The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center had the perfect recipe to throw a successful anniversary bash Saturday as its 39th annual gala fundraiser set record attendance and was on pace to raise $600,000 for its programs.
With its Rand Schrader Distinguished Achievement Award going to Glee star Jane Lynch — and being presented by co-star Matthew Morrison (who plays Will Schuester) and creator-writer-director Ryan Murphy — the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel’s California Ballroom was standing room only as entertainers ranging from host Lily Tomlin to Kathy Griffin helped the Center raise funds for programs that support homeless LGBT youth and those living with AIDS.
Tomlin kicked off the high school-themed evening with an opening monologue that ripped on everything from George W. Bush’s recent book — “that he claims to have written” — to ABC’s gay-friendly Modern Family, about which she joked that the show is among Republicans’ top 10 favorites because “they don’t want gays to have rights, but they like watching us have them on TV.”
Between raucous impersonations that included Nadya Ginsburg as Cher and “Downtown” Julie Brown updating Madonna’s greatest hits, Griffin joined Tomlin in poking fun at the Bush family as well as Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen.
On the red carpet, Griffin noted that she wished women would unite the same way that the LGBT community does.
“The gay community comes together like no other community does,” said Griffin, who joked that her “life would be so much easier if I were a lesbian.” “As a woman, I look at the gay community and I think, ‘I wish women could get together that well.’ The gay community, they get together, they mobilize. My friends call them the Gay Army.”
Between Tomlin sketches — she appeared as her famed character Ernestine, joking with political figures like Sarah Palin as they called a mock switchboard — Center CEO Lorri L. Jean noted that the facility had won the “largest federal grand ever given to an LGBT organization — $13.3 million over five years — to develop a national model to protect (LGBT) teenagers living in foster care.”
But the night belonged to Lynch, a longtime supporter and board member at the Center, who was so widely praised that Tomlin, Morrison and Murphy each had to introduce the woman who brings Sue Sylvester to life.
“She’s won every award possible — topped by her Emmy — gotten married and had a child and, most importantly, she became Queen of the Gays,” Murphy said. “Jane has gone from successful working actress to icon and I could not be more proud. Jane accomplished this feat the old-fashioned way: through hard work and high personal belief that she had something to offer.
“Whenever I have to have ‘Please stop posing for porno pictures’ discussions with the young cast of Glee, I always point to Jane for inspiration,” Murphy joked of the recent GQ cover brouhaha.
Tomlin, meanwhile, skillfully navigated an introduction intended to be read by herself and Carol Burnett —who will appear as Sue’s Nazi-hunting mother on Glee — who was scheduled to join the festivities but was a last-minute scratch due to a death in the family.
Morrison, meanwhile, noted all the reasons why Lynch is so beloved by the LGBT community.
“I realized that Jane was not being honored because she’s this huge celebrity on one of the most popular shows on television. She’s being honored because she actually deserves it,” he said, noting that Sue Sylvester would be proud that Lynch has completed AIDS Ride. “Jane Lynch is more than just a remarkable talent: she is a woman of amazing generosity.
“Unfortunately, in 2010 in Hollywood, it’s still an act of bravery for a successful actor to be out of the closet yet Jane has been out and proud since the beginning of her career,” Morrison continued. “She has always been true to herself and she has never hidden who she is. In all that Jane has done she has served as an invaluable role model — not only to the LGBT people but to anyone desiring to approach their lives with integrity and generosity and that’s a rare commodity today.”
An emotional Lynch peppered her acceptance speech with one-liners and heartfelt sentiment about what the Center’s highest honor means to her.
“I’ve been ripping off Carol Burnett and Lily Tomlin for most of my life,” joked Lynch, who noted that she’ll sing a duet with Burnett on Tuesday’s Glee. “It looked like they were having so much fun up there and I knew that that’s what I wanted to do.
“I am not an activist; I am too lazy and narcissistic. I’m an armchair warrior; I don’t have a lot of answers, but I complain a lot and that’s why I write checks to the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center,” Lynch said to laughter. “We don’t come here to hit on each other; we’re old; we’ve got some disposable income and have a great desire to help Lorri Jean work her magic.”
Other notable guests included:
• Linda Perry, who noted that her band Deep Dark Robot’s album of “dirty French garage pop” is due in March.
• Out saxophone player Dave Koz, who said his new album, Hello Tomorrow, is a sort of “musical survival guide” for these “uncertain times.”
• Queer as Folk’s Peter Paige, who recently sold a script to USA titled Hardcover, which will feature a gay character and in which he might appear. In addition, he’ll guest star on the Dec. 6 episode of The Closer, playing a gay man who’s “not a positive role model by any means.”
• Kat Graham of the CW’s The Vampire Diaries, who noted that women are drawn to the show because it’s “all about female empowerment” and they “can identify with that.”