Can I ask you a question?
Lisa: Well uh, who’s interviewing who?!
Dan: Is there going to be a Friends movie?
Lisa: That’s funny.
Dan: It’s so not funny. You know I have to ask.
Lisa: No you don’t have to ask, I’m not being interviewed.
Dan: This is just a ploy to ask you all the questions that people—
Lisa: All right, I’ll give you the answer. This is the definitive answer—Click! The tape ran out.