Metro Weekly

Jim J. Bullock was playing gay on TV long before networks acknowledged it

On coming out: "I hid it for so long, it just got tiring"

Jim J. Bullock

Jim J. Bullock

“There’s no black and white answer. They did not want Monroe gay. They were not going, ‘We need a gay character here.'” And yet, in Jim J. Bullock’s mind, Monroe Ficus — the irritating thorn in Ted Knight’s side on Too Close for Comfortwas a gay man. “You knew,” he says of the character he created. “You just knew.”

The 61-year-old actor sighs. “I so wish that show had balls,” he says. The hit sitcom ran on ABC for four seasons, starting in 1980, and in first-run syndication for another two. “I wish they had gone, ‘We’re going to make some TV history here.” Instead, they gave Monroe a girlfriend. “It was really just putting a Band-Aid over a severed artery,” says Bullock. “She was there for one season.”

Bullock is currently in the touring production of Kinky Boots, in which he plays — with several hilarious, bring-the-house-down exclamation marks — shoe factory manager George. “I’m honored to be a part of it,” he says. “Broadway tours don’t come along very often for me.” Bullock’s career has been varied, and has included everything from starring on Hollywood Squares to playing Prince Valium in Spaceballs to co-hosting a 1996 talk show with ex-televangelist Tammy Faye Messner.

“I have nothing but good to say about Tammy,” he says. “She was an incredibly caring, loving, giving person. She was maybe not tethered to the Earth all that well, but her heart was as big as Texas.” Yet, working on the talk show was one of the more “frustrating experiences” of Bullock’s career.

“The company that produced it didn’t have the courage to let it be what it was. They never let us be ourselves. They said, ‘Tammy, don’t cry and talk about Jesus so much. And Jim, you’re being too gay. Don’t be quite so flamboyant.’ I was like, ‘Oh, my god, what’s wrong with you people?'”

Though Bullock is now comfortably out, it wasn’t always that way. “I didn’t want to lose my job,” he says of the early days. “I was hiding. There were two me’s — one was on the prowl at night, having my back alley sex, and the other was just Jim J. It was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Kinky Boots National Touring Company. Jim J. Bullock (center) - Photo: by Matthew Murphy

Kinky Boots National Touring Company. Jim J. Bullock (center) – Photo: by Matthew Murphy

“I hid it for so long, it just got tiring,” he says of his decision to come out. “It was just tripping over lies. My publicist was like, ‘Which girlfriend did we use last time?’ I’ve never been a good liar, and I don’t like living in lies. I’m much much happier now that I found my own truths.”

Kinky Boots closes Sunday, July 10. At the Kennedy Center Opera House. Tickets are $25 to $199. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.

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Randy Shulman is Metro Weekly's Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. He can be reached at rshulman@metroweekly.com.