Daniel Franzese on Mean Girls and Discovering His Queerness Through Miami's Drag Scene

Comedian Daniel Franzese is best known for his role as Daniel in Mean Girls.
Comedian Daniel Franzese is best known for his role as Daniel in Mean Girls. Sergio Garcia
"You go, Glen Coco!"

Try reading that out loud without imagining the scene from Mean Girls. It's a goofy-ass, one-off line that took on a life of its own and remains a pop-culture pep talk 15 years after the release of the Tina Fey-penned teen film.

The movie is still remarkably relatable and excessively quotable, and with Ariana Grande devoting the music video for her first number one single "Thank U, Next" to an homage to the film, it doesn't look like its ubiquity will change anytime soon.

For Daniel Franzese, who played Damian and helped elevate the "gay best friend" trope with his portrayal of the character, the popularity and significance of his role have been both surprising and moving.

"I knew the movie was very funny while we were making it, but I didn’t understand the cultural significance and impact that it would have, especially that my character would have," says Franzese, whose nationwide standup comedy tour, Yass! You're Amazing!, is set to hit Miami this weekend. "My character was basically the first gay teen of size to be shown in a movie where he was pushed in the hallway or beat up, and I think that had a really big impact on a lot of kids, to see themselves represented and feel like they saw themselves onscreen."

He still receives fan mail from people who say the character helped them feel accepted in their schools and their towns. According to Franzese, that positive affirmation from fans played a major role in empowering him to come out in 2014, ten years after the film premiered. 

"I’ve gotten so many letters and variations of that, of people who felt like they were able to feel accepted, of girls who could tell their moms, ‘Oh, he’s just a Damian,’ and all of a sudden chubby gay kids were allowed to come over for dinner in Texas. I just think that it had a cultural significance that was unexpected for me, and I’m very grateful and honored to have shepherded that and continue to try to be a leader for people in the LGBTQ community."

Since his turn as Lindsay Lohan's sagacious gay classmate, Franzese has become an activist for the LGBTQ community, from taking on roles that represent the underrepresented to working as an ambassador with the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. Most recently, he launched a night at L.A.'s famed Comedy Store dedicated to presenting LGBTQ performers and allies. Naturally, it's called House of Glen Coco.

"I think, What else can I do in my life that is legacy work, something that makes a difference and pushes things forward? And that’s one of the reasons I love doing standup so much," Franzese explains, "because I get to drive my own narrative and have a great time performing."

Franzese's standup career began right around the time he came out. It was something he'd wanted to do for a long time, but he was concerned his performance would lack honesty and authenticity before he came out. Since then, he says, he's found and defined his voice as a comic and he couldn't be more excited to bring that voice to Miami.

"I try to come to South Florida at least once a month. I love it here, all my family is here, and I want to buy here one day. When I have children, I’d love to raise them here. I really feel like South Florida is a hometown for me," he says. "I’m trying to do more and more standup down here. I love working in South Florida. I’d love to have a play that I do every Christmastime or something — a reason to come down. It’d be great."

In second grade, Franzese moved with his family to Sunrise and lived there through high school. He then attended art school just outside Gainesville. He says his Florida upbringing helped him come to understand himself and his sexuality.

"Miami is the drag scene that first got me to fall in love with drag," he notes. "In my early 20s, I was friends with Electra and Daisy Deadpetals and TP Lords and Latrice Royale and a lot of the other queens down here. I’m a show person, so I’m immediately attracted to other people in show business. I think that drag queens actually helped me understand gay clubs before I came out and was just starting to discover myself."

The relationship with the drag world that began in Miami has blossomed into a major part of Franzese's career. He has worked with RuPaul on the past two years of DragCon in New York City, and next month, he'll host panels at DragWorld in London, Europe's largest drag convention.

"I think drag queens are an incredible mascot for our community," he says. "They’re our entertainers; they’re our concierges; they’re the ones that let you know how to get a free drink or let you know about the guy you think is cute or what to do tomorrow if you’re from out of town. They’re just these great ambassadors to our community, and I’ve always thought that, and I think that all started in South Florida for me."

Daniel Franzese. 8 p.m. Saturday, August 3, at Open Stage Club, 2325 Galiano St., Coral Gables; 305-441-7902. Tickets cost $15 to $24 via eventbrite.com.
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Travis Cohen is a writer for Miami New Times and covers subjects ranging from arts and architecture to marijuana and monkeys with herpes. He graduated with honors from Vanderbilt University with a bachelor's degree in English in 2012 and began working with New Times shortly thereafter. He was born and raised in Miami.