Five Burning Questions with Something Rotten! Star Brooks Ashmanskas
September 17th, 2015
by Josh Ferri
Tony nominee Brooks Ashmanskas is consistently the funniest person on stage in every show he's in. The truly gifted comedian is raking in the laughs as Brother Jeremiah, a staunch Puritan in Elizabethan England, in the hit musical Something Rotten!
Below, he talks with BroadwayBox about the show, his funny family and reuniting with Billy Porter onstage 20 years after Songs For a New World.
1. Who were your comedy icons growing up?
Mostly my family. My father and my mother were very funny and very differently funny. My brother and sister too—it was a very funny household. In fact, I often say, ‘I’m not the funny one in the family.’ That's the truth. I was the youngest and I basically just listened at the dinner table and found my wit. My dear friend Nicholas Martin, a director and teacher of mine, helped shape some of my humor as well, because I was with him my whole sort of young life. And I watched everything—every movie, every television show and every play and musical I could see when I was young—and sort of gleaned whatever I could.
Who makes you laugh now?
This business is filled with wildly funny people and I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of them. Obviously Martin Short—we can’t get through sentences together. Here at Something Rotten!, I share a dressing room with Brad Oscar and a floor with Gerry Vichi and Peter Bartlett, and all we do is laugh. It’s astonishing we are ever able to get downstairs and on stage. Then on stage, I can barely look at Brian [d’Arcy James] without laughing. There’s something molecular with certain people and I certainly have that with Brian. It’s a bunch of riches here. Heidi Blickenstaff makes me laugh and Christian. Everyone.
2. So rumor has it, when someone auditioned for The Producers, they had to tell a joke. Do you remember the joke you told?
I’ve heard that rumor before and I’m trying to remember if that actually happened to me; I don’t think it did. Thank god because I’m terrible at it. But I do remember the ‘icebreaking moment’ with Mel Brooks. I never met Mel Brooks before and I was, of course, very nervous to go in for him. He looked at my resume and said, ‘Your name. That’s quite a name. The first name I love. The last name is disgusting.’
3. When is the last time you listened to Songs For a New World?
Oh my god. Honestly? I remember we had to do a concert of some of it 10 years ago or so, and the harmonies are very intricate so I had to listen to some of the group stuff then, just for my own good. Although, I feel like there are one or two times when the phone is on shuffle and the opening number will come on and I’ll start to cry. That show was literally 20 years ago right now.
4. Brother Jeremiah is quite pious. What or who can get you all riled up on your soapbox?
The easy answer is the Republican primary situation—and I’m not just talking about Donald Trump. They just push button after button in me. Anything on the injustice front, like bigotry or racism happening, or even an unfair moment at the grocery store immediately pushes a button in me and I’ll put an end to it. I used to not be as vocal about certain things that may piss me off but now I’m too old. I don’t have time; I need to lose weight, I need a cigarette and a drink and to sit down, and if you get in the way of that, look out.
5. What excites you about Shuffle Along and the character you’re playing?
What excites me about the project is literally just about everything. I’m not kidding around. I’m so honored to have access to the room. Just to be working with that caliber of cast is humbling. I love what the show is in reference to, and I love what George Wolfe has done with reference to black history in this business. I think it’s epic and it’s fantastic, and I thought so the minute I read it. As far my character, I play a number of characters—actually all the white characters. Some of them are what you think they will be (a little racist or obstructing the black characters’ journey), and the great thing about this script, selfishly speaking, is that there are also some great, wonderful, helpful people that really existed that helped these characters along their way. It’s really juicy and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into it, honestly.
See Brooks Ashmanskas slay in 'Something Rotten!' at Broadway's St. James Theatre.