Alan Cumming on His Cabaret Show 'Legal Immigrant' and Celebrating Who We Are (Q&A)

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Alan Cumming

The Tony Award winner reflects on the game-show aspect of becoming a citizen, the centrality of inclusion in the American identity, his CBS drama 'Instinct' and "scrotal aging."

With the second season of his CBS cop procedural, Instinct, in the can and airing in June, Alan Cumming has been finding time for his first love, the stage. For nearly a year he's been touring in his cabaret show, Legal Immigrant, hitting New York's Minetta Lane Theater from April 12-13 and Musco Performing Arts Center in Orange County on April 17, before heading to Santa Barbara. 

The New York shows this weekend are being recorded for release through the Amazon-owned audio entertainment producer Audible.

What's changed since the Scottish-born Cumming, 54, debuted the solo show, which documents in song and story his experience becoming a U.S. citizen, is the climate surrounding immigration.

"I want people to actually think about this issue and the fact that we're being told that something at the very heart of America is wrong," Cumming tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Let's celebrate what we are or agree that you're deriding yourself and the very notion of what your country's about. I think too many people have drunk the Kool-Aid saying immigration is wrong, that's the problem."

The actor recently wrapped an off-Broadway run in Jeremy O. Harris' play Daddy, a drama dealing with themes of sex and identity in which he performed naked for a substantial amount of stage time. "I got my clothes off and I hear 'badunk-badunk-badunk' chair-backs of people leaving the theater," he jokes. In Legal Immigrant, he warns of the humiliation of "scrotal aging" while dissecting one of the era's most divisive political issues.

After 10 years here, what made you finally decide to become a citizen?

I wanted to vote. I felt very much it is my home, but I couldn't take part in the political process.

Presumably you wanted to vote for Obama.

I wanted to vote for him. And the immigration process is a little slower than when I first got my green card, so I actually became a citizen four days after Obama won the election. That was hilarious in my naturalization ceremony — which is a really bizarre word to use because it means anyone who's not an American is unnatural. Everyone was very excited to become a citizen and of course Bush was technically still the president. So, there was a video that came on of Bush welcoming us to America, and I've never seen a room of people trying not to boo so bad, because you can’t really boo the president of the country you're becoming a citizen of at that moment.

But what was it like getting to that point?

Americans make even becoming a citizen into a game show. There's 100 things that you can be asked, and in the test you have to get six out of 10 right. The man asked me six questions and I got them all right. And the man actually said to me, "You got six. Would you like to go for 10?" I thought, we're not on TV. I'm not going to win any prizes. I got my six and I'll step out now. I'll pass.

So, there's plenty of humor in your show?

There's a monologue about how I went to my dermatologist and there were two little red dots on one of my testicles, like someone had taken a red sharpie and went "boomp-boomp." Someone may have done that, and I hadn't noticed. I said to my dermatologist, "Is it anything to be worried about?" And he said, "No, nothing to be worried about. Just a natural part of scrotal aging." And that sent me into a spiral.

Maybe it's better you became a citizen in 2008 rather than now.

The feeling that people are buying into here and in countries in Europe and the whole Brexit thing, has to do with the displacement of people in Syria and Iraq. It unsettles people and makes them afraid. That can be flamed by opportunistic people like Trump and Brexiteers, but it's a terrible thing to prey on people's fear instead of asking them to be compassionate and think about helping people. That, to me, is the thing that is most awful, that what we're doing right now is encouraging the worst qualities of people and praising them for being mean-spirited.

But you must get some Trump supporters in the audience.

I have been heckled, in West Palm Beach in December, and that was a very, very contentious evening. A man shouted at me and told me to go back where I came from. Another guy said to me, "Get on with the show!" I went, "It's my show. It's called Legal Immigrant. You might expect there to be some discussion of this topic." And then other people in the audience started shouting at them.

And after 10 years of participating in the political process here, what's the verdict?

Politics in America is a team sport, our team against theirs. In most other democracies there's third parties that encourage discussion, compromise and mediation. Here, it's just two sides. I really believe if you want to change someone's mind, you want to be kind to them and ask them to see your point of view and tell them about your experience.

Which is kind of what you do on Instinct, where you play the first gay lead character on a primetime network drama.

Millions are seeing a same-sex relationship in their living rooms and seeing "they're just like us." People are only bigoted because they are afraid or ignorant about something. And that's all I want to do with my cabaret show. Immigration, which you cannot deny is at the very core of this country, is now something that people have a negative view of. It's anti-American to think that. Let's step back and celebrate who we are instead.