No Joke: Straight Comics Playing Gays for Laughs - printed in OUT magazine, September 2006

Let me start off by saying that nobody likes a good gay joke more than me:

“Why do gay guys wear moustaches? To hide the stretchmarks!”

But let me ask you this. Why aren’t there any popular gay male comedians? There are certainly hugely famous Lesbian comedians – Ellen, Rosie, Sandra, Kate Clinton, Judy Gold, and now Michele Balan on Last Comic Standing – but gay men? Ummmm. Does Richard Simmons count?

If you have the patience for it, go to your nearby comedy club or bar for ‘alt-comedy night’ and listen the routines of straight, supposedly edgy standup comedians, and you will have your answer. Among the usual jokes about dick size or needy girlfriends or Arab cab drivers, you’ll begin to notice straight comics LOVE to use the word “gay” in their acts. Love it. Like they can’t stop themselves. Like they get a blowjob every time they mention the word.

Peppered throughout their routines, you will hear phrases like “That’s so gay!” or “That’s like some gay ass shit!” or “And he thought I was gay!”

They will usually mention this word when their jokes are falling flat and they are flailing, feeling the audience is slipping out of their grasp. Then, they simply say the word “gay” and someone in the audience will laugh nervously, which then kicks in others to laugh, and the audience is back on track. It’s like the comedian is jumpstarting an old, crappy used car.

“That’s so gay!” has become a crutch joke, sort of like how comedians constantly said “Women are such bad drivers!” in the 60s, “I’m not a crook!” in the 70s, and “Are you from Jersey?” in the 80s. Saying something is gay (and, therefore, saying you aren’t gay) has become some sort of tired kneejerk habit for jerkoffs. Gay men can’t be popular stand up comics because they are the fallback material for straight comedians.

This is something different than blatant homophobia monitored by GLAAD. Thankfully, we have moved beyond the Andrew Dice Clay/Eddie Murphy era of popular straight (or shall I say “Down Low,” Mr Murphy?) standup guys who talk about gerbils and fags.

This is more a kind of creative laziness. It’s not even offensive; it’s sort of just plain tiring. I perform at a lot of group comedy nights, and I’ll be waiting for my turn backstage or in the audience and invariably some doofus doughy straight guy will say “I don’t watch any of that faggoty ass shit on Bravo!” and I just have to smile and inwardly roll my eyes. I don’t feel oppressed or marginalized. I don’t want to call GLADD on my cellphone. I’m just disappointed. Comedians who call themselves edgy are just fueling the same old boring sexual panic that’s been around for decades. It’s exhausting.

I’m not even necessarily blaming the comics. They are only responding to the cues of their audiences. Lacking imagination or talent, some comedians simply have to say the word “gay!” and someone in the audience will laugh nervously and spark the engine. Not unlike what the Republican party seems to be doing with Gay marriage: “let’s destabilize the public from thinking about Global Warming or the Iraq War! Quick! Write up a Federal Marriage Amendment!” When people are beginning to question your pathetic standards, all you have to do is say “gay!” and everyone gets freaked out and confused again. This tension is used brilliantly by crossressing comedian Eddie Izzard. Unfortunately he’s straight.

I would just consider this another minor issue, but recently I heard from one of my more intelligent hetero guy comic friends that a very successful, top-selling male comedian is gay. He talks about ordering fast food and women going down on him in his act, but it’s a total open secret in the industry he is a big old ‘mo. Which gets me really, really pissed off. Especially when he goes onstage and says “That’s so gay!” like he is a straight guy.

There are plenty of hilarious and out gay male comedians out there (Jim David, Greg Walloch, Bob Smith, and Vidur Kapur to name a few), but as good as they are, they are stuck under some kind of lavender ceiling that only provides a certain amount of exposure. The only gay male who has been able to break through is the comedic genius Margaret Cho. What a strange world this is.

Maybe its because gay guy comics aren’t gay ENOUGH. To achieve national attention, gay men have to sass it up, do a Judy Garland impersonation, or switch careers and become style gurus. The bottom line (snicker snicker) is that gay men STILL can’t be complicated or even sexual and get on Leno.

I keep thinking about the time I turned on the TV and David Letterman was on. Richard Simmons came out dressed as a turkey in bright colors. Letterman calmly walked over and sprayed him with a fire extinguisher. If that isn’t a metaphor for the modern gay male plight I don’t know what is. That was in 2000, but it still haunts me. Amazingly, it’s 2006, and gay men (in comedy at least), are still stuck in a one-note minstrel version of themselves – a perpetual “Dyn-o-MITE!” era.

Maybe we should congratulate ourselves. Openly gay guys make the public nervous, still. So nervous that just the mere mention of the word “gay” can freak out an entire crowd. Maybe we are the real edgy ones.

Whether the world is ready for a real gay comic or not, the answer isn’t to be careful and polite about it. On the contrary: screw ‘em. Someday soon, a gay guy comic will be sharing the bill with Dane Cook or Eugene Mirman or Dave Chappelle and will say, “You so want it up the butt, I can tell.” Now that’s some funny gay ass shit.

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