Glee Gone Wild: Rolling Stone's 2010 Cover Story

Beneath the show's sunny exterior beats a heart of darkness

May 20, 2011 1:30 PM ET
Glee Gone Wild: Rolling Stone's 2010 Cover Story
Mark Seliger

You'd really think that those kids on Glee would be super-duper extra-special entertaining. On TV, they're dizzyingly fun to watch. They sing. They dance. They lace their bake-sale cupcakes with weed. They get involved in extortion plots involving their panties. They wind up pregnant, even when they're president of the celibacy club. The show is crazy and camp and has done so well that Fox airs it in one of the most coveted time slots in all of TV: right after American Idol, the very show that paved the way for Glee in the first place. Plus, after only 13 episodes, it has already become a kind of multimedia cash cow. Sales of the songs it covers (among them, Destiny's Child's "Bootylicious," John Lennon's "Imagine" and Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'") regularly take the top spots on iTunes. Its first two albums became instant bestsellers. And the upcoming national Glee tour is already selling out. As one TV analyst recently observed, "It's a merchandising bonanza!"

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Naturally, this thrills everyone involved to no end, though perhaps no one more than the show's executive producer and co-creator, Ryan Murphy. You might have heard of Murphy. He's the great gay shaved-head zeitgeist-riding genius of weird TV. Nip/Tuck's 100-episode run starting in 2003 was his deal. Then, in 2008, Murphy got hold of some dark script about high school Glee clubs, saw the potential in it for something else altogether, pitched it to Fox, got the go-ahead, hired lots of unknowns for the major roles, and then successfully navigated the puzzled Fox execs who, upon seeing the pilot, could only say, according to Murphy, "What the hell is this? I don't know what this is. I want to go jump out a window!" Since then, the show has won Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards, developed a rabid online fan base comprised of self-called Gleeks, and had Amy Winehouse opine, "It's funny shit!"

This article appeared in the April 15, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone. The issue is available in the online archive.

As luck would have it, we wound up in Murphy's company just the other night, outside the luxe Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood. Over a glass of wine and a steak, the 44-year-old proves to be quite a colorful and amusing fellow. He starts by saying a few words about his childhood in Indianapolis. Turns out that in grade school he desperately wanted nothing more than to become the pope. "I liked church and was obsessed with the Crucifixion and leprosy and the pope," he says. "I would stand in church with my arms spread for an hour, doing penance for my sins because you can't be the pope if you sin. The nuns told my parents there was something wrong with me." By the time he turned 14, Murphy had ditched his pope fixation in favor of drinking, doing drugs and having sex with guys who were much older than him. His first sexual experience, however, had taken place six years earlier: "When I was eight, a 16-year-old football player molested me. He was popular, and it was very innocent. I felt like Lolita in some way, like I wanted it. It wasn't terrible. I've always known I was gay. In high school, I felt loved. It was weird. I was a hell-raiser. But I was happy."

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Murphy goes on to explain what he thinks Glee is about. The plot of the show revolves around high school Spanish teacher Will Schuester (played by Broadway veteran Matthew Morrison), who takes over a pathetic Glee club filled with pathetic losers and tries to whip them into competition-worthy shape, despite the evil best efforts of nemesis Sue Sylvester, the cheerleading coach (played by the queen of kooky snark, Jane Lynch) who fears the club will steal all the glory away from her beloved Cheerios squad. "But you know what it really is?" says Murphy. "It's four acts of darkness that take a turn and have two acts of sweetness. It's about there being great joy to being different, and great pain. With Nip/Tuck, I'd written so much about anal sex and crystal-meth addiction that with this show I was adamant about 'Let's give people a warm moment. Let's give people a happy ending.'"

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