LAUGH WHORE * Written and performed by Mario Cantone * Directed by Joe Mantello * Cort Theatre, New York City.

Laugh Whore is Mario Cantone’s bid to certify himself as the gay Italian version of John Leguizamo or Margaret Cho – in other words, a hyperactive, nothing-sacred, ethnically insouciant stand-up comic who’s willing to put the scream back into “screaming queen.” And let me just say right off the bat, Cantone aces it. Laugh Whore is one of the funniest, and certainly the gayest, Broadway show in years.

TV fans may know Cantone from his stints on Sex and the City or the nutty kids’ show Steampipe Alley, but he’s best-known in New York as a club comedian who’s earned his stripes as a journeyman actor, most impressively last season in Richard Greenberg’s The Violet Hour and the revival of Sondheim and Weidman’s Assassins. His solo debut on Broadway is more than a pumped-up lounge act – it’s a two-hour barrage of physical humor, singing, dancing, and dishing to filth. The first half’s string of wicked impersonations imagine Osama bin Laden wailing a Whitney Houston ballad and Faye Dunaway instructing a cab driver as only Mommie Dearest could. I could probably live my whole life without another Liza or Judy impersonation. But just when you might think no comedian could wring more laughs out of overdone subjects like Julia Child or Michael Jackson, here comes Cantone channeling famous friends of Jackson (Hepburn: “Mii-chaelll, you are scaaring the shi-iiit out of me!”) and describing his current face as “some shade of pus” with “a clitoris for a nose.”

For the second half of the show, Cantone moves into that other esteemed stand-up tradition, which is invading your family’s privacy. We meet his hard-drinking, gravel-voiced sister Camille and his cousin Goo-Goo, among others. And he notes that a string of the women in his family died of cancer at two-year intervals. “I hate to bring the show to a screeching halt,” he says, his voice escalating to his trademark shriek, “but all of you are going to die someday, too!” Born and raised in Massachusetts, Cantone is a Broadway baby at heart, but he’s not overly sentimental about it, as his three-minute desecration of Cats or his gossip about being in the workshop production of The Lion King will attest. He betrays his best Noo Yawk bravado when he says, “They can blow anthrax up my ass with a straw, I will never leave this city!”

The Advocate, December 20, 2004