How 'The Colbert Report' Inspired 'Will & Grace's' Co-Creator to Help a Small Town in Kentucky
This story first appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
In August 2013, The Colbert Report ran a segment about Johnny Cummings, the openly gay mayor of Vicco, Ky., population 334. ("People Who Are Destroying America," the bit was facetiously called.) Among those watching at home in Los Angeles were Will & Grace co-creator Max Mutchnick and his husband, Erik Hyman, an entertainment lawyer at Loeb & Loeb. The couple had heard about Vicco — which in January 2013 passed a Fairness Ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation — even before Stephen Colbert's show. But watching a segment about it on TV, they found themselves profoundly moved — so moved that they decided to build a children's park for the recession-racked community.
"It's inspiring to hear such a loud voice from such a small town," Hyman tells THR. "Sometimes we think about towns between New York and California as small-minded, and it's just not true."
On July 4, less than a year after Colbert's segment, a dedication ceremony was held in Vicco for the new Rose and Evan Playground, named after Mutchnick and Hyman's two daughters, both age 5. (The day before the ribbon-cutting, coincidentally, Kentucky joined the growing list of states to strike down its gay marriage ban.) At first, Mutchnick and Hyman were hesitant to fly to Kentucky to attend the opening, but they ended up getting on a plane anyway. "We were far from home, but it didn't feel like a gay dignitary had rolled into town," says Mutchnick of the event. "There wasn't a moment where we felt different or unwelcome." Hyman agrees. "People will surprise you," he says. "Here are people in a small town who just think folks should be treated fairly, which is something we all have in common."
According to Mayor Cummings, they're welcome anytime. "People in the town were really excited when they came in," he says. "There were a whole lot more people who showed up to the dedication than I ever imagined — everybody wanted to thank Max and Erik. They took them four-wheeling and everything. It was a happy day."
Go here to find out more about the playground and make a donation.
Read more from THR's Philanthropy Issue here.