The actor discusses LGBTQ Pride month, Universal Studios, and how he survives long plane rides.
The star of Netflix hit series “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” joined Marriott International this week at Washington D.C’s Freedom Plaza to unveil the #LoveTravels Mosaic, a giant art installation of paintings, doodles, photographs, and hand-written notes bearing expressions of unconditional acceptance and love. The event was held to raise awareness and support for LGBTQ homeless youth. Burgess spoke to Travel + Leisure about becoming a household name, his favorite fan girl moments, and the importance of celebrating Pride.
How does it feel being a role model for young LGBTQ men of color?
“When I was coming out, I didn’t have one person who looks like me. Out, gay, black man who wasn’t so unabashedly himself. I get a lot of tweets, direct messages, and Facebook messages from young people who are struggling with trying to find their place in the world, trying to come out to their parents, trying to grapple with their sexuality.
When I first started Kimmy Schmidt, all that was important to me was going to work and doing my job and all of a sudden there is this other thing that comes with it that I didn’t factor in because I’m just going to work and saying some lines and trying to be funny. But I’ve had so many African American males come up to me and say ‘thanks to you, I see me” and I don’t take it lightly.
Not to say that my moves are calculated, but I’m just trying to promote being myself, trying to promote love, inclusivity, and the importance of connecting."
Do you celebrate Pride differently now than you did after first coming out?
“When I first came out, I certainly did not feel Pride was for me, that I was being celebrated. Pride looked like a sea of white people and I couldn’t find myself. My struggle was with navigating where I fit in within the landscape, but now I no longer feel that way. It’s Pride every day and every month for me. It’s not just in June.”
What do you like about traveling?
“I hate traveling. Like, I despise it. It’s very taxing for me. It just stresses me out in a way that nothing else does. I’d rather go to the ER.”
How do you make travel less stressful? Do your bring anything with you on every trip?
“I have my rain apps. I love the rain. I should probably live in Seattle. When I get on the plane, I pop on my headphones and I’ll literally listen to rain for the entire flight until I get to sleep. I use the Rain Rain app.
My goal is to always be asleep on a plane. I don’t want to wake up during a six-hour flight. Most of my travel is between New York and Los Angeles, so I purposely don’t drink water or coffee hours before my flight. I just want to wake up and be where I’m going.”
Do you like to travel anywhere for fun? For vacation?
"I feel like I’m the most boring interview subject, because no. I'm desirous of being at home with my dogs and my boyfriend [and] that we don’t really go anywhere. Although we just went to Universal Studios a couple days ago and that was fun."
Did you go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter?
“Here’s another boring point: I’ve never seen any of the Harry Potter films.”
What entertains you though?
“I cook and I make all of my friends come over. My friends are very talented and I sit at my gorgeous grand piano and I make them sing for me. And we watch TV. As boring as it sounds, I treasure it.”
What did you do at Universal Studios?
“I love roller coasters. I can’t do the big drops, but I’m all about speed. I went to Volcano Bay, the new water park, and that was fun. I looooove waterparks. I like to put on my sunglasses and be as anonymous as I can possibly be and have a great time.”
Is it increasingly difficult to be anonymous?
“It is, and I’ve read articles about how celebrities suddenly turn into mean people, and while I would never do that, I certainly understand how it comes to be that way. Your privacy decreases. It becomes more difficult. But listen, if these people weren’t watching, I wouldn’t be talking to you.”
Have you had any bad occurrences with fans? How did you handle it?
“Because my character’s name is Titus (Andromedon) on the show, they call out to me with a certain familiarity which sometimes tricks me because I’m, like, 'Wait, do I know this person? Have I forgotten?' Not to be disrespectful, but mostly it is navigated by their enthusiasm, juxtaposed to what I have to do in that moment. Some are easier to facilitate than others. But I try to accommodate because I too fan girl out over celebrities, so I get it.”
Who do you fan girl over?
“My fandom is a little different. I fan girl over Renee Fleming. She is faaabulous. And I also fan girl over Stephen Sondheim.”