5 min

Hinterland Who’s Who

Hot talent discovered in snowy climes

Credit: Xtra files

“Michael Jackson needs to be stopped!” Maggie Cassella is ranting.

Regarding the recent Jackson reunion special, the raspy-voiced Cassella cringes: “Oh, I couldn’t bring myself to watch. The ratings were through the roof. I couldn’t do it. I mean, come on. ‘Heal The Children’ is just one letter away from ‘Feel The Children.'”

Her spelling deficiencies don’t slow down this fun and fast talker.

“And now he’s doing this thing at Neverland where he gets his young friends over to play with water balloons because he’s just a ‘big kid.'”

If you’re not already familiar with Maggie Cassella’s work from her live comedy act, or from her numerous television appearances, just surf up and down the latest cable channels and you’ll get an earful pretty fast. It seems like she’s on all the time.

Cassella currently writes and performs a daily entertainment segment on StarTV called “Star Bites,” serves as a correspondent for Star’s live award-show specials and writes and performs a weekend segment called “Busted,” which highlights the legal ups-and-downs in the entertainment industry.

And, beginning Thu, Feb 28, she’s going to have a chance to crack the late-night nut with a weekly half-hour show on Star called Because I Said So.

“I have always been a big dyke comic since day one,” she confirms, “since 1989, when I started doing my act.” Cassella is more than thrilled to find she’s in a position in the television industry where she is allowed the freedom to be a 100 percent whole person.

“I love not feeling like I’ve got to pretend to be anybody but myself. And I love being able to be all of who I am. I don’t have to say ‘I’m a lesbian,’ or, ‘I’m not a lesbian.’ I’ve always been a dyke and my whole show comes from that perspective, from my viewpoint.

“And I’m a strong woman.”

Cassella has been working with the Because I Said So concept since ’96. By that time, her live show had evolved into a commentary on a wide variety of topics – mostly current events and entertainment happenings – and it was working.

A female radio executive caught the act in Provincetown, and wanted to groom Cassella to be the morning personality on a New Jersey radio station. “They were going to have to pay me a lot of money to move to Jersey!”

Instead, Cassella developed a daily, one-minute piece based on her live act, which she could deliver digitally through her computer.

Cassella was already doing her “Star Bite” segments when Marcia Martin, vice president and general manager of Star, went to see her live act one night.

“She had never seen it, so she’d never had the chance to see me in front of a live audience. She basically said, ‘I want some of that. I want to see you on television in front of a live audience.’

“And she hired me.”

Because I Said So will open with a commentary section, then Cassella will spend some time with the studio audience, followed by a guest segment.

Although Cassella is known as Star TV’s official ranter, she feels it’s important to find a less obvious way of creating comedy than simply making fun of people.

“There are the obvious targets, of course, but how do you rag on someone like Anne Heche, who is so crazy? I mean, she’s on Barbara Walters and she’s telling us how she’s been through all this madness but that she’s much better now. Meanwhile she’s talking to her shoulder, saying ‘Get off! Get off!’ It’s no fun making fun of that.”

Cassella once interviewed a writer named David Rakoff, who inspired her approach to interviews simply by reminding her that people are three-dimensional.

“I’ve had the opportunity to talk to all kinds of celebrities like Eartha Kitt, KD Lang, Tony Bennett… whoever. And believe me, it’s much more interesting and funny to actually get to know them, to hear what they have to say – rather than to just make fun of them.”

Longtime friend and writing partner, Lea DeLaria, will be the first guest on the show. Cassella explains that DeLaria was key in helping her get her start in show business. They have known each other a long time, they’ve worked together, and have been writing partners.

“That’s important to me, that’s what this business is all about. I respect her a lot, she’s really talented, and she also happens to be famous. She’s going to sing on the show.”

Cassella plans to book a lot of Canadian guests, but she would also like to see people like Kate Jackson or Meg Ryan on the show – if they’re interesting. She stresses that it won’t matter so much who the guest is going to be, because the focus is going to be more about what she does with the guest.

“We’ll be encouraging them to bring something or someone on the show with them. It’s not going to be like a talk show where we just promote their latest movie. That’s so boring.”

Cassella will also engage the studio audience in comedy segments, but can’t stand the thought of comparing it to something you might see on Regis And Kelly.

“If they were on crack. Maybe!”

She will test audience members’ knowledge of the Canadian entertainment industry in a game called “Wheel Of Misfortune.” Guests will spin the wheel and land on spaces with titles like “Dead or not dead” and, “Guess their God.”

On another space, “Hinterland Who’s Who,” Cassella will show a picture of a Canadian celebrity and give as many clues as possible to help audience members name the star.

She laughs, “No matter how much information we give away, nobody will be able to identify someone like Colm Feore, and that’s sad. There is so much Canadian talent, but people in this country have a hard time figuring out who’s who.”

She doesn’t for a second imagine she’ll be able to change that, but she plans to at least draw attention to it.

In a field piece, Cassella will play a character called Genie J Gemini (the J is for Juno, of course), a news reporter who goes out of her way to seek out and support the Canadian talent at an event. “This is the kind of person who would totally push right past Tom Cruise to get an interview with Cynthia Dale.”

Cassella, a US expat, has a lot of respect and love for the talent in Canada, and is making a real effort to promote it. “There’s definitely a need. And I’m grateful to Canada. I know I couldn’t have had this career in the States.

“It’s crazy how my US friends were calling me up all the time saying, ‘You have got to come down here and work on the [proposed] gay network,’ because they have no idea what it’s like here in Canada. They think the only place I’m going to be able to find work is on PrideVision.”

She’s quick to point out that she’s a subscriber and major supporter of PrideVision. “But that shouldn’t be the only place you can work if you’re an out person.”

Cassella feels that working in Canada is not like working in the US, and counts herself as lucky to be in an environment like this.

She says she is blessed to be working with a great team of people. “I love them. They allow me to be a funny, commentating, ranting, Italian, lawyer, lesbian comic.”

Because I Said So producer, Lois Bromfield, worked as one of the producers on Roseanne, and actually wrote 13 episodes for the program. “She is the most incredible producer,” says Cassella. “She is a very funny person, and I trust her.

“So if my show doesn’t work, it’s all her fault.”

* Because I Said So goes live to tape at 7:30pm on the Tuesday preceding its Thursday night broadcast. Interested audience members can reserve spaces by calling (416) 591-5280. The studio is located at 299 Queen St W.

‘Because I Said So.’

11pm. Thursdays, beginning Feb 28.