Why go the choose-your-own-adventure route?
The tone with which I speak doesn’t lend itself to pathos and heartfelt life lessons and morals. It tends to be more glib. I couldn’t wrap my head around how to make a memoir not indulgent. There was no internal drama on the set of How I Met Your Mother. You don’t want to tell how great it all was, how much we got along — that’s a relatively dull tale. I wanted to have choices where one choice was what really happened next and the other was a fictionalized, hyperreal choice. If you choose to go on a boat with Elton John, then go to this page. If you choose to hijack the boat, it turns out you get attacked by pirates and go over a giant waterfall to your death.
In one ending, you get stuck in quicksand and not even Joss Whedon can save you. But the worst alternate reality of all seems to be where bald, middle-aged Neil Patrick Harris slices meats at Schlotzky’s and watches Dustin Diamond play Barney Stinson on HIMYM. Is that truly the worst-case scenario?
I like that actual choose-your-own-adventures are wrought with death. You could be mauled by wolves…the end! But yes, working for the rest of your life at Schlotzky’s — although delicious! — not my favorite way to end my life.
Gimmicks aside, we still get plenty of straight-up memoir: your coming-out story, how you started a family with your husband, David Burtka.
There’s a lot of interesting minutiae in how the Tony Awards number from last year came together. Or what measures we had to take with the surrogacy process and live to tell about it. There’s a lot of factual information peppered with experiences I’ve had. This book will be effective for me when I’m old and super senile! But there are also things like Twitter feeds and a wicked Old Fashioned recipe. If you learn nothing from the book, you can still get wasted!
You have a packed schedule. Were you ever working on this book while applying glitter as Hedwig, or on set for Gone Girl?
I had to do a fair amount of the initial writing while I was wearing a mustache filming Seth MacFarlane’s movie [A Million Ways to Die in the West] in Santa Fe. That was strange, to be in Western wear recounting my days as [Doogie Howser, M.D.]. It was a little schizophrenic.
What have you been reading lately?
I read Gone Girl, which sounds like I’m pimping the film. I read an unauthorized history of punk rock because I had just finished doing Hedwig — I tend to read books that are specific to where my brain is at the moment. I’ve actually been reading a lot of Roald Dahl lately. I think it’s because I have kids of my own now. I’m rereading James and the Giant Peach and Matilda and Danny the Champion of the World. His tone is intelligent and wry and a little bit dark — what I respond to.
You devoted an amazing chapter to your 40th birthday, when David made a scavenger hunt across America that took you to your hometown, Broadway, and Cinderella’s castle, kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure come to life.
I wished it could never end. Someday I’ll live a life where I have a team of sniper people traveling ahead of me and telling waiters to hand me envelopes with a clue to my new adventure. That would be a great life to live.