QVC gave Cole Escola his first break.
The 30-year-old comedian and cabaret regular, who will be stealing scenes for a third season on Hulu’s “Difficult People” starting Tuesday, began phoning into the channel from his home in Oregon when he was 12 to give testimonials.
“I would call in all the time and pretend I was my mom and review carpet cleaning product,” Escola says in his Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, apartment. “That started my career of playing middle-aged women.”
Escola plays a man on the Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner project, a zany waiter named Matthew who will be busy this season dressing up in “ridiculous outfits,” dealing with tragedy and acting opposite his ex-wife Trish (Vanessa Williams).
But the actor, who was forced to play romantic leads in high school musicals — like Marius in “Les Mis” and Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors” — feels most comfortable playing women.
He plays many in “Help, I’m Stuck,” his one-man sketch comedy show at Joe’s Pub, where he first got his feet wet in cabaret with “Our Hit Parade.” Escola has sold out several shows this summer, and on Aug. 18 he’ll again transform into a series of eccentric characters like The Woman Who Just Woke Up, Front Porch Girl and The Goblin Commuter of Hoboken.
Escola named the show after he made the poster, which shows his face slapped on each figure in Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom From Want.”
“I’m stuck in the painting, I’m stuck as these characters in the show, and my therapist would probably say I’m stuck as well,” he says.
Escola, who takes cues from Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in his brand of absurd, campy comedy, feels most in his wheelhouse doing sketch shows, though he has more recently done rounds in the city’s standup comedy scene.
“When people are watching stand-up and I come out and I’m a prairie woman doing a monologue about the Oregon Trail, it doesn’t go off as well,” he says.
Escola, who moved to New York when he was 18 to chase an ex-boyfriend, was raised by a single mom in Clatskanie, Ore. He remembers feeling isolated while growing up.
“I just always wanted to get out, you know?” Escola says. “I sort of felt like I was waiting to be an adult the whole time, and it’s exactly as good as I expected.”
Some of Escola’s adult hobbies include cooking vegan meals and crocheting in his kitschy, impeccably decorated one-bedroom apartment.
“All I do is watch Turner Classic Movies and crochet,” says Escola, who is working on a blanket he says he’ll finish in December.
Escola turned to crocheting after he spent too many hours scrolling on Twitter, where his darkly funny tweets are a hit: “This thing kept happening where I’d look down at my phone and then I’d look up and I’d be sitting in the dark because the sun had set.”
The comedian hopes he’ll be blocked on the site by President Trump, whose tweets he occasionally responds to.
“I feel like more than anything, Twitter trolls get to him,” Escola says. “He’s probably more affected by someone retweeting an unflattering photo of him.”
Up next for Escola are more “Help, I’m Stuck” shows, which he’ll also take on the road to Philadelphia and Los Angeles. He says he can’t see himself moving to LA.
“I like the sort of hermetic lifestyle of New York, where I can just leave my shell for five minutes, gather all the junk that I need and not have to go outside for another 10 days,” he says.
He’ll also star alongside one of his inspirations on “At Home with Amy Sedaris” on TruTV, where he plays a female neighbor “who gets hired on her show through mysterious circumstances.”
“It’s not clear what my job is on the show but I always show up and I’m always asking for a day off.”
Meanwhile, the actor will keep studying his muses, especially Crawford, whose audiobook “My Way of Life” he’s been listening to before bed.
“It’s five hours long, so it’s perfect to fall asleep to because I like falling asleep to things knowing they won’t end before I fall asleep,” Escola says. “Again, I’m working on that in therapy. I’m getting a lot of inspiration from that — what a miserable life she had.”
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