.] Oh man, I’m not dumb enough to answer that question.
You don’t believe in yourself enough to risk losing $200?
Oh, I believe in myself. But I would never have even bet on myself to get a Tony nomination in the first place, much less win anything. So in a way, I’m already way out of my league here. I’m just happy to be included in the party.
I heard that as a teenager you were something of a debate prodigy. Is that true?
I don’t know if I’d call myself a prodigy, but I was a big forensics competitor in high school, and then during college I spent some time working at speech and debate camps as a coach.
Is that an instinct that never really disappears? Do you ever find yourself getting into arguments with friends or strangers not because you actually care about the topic but just because you want to crush them?
Oh absolutely. All the time. It’s like a recessive gene. It just pops out when you least expect or want it to. One minute I’ll be fine, and then all of a sudden I shift into automated attack mode, arguing with people for no good reason. I was at an Oscar party this year and I got into a huge debate about the movie Titanic, arguing pretty violently that it deserved to win Best Picture. I would not back down.
What’s your technique? Can you give us some tips on successful debating?
I just try to use a person’s flawed logic against them. You have to pay attention and really listen to what the other person is saying and build your case.
Let’s do a sample debate. I’ll start with something like, “I think Paul Revere rode his horse through Boston while ringing a bell to warn the British that the colonials were getting ready to fight.” Tell me why I’m wrong.
I think you’re an idiot.
Okay, interesting point. Wait, that’s it? That’s your whole argument?
That’s it. There’s really nothing more to prove. You say something like that, you’re an idiot.
Well, what if I came back and said, “Wikipedia says it’s true?”
Oh, oh, okay, that’s a different story. If Wikipedia said it’s true than there’s absolutely no loopholes to your argument and I believe you. I would just lay down. There’s no way to combat that because Wikipedia is never wrong.
I assume you and the rest of the Book of Mormon cast are performing at the Tonys. Have you picked a song yet?
Right now, we’re performing a song called “I Believe,” which is an incredibly ballad that Elder Price sings. It’s gonna be awesome and it’ll bring down the house.
I was kinda hoping for “Hasa Diga Eebowai.”
I think if we did that song, it’d be the end of the Tonys for CBS.
And probably the end of the Tonys in general.
Yes, exactly. This would be the last year for the awards. No more Tonys because we sang that song. It’s that powerful.
There are a lot of people in Middle America who already assume Broadway is run by a Jewish homosexual cabal. It isn’t going to help matters if they tune in for the Tonys and see a Lion King-style sing-a-long with lyrics like, “Fuck you, God, in the ass, mouth and cunt.”
It certainly wouldn’t help the cause. But now that you mention it, I do have to agree that “Hasa Diga Eebowai” is kind of the perfect representation of what our show is all about. It shows a people who’s faith is very much at odds with their reality. It’s so brilliantly done because of the juxtaposition of Disney sweetness mixed with jaw-dropping vulgarity.
Are you religious at all? I think you were raised Jewish, but are you still practicing?
No. I consider myself a traditionalist. I really love the traditional aspects of Judaism. My wife is born and raised a Catholic and I enjoy celebrating those rituals as well. I am very spiritual but not in any way religious, no.
When you’re doing a show that’s so aggressively and giddily blasphemous, does it ever make you nervous?
How do you mean?
Well, my grandmother wasn’t religious, but she’d pray every night anyway “just to be on the safe side.” So you’re in a show that basically tells God to go fuck Himself. When you’re in bed at night, do you sneak in a quick prayer and apology, just to stay on His good side, in the off-chance that He exists?
Oh yeah, all the time. I feel like he’s smiting me right now with this bacterial infection.
That’s your plague of locusts.
A plague of locusts in my throat. So I pray and I tell Him, “Listen, Sir, I was hoping this was obvious, but it’s just a joke, and we don’t mean any of it.” No, in all seriousness, the show kind of does that for us. It actually does have a pro-faith message. While it raises some blasphemous questions, it presents a side of religion that is very sympathetic and sweet.
And also kinda silly and moronic. But you’re right, it reaches the conclusion that as long as religion makes people nicer and kinder to each other, where’s the harm? Do you agree with that philosophy? Are those your personal feelings about religion?
I do think that’s a large part of it. Religion is interesting because it brings out the best and the worst in humanity. It can be a source of good deeds, whether it’s people from different spiritual backgrounds coming together to help other people in need after a crisis. But it’s also a cause for war and bloodshed. There are 5000-plus faiths saying, “I’m right and you’re wrong, and God is on my side so I can do whatever I want.”
That’s spiritual hubris that’ll inspire someone to make death threats to a pair of Comedy Central cartoonists because they drew a picture of your prophet in a bear costume.
Yes it is! I can’t tell you how grateful I am that Trey and Matt decided to go after Mormons this time and not, you know….
It’s probably best if we don’t mention any names.
Thank you. I wasn’t going to be the first to say it. I prefer to talk about Mormons. Mormons are a far more accepting religion. You’re not going to get a death threat from a Mormon.
You will never see a Mormon beheading anybody on the Internet.
Would never happen. They are truly the nicest, happiest people I’ve ever met. I have a few Mormon friends, and they were probably more excited about the show than anybody else. And that is the brilliance of the Mormon faith. In a way, this show is a celebration of that kind-hearted essence.
So let’s say you get the Tony on Sunday, and you’re a superstar and everybody knows your name. Do you stay in New York and keep doing theater, or are you heading back to Hollywood?
With or without the Tony, if Broadway wanted me to stay, that would be amazing. Being in this show has been one of the most rewarding creative experiences I’ve ever had in my life. But that said, my bank account wants to go back to Hollywood.
I was actually referring to your home town of Hollywood, Florida.
.] No, I don’t think I’ll be doing that. Hollywood has already gotten enough attention over the years, with the 2000 election and Elián González and the corrupt police and all the other mishaps that seem to fall on that particular spot on the map. I think my hometown has had enough unwanted attention.
You studied acting at Carnegie Mellon but were never enrolled in their music program, right?
That is correct. I was trained as a straight dramatist.
So when you win the Tony for best actor in a musical this Sunday, will you point out that irony in your acceptance speech?
If I win Tony. If.
Come on, Josh. Just say it with me. “I’m going to win a Tony.”
Not going to happen.
Okay, fine. If you win the Tony… do you feel like you’re setting a good example for kids with show business dreams? A Tony win by you basically says “If you want to make it on Broadway, avoid formal training.”
Absolutely. I think that’s the one thing I would want people to take away from The Book of Mormon. Forget the Tony, just the fact that I got cast in this show at all. I want to think there’s some engineer watching the Tonys at home and thinking to himself, “So it’s that easy? Mama Mia, here I come!”
There’s a song in the second act of Book of Mormon called “I Am Africa,” where you do a fantastic impression of Bono. Has he seen it yet?
Bono? No, not yet. But the Edge was at a matinee.
What did he think?
I think he enjoyed it. I’m not really sure.
Because he’s the Edge and he has no recognizable facial expressions?
I think that’s part of it. I saw him in the audience and I almost had a heart attack. I was bracing for him to come back and tell me exactly what he thought of my Bono and how much he hated it, but he just left after the show. Which may’ve been the best thing that ever happened to me.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com.)