"It's a phase! It's a phase! It's a phase!" yells Jim J. Bullock excitedly as he reminisces about growing up as a Texas teenager, denying his attraction to guys, yet secretly cruising underwear-clad men as he anxiously thumbed through pages of the Sears catalogue. He ripples with laughter as we sit in his tastefully decorated West Hollywood leased corner condo—a home both tidy and comfy-cozy.
Bullock, forty-four, was raised Southern Baptist and believed that all homosexuals had been killed in Sodom and Gomorrah. "I really didn't know that any existed. I just knew I could really relate well to people like Dr. Smith from Lost in Space, although he's apparently not [gay]. But I related to his effeminiate side, as I did with Paul Lynde." Not surprisingly, Bullock has been called "the Paul Lynde of the nineties." He's even sat in effervescent Lynde's old spot: the center square on TV's Hollywood Squares. How does he feel about this comparison? "I take it as a compliment. I liked Lynde's comedic ability. I never had the chance to meet him, but watched him from the catwalks one time. He was tortured because he wanted the opportunity to show the other side of Paul Lynde, and never got to.
As he smokes a cigarette and sips a Diet Coke, Bullock is much like his television persona—fresh, bright, and straightforward. He is tanned, wth short-cropped hair, wearing glasses. His black jeans and knit shirt frame a solid build. He admits to working out not for health reasons, but for vanity. And Bullock has been HIV-positive since 1985.
Back then, being positive was a virtual death sentence. Curiously, Bullock never thought about dying, at least not right away. When he received his test results, he asked the doctor, "Positive? That's a good thing, right?" He fully didn't comprehend the diagnosis until it was explained to him. Nine months later, when the reality of his situation set in, he went through a two week "I'm-going-to-die" depression. But he realized that yes, like everyone else in the world, he was going to die, maybe from AIDS, maybe from a car accident, or whatever. "I think part of the blessing of my life, and of being who I am, is that I never sit still long enough to really let anything soak in. There's resilience to that. There's also a downside because you keep making the same mistakes over and over. You don't allow yourself to learn from them the first time. And I think attitude does have a great deal to do with one's mental and physical health and their whole outlook on life. People say I have lived with such courage over the past fifteen years. I don't think of it as courage."
Bullock has never taken AIDS meds. In five percent of the population who contract the AIDS virus, it lies there dormant. Bullock apparently falls into this category. His T-cells are above average, his viral load is undetectable, and he has never had an opportunisitc infection. He comments on being interviewed about AIDS. "I feel like a rich person talking about how sad it is to be poor. I feel so rich with health. I can't relate to what it's like to take seventy-two pills a day. I've seen it. I've lived with it. But I don't know what it's like for every pill you put in your mouth to act as a reinforcement of death."
For many years, Bullock was in the closet, hiding his sexuality and his HIV status. He disclosed his sexuality to his parents in 1990, even though his mother had questioned him in the past. "It's kind of baffling to me that I had to tell them—Hel-lo?" Then in 1994, he told them he was HIV-positive. "For many years I didn't think that it was really any concern of theirs, and what good would it do to tell them. It's not going to change the situation. And I'm not sick, and it would have just caused them to worry, and I didn't want that," he says. What motivated Bullock to share this information was an inner peace he was discovering. "I came to a place where I wasn't ashamed of it anymore. I walked around with shame for a long time, feeling that I had done something wrong. I realized that it was nothing that I did wrong, it wasn't my fault." He reasoned, "My friend Alaine has cancer. Is she ashamed? No. She didn't do anything to get cancer." Bullock gets more comfortable and leans back against the high-winged pillow sofa with one leg under the other and continues. "Then I had this whole thing about what if people find out, I'll never work again, and all that shit."
Bullock led a double life, keeping his sexuality quiet—especially during the run of the sitcom Too Close for Comfort where Bullock portrayed Ted Knight's zany, bubbly sidekick Monroe. Growing weary of the Rock Hudson-ish shuttered lifestyle, Bullock slowly began to pop his head out of the closet during his stint on Hollywood Squares (1987-1989). Rick Rosner, the executive producer, would often pull Bullock aside saying, "Jim, there's a real fine line, and you're crossing it." Bullock would ask, "What line are you talking about? Are you talking about being gay, and people knowing I'm gay?" "Yea." "Then, Rick, if I cross that line, I cross that line. I'm just being who I am." Rick responded, "Well, I'm just telling you this because it can come back to haunt you later in your career."
Unfazed, Bullock forged ahead, and in 1990, on The Joan Rivers Show, he admitted he was gay. "It was not planned. I just vomited it," he says, motioning toward his mouth as if he is about to gag. "Everyone knew I was a big queen from the very beginning, so what difference did it make? All that [secrecy] for nothing."
Bullock's lover of six years, John, died of AIDS. It was the first time he had ever experienced a death so close to his heart. "After John died, I was lost. I really was lost. I've never known loss like that. I had become blank. I didn't know what I was doing, or where I was going—it was really an awful period." It was like waking up from a deep sleep hoping that it was all a dream—but it wasn't. And the timing was brutal. The Jim J. and Tammy Faye Show had just begun its treacherous six-month run in syndication. The show was abruptly cancelled and it never aired in markets like Los Angeles or New York.
The chemistry between Bullock and Bakker was magnetic, but it fell into the wrong hands. "This very conservative company didn't have the balls to allow it to be what it was," he says. The producers tried to restrain Bullock to protect their investment, assuring him that once the show sold, he could be himself. "They kept saying, 'Tammy, pull back, be more like Kathie Lee,' or 'Bullock, stop that, be more like Mike Burger.' It was a very frustrating experience for both Tammy and I, and we both really gave one hundred percent for nothing. I'm glad I had it. I learned a lot. It really made me realize that most of the people in this business who are in the position of making decisions with the money, don't know shit! And that's why I have this great admiration for people like Roseanne who knows who she is. She knows herself, and she tells those people to go fuck themselves: 'This is who I am, this is what I bring to the table. Do you want it? If you don't, then let's find something else.' I didn't have that confidence at the time. Of course it also helps to have the bankability so that you can walk away." At Bullock's entrance-way, there are a striking pair of wall-size Warhol-ish paintings of him and Tammy Faye hanging on the wall.
Bullock became enraptured with performing when he was a church soloist in his youth. Although he set out to be an evangelistic singer and received a scholarship to Oklahoma Baptist University, he had a change of heart when he was cast in the musical Godspell. After moving to Los Angeles in 1977, he performed stand up at the local comedy clubs. "Every time I did it, I just walked off the stage going, 'I really hate this, but stick to it, stick to it.' And I did stick to it because I just had this innate sense that something was going to come from this." Bullock was fortunate to have a caring agent, as well as Mitzi Shore, owner of the The Comedy Store, nurture his talent.
Currently, Bullock lives with a cat, Ethel, has a boyfriend, Randy, and is soaring in a brand new show, Howard Crabtree's When Pigs Fly, a silly, cute, very gay musical at the historic Coronet Theatre in West Hollywood. Any future plans? After a moment's silence, Bullock clears his throat, looks dead-on with a wide-eyed expression, shakes his head and spits out, "Nothing!" as he tears into laughter. "I am not going to bullshit," he says as he dons an upper-crust British accent with a hurried speech, "Oh, well, you know. I've got to get going to Spa-go because I've got to meet a producer!" He turns off the accent and immediately states in a serious tone, "I'm not good at that. I don't have anything in the works. I don't know what's next. I really don't."
After John's death and the cancellation of The Jim J. and Tammy Faye Show, Bullock pulled out of his career and took time off. "I went through this kind of Agnes-Gooch-myself-through-life and live! I wanted to experience all the things that I didn't growing up, and I did. The nineties have been a lot harder for me than the eighties. The eighties were like this blessed decade," he says reflecting. "But in the nineties, I have lived, and grown, and experienced life. I'm coming out of a party phase in my life, which I went through and enjoyed immensley. I got in trouble with some drug stuff during that time [he was arrested]. But you know what? I don't regret any of it. I had a ball. And there were some awful times too. But I've survived it. And When Pigs Fly is an opportunity for me to come back to work and say, 'I'm not dead, I don't have AIDS. I'm not a drug addict, I can work, I'm here—and it's not a phase!'"