“I never enjoyed pinot noir or had it as much as I’ve had it in the last year,” Tituss Burgess tells ETonline about the variety of red wine that has become synonymous with his breakout Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt character, Titus Andromedon, thanks to his viral hit song, “Peeno Noir,” which just so happens to be “an ode to black penis.”
“Every time I would go out to dinner or the bar, I would inevitably be sent a complimentary glass of wine or bottle of pinot noir," he says.
One year after the Tina Fey-produced series became a hit on Netflix -- earning Burgess an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series -- and over 1.4 million views of “Peeno Noir” on YouTube, the actor embraced a joke than fans have latched onto with the launch of Pinot by Tituss.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a website appeared with Burgess cheekily pouring wine over a continuous loop, asking customers to click “yassss” if they are 21 and over to buy a bottle of pinot noir priced at $24.99. The reaction was immediate, with Burgess trending on social media the day of the launch.
And his timing could not be better.
Burgess has developed something of a cult following for his turn as Titus Andromedon, a flamboyant, would-be Broadway star who takes in Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper), a recently freed Indiana Mole Woman, as his roommate. Undeterred by failed auditions, the aspiring entertainer stages his own unsanctioned, one-man, Off-Off Broadway production of The Lion King and sings about... well, you know. (Season two, Burgess says, will see his character exploring relationships, bringing out feelings that have lain dormant.)
His cult fandom has also followed him to the stage, where Burgess originated the role of Sebastian in the 2007 Broadway adaptation of The Little Mermaid and has since earned Stephen Sondheim’s approval to play The Witch in a 2015 regional production of Into the Woods.
“The fact that I was even at all on his radar -- enough for him to entrust such an important show into my care and that he felt safe enough to say that Tituss would do right by the role -- that did less for 30-something-year-old Tituss and more for 14-year-old me,” Burgess says of Sondheim. “It satisfied that part of me that had hoped maybe one day I would in some way, shape, form, or fashion, be associated with that man.”
With his growing popularity and Sondheim’s OK, Pinot by Tituss arrives ahead of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt season two. (Orders will start shipping on March 15, one month prior to the premiere.)
But the 37-year-old actor is quick to point out that his wine -- while giving the fans what “they’re asking for” -- is not related to the show. “The design of it is very much closer to Tituss Burgess than Titus Andromedon,” he explains. “So when Kimmy expires many, many, many years from now, this can still live on.”
The venture itself may actually be the first step in turning Burgess into a brand. A full-fledged lifestyle company a la Gwyneth Paltrow? Maybe. While the actor admits he has given thought to the idea, for now, he only hints at what’s to come next. “It has something to do with an article of clothing that you always see me in,” Burgess teases, seemingly bitten by the entrepreneurial bug.
With wine, possible clothing, and a desire to return to Broadway (“I would be lying if I said that we were not trying to figure out something for next spring”), one can only wonder if Burgess will ever become too big for Andromedon. While flattered by the notion, Burgess shoots down the idea -- after a loud, exasperated gasp.
“I will work for Tina Fey forever,” Burgess says. “I’m not one of those people to outgrow my initial blessings. I am well aware of my good fortune, and I only hope to diversify so I can do what I’m already doing for more people as opposed to being so large and so great that I no longer want to do the thing that got me here.”