Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Why Aren't Gays Funny?

Sure, there are funny gays in various entertainment fields, such as shoe design and Condé Nast magazines, but let us think of gays in actual comedy. Okay, so there's Ellen. That guy ANT. Neil Patrick Harris. And… hmm.

Oh right. Scott Thompson. And Graham Chapman, of Monty Python. These two might prove a comedy "rule" that gays are often funny when in groups of straight people. Or when they are English: Stephen K. Amos, Simon Amstell, Matt Lucas, Julian Clary, Paul O'Grady. And Kenny Everett and Frankie Howerd and Kenneth Williams, RIP! Or when they are of an English province: Trey Anthony, say, from Canada. And Tommy Sexton. And I guess Trevor Boris counts! Then there's… oh, Dave Rubin!

There's a pretty equal number of ladies, of course. Don't ever confuse Judy Gold and Julie Goldman. (Jews! I know!) Also don't confuse Wanda Sykes, Elvira Kurt and René Hicks. That's racist. (I'm kidding, it's not. See what I did there?) Margaret Cho still counts. Also I will namedrop Alec Mapa in the interests of diversity!

Of the greats, you have Rip Taylor and Lily Tomlin. And more, hmm… I guess Eddie Murphy, if you count those who may prefer our sexual partners to be in that wonderful middle ground between gender norms. And Andy Dick counts. (There is such a thing as bisexuality!)

But now. Think of the least funny people you know: Susan Sontag, Bret Easton Ellis and Jeffrey Dahmer. All gay. All devoutly unhumorous. Why aren't gay people funny?

They're not funny from birth. Like, genetically. (I think that was the plot of Gattaca.)

Their parents raised them to not be funny.

And that's it.


Well, there's one possibility we can't discount. Let's call it the Tina Fey thesis.

The Tina Fey Thesis
So you know how ladies are treated kind of as a sidebar in comedy? Or as a flavor? (Like the way the blacks are treated in the visual arts world. Like, "Oh look, Mark Bradford can hold a paintbrush!" Not like, "Oh look at this awesome painting," period, the end. Yeah, sorry, pet peeve.) Well, the ladies are taking up "all" the space. (By "all" I mean the 22% remaining space not taken by straight men.) They are the flavor. Who needs gay flavor when you have lady flavor?

Plus most of the straight men in comedy want to have sex with the ladies, though some of them aren't so picky. As you know!

Meanwhile, straight guys think the lady-gay pact is out to get them. Why did Nick Di Paolo finally just get his first one-hour Showtime special? "Because the people in the industry are dumb fucks. They’re too busy looking for, you know, for the next funny chick or funny gay guy. I’m just another white guy in the mix."

Oh, that's why. (Wait, no it is not. It's actually because Tim Allen was finally too busy and/or dead.) But I do believe that he believes this.

But the gays also did this to themselves.

So right: women in comedy were choosing between being in a boy's club or doing comedy about being a lady, and sometimes doing both. The gays had less of an option of being in a boy's club, so quite frequently they did comedy about being gay, so as to build an audience, but also, regarding which, zzz. Ellen's sort of an exception, but not totally: it was all subtext. (The shoulder pads mostly.) Gay comics hit a ceiling because, um, even gay-topic comedy gets boring to (fickle) gays soon. And it certainly doesn't interest straight people.

Mmm, message comedy. God bless! So with the gays in this box—which was a profitable box for some of them!—there was nowhere to integrate. They weren't going to shame their way into writer's rooms for sitcoms, weren't going to do that well in TV in general. (They do so-so, to be fair. I mean, "Will and Grace" exec producer Max Mutchnick is back with "Shit My Dad Says"! That's… grreaat. Enjoy.)

So now women are busily on a militant task force to take over comedy, while they are sucking all the gay air out of the room inadvertently. (We should all demand more pieces of a smaller pie, not a bigger pie!) It's very, very violent, this struggle. They started with equal space on Chelsea Handler's show ("lucky them") and they will next launch an assault on, I dunno, Craig Ferguson or something.

But eventually the women will bring some gays with them. Because all women are equally nurturing and fair-minded. That will be in the year 2035. Then we will know the truth about whether gays can actually make with the funny.

75 Comments / Post A Comment

HiredGoons (#603)

For a lesbian, Susan Sontag sure had something up her ass.

ShanghaiLil (#260)

@HiredGoons Seriously though? Susan Sontag was waaaaay funnier than Kate Clinton.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

"Notes on Camp" would probably be funny if I were as smart as Susan Sontag, not that I'd laugh.

HiredGoons (#603)

@Tulletilsynet: 'On Photography' is self-serving, humorless and ridiculously overrated.

ShanghaiLil (#260)

@Tulletilsynet Fran Lebowitz's parody, "Notes on Trick" is hysterical. And @Tulleitilsynet, have you ever seen Kate Clinton?

keisertroll (#1,117)

@Tulletilsynet Susan Sontag was not trying to be funny and thus is camp.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Susan without laughing.
Notes on Trick rocks. No to part two, sorry.
Agreed. She should have stuck to book reviewing.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Oh wow. I just took that opportunity to grow. Thank you so much for that.

KarenUhOh (#19)

You're wrong. I laughed.

What about Stephen Fry????

melis (#1,854)

Yeah, but he hasn't been funny since 1995, with the notable exception of Blackadder Back and Forth.

Also what about Graham Norton and Alan Carr?

Vulpes (#946)

@Rebecca Eisenberg@facebook Graham Norton really isn't that great a stand-up, but as a host he's hilarious.

katiechasm (#163)

@Rebecca Eisenberg@facebook Alan Carr is only funny if you are into minstrel shows

LondonLee (#922)

John Inman

I'm free!

Vulpes (#946)

@LondonLee But there's my pussy to consider! (RIP, Molly Sugden.)

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Terry Sweeney.

But: maybe having been asked a thousand times too many whether we "like comedy" we're looking at this the wrong way? Maybe COMEDY is the one with the trouble being funny.

HiredGoons (#603)

@dntsqzthchrmn: have you ever noticed how a majority of stand-up is like getting a god damned root canal?

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@HiredGoons What is the deal with comedy?

ShanghaiLil (#260)

@dntsqzthchrmn I've heard it attributed to everyone from Edwin Booth to George Bernard Shaw, but an old theatrical saying has it that, "Death is easy; comedy is hard."

MollyculeTheory (#4,519)

@dntsqzthchrmn Doesn't it drive you nuts when male comedians leave the microphone-stand up? What's with that?

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@MollyculeTheory Maybe we're looking at this the wrong way? Maybe BROADWAY is the Crips and COMEDY is the Bloods?

keisertroll (#1,117)

"Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die." – Mel Brooks

Bradford-Evans (#11,679)

Oscar Wilde?

ejcsanfran (#489)

Scott Capurro & Billy Eichner both come to mind…

Also sidebar/threadjack: I am a gay and I really like comedy. From the first time I visited a comedy club when in high school, most of my favorite comics have been women. Is this some sort of corollary to the Tina Fey Thesis?

HiredGoons (#603)

@ejcsanfran: I also prefer female comics (Bonnie McFarlane).

I HIGHLY recommend John Waters' 'This Filthy World' however.

Annie K. (#3,563)

@HG John Waters, period. Plus Divine.

ctorres (#11,678)

Kristen Wiig is pretty funny!

propertius (#361)

I think the gays are busy creating pornokomodia.

I will submit a pair of LA gays: Dave Holmes, even though he is sort of in a comedy grey area, and James Adomian, even though most of his work is (amazing) character stuff

BeccaBecca (#9,225)

@transcendental floss James Adomian is hilaaaaarious.

Rod T (#33)

Um, whatever. I'm hilarious.

ohnoididnt (#2,952)

@Rod T WHY ISN'T THIS FUNNIER? Please explain in at least 5 paragraphs.

keisertroll (#1,117)

Re the Popcultured clip: Michael Jackson can now hold his own umbrella, just stick it in the ground.


Daniel Sargeant (#7,340)

The State had one lady and one gay, so clearly they can co-exist so long as there are nine hetero males there as well.

whizz_dumb (#10,650)

@Daniel Sargeant I think the redheaded gay Kevin Allison deserves his name mentioned here. http://risk-show.com/

Tulletilsynet (#333)

The part about why English funny gays don't count, can you go through that a little slower?

Blahblaaah (#11,696)

Simon!! I think Simon Amstell might be the funniest person on TV. NMTB has not been the same since he left.

melis (#1,854)

@Blahblaaah Yes! Have you seen his comedy special? It's incredibly bleak.

kpants (#719)

@Blahblaaah Amstell can just kill me sometimes. Such a funny, funny dude.

naughtysneaky (#11,902)

@melis I just watched that the other day, because I liked him so much on Buzzcocks (which is definitely a lot lamer in his absence- Noel Fielding is really the only reason I still watch it (adore him!)). Really bleak, yeah, and totally not what I was expecting, but I loved it. I thought it went beyond comedy in a really gripping way.

pot-pourri (#722)

What about Eddie Izzard? Not specifically gay, but if you're including Eddie Murphy, then Izzard should be in there too.

TrilbyLane (#1,318)

@daniel Not so much 'not specifically gay' as 'not gay at all'. Eddie Izzard is a man who has sex with women

Vulpes (#946)

Maybe it's because society long ago decided to that "gay stuff" and "women stuff" just "is" not funny? Maybe with women assaulting the ramparts, that will change.

And are you saying that this women-assault is a bad thing, Choire, because they're not arm-in-arm with gay comics? Maybe we gays should get a battering ram *drum beat* and do our own assault?

There is this, too; maybe you don't have a sense of humor? Or maybe the gays you know are just a particularly humorless bunch?

Vulpes (#946)

@Vulpes And, wow, I really made your point with a humorless reply, didn't I, Choire? Sorry about that. Perhaps your humor in this post was just too subtle for my non-funny gayness. It just hit a nerve, mostly because I'm still not sure, after reading twice, what your point is.

ALK (#11,504)

I don't know about actors, but Michael K and Richard Lawson both make me nearly die laughing every day, and there are lots of other hilarious gay writers. Does that count?
But, honestly, it never occurred to me that this was an Issue.

Nichelle (#4,338)

New York Gay Comics include Claudia Cogan, Kelli Dunham, Shawn Hollenbach, Lisa Kaplan, H. Alan Scott, Robin Carson Cloud

Newly transplanted to LA Gay Comics include Jackie Monahan, Paul Case

Vulpes (#946)

Alec Mapa is fucking hilarious.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Hmmm. But there were the most marvelously funny gays on TV in the 1960s. Paul Lynde, Charles Nelson Reilly, and I guess Tony Randall wasn't gay or was semi-gay IRL? just pretending to be gay on TV? Is it wrong to have loved them so much, when they may have been suffering, but then: George Cukor? I would stay up half the night to watch old reruns of Bewitched. And then, Agnes Moorehead was gay, right? omg, SO good. I am sure I am forgetting many others from different times.

@barnhouse: Until just now, I'd forgotten that Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly were two different people.

Tully Mills (#6,486)

What about Kids In The Hall? They were all gay, right?

Bittersweet (#765)

@TullyMMills: No.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Why Aren't Gays Offensive for a Living?

lawyergay (#220)

What about David Sedaris? Not really a comedian, I guess, but…he could have been? His public readings are kind of like standup.

GailPink (#9,712)

@lawyergay – David Sedaris is HILARIOUS. Gays are funny!

land surveyor k (#8,921)

This is a depressing, though interesting post. It took awhile for me to realize you're really only talking about stand-up. (Funny gay actors include Paul Lynde, Charles Nelson Reilly, Frasier's brother, (too tired to look up name), Rupert Everett… semi-closet cases like Tony Randall, Thelma Ritter, Sara Gilbert, Amanda Bearse, Jane Lynch). Obviously, comedy is entirely subjective — but I think your article presupposes that the while male structure "decides" what's funny. So, the reason women, gay people, black people, "fill in the blank" people have a hard time being funny as stand ups is because it's not a given that their experience is emotionally universal. White male (Jewish) comedy is for "everyone." They don't have to talk about what they are or where they come from. Jerry Seinfeld doesn't have to explain he's a man so his perspective is different. He's a person with a unique perspective, without explaining why. Even Chris Rock has to "explain" that he sees the world differently because he's black. Richard Pryor's entire act on "That N*gger Is Crazy" is — what if black people ran into Dracula? What if black people were in "The Exorcist?" What if black people were in a fire? Etc. Black men are closer to the universal because they're men. Men define the terms of acceptance, and can easily except that other kinds of men have emotions like they do. Tina Fey is an exception to the women in comedy rule, (also, she's not a stand up), because she's the most successful at getting men to relate to her emotionally. Part of the reason why she's so successful at this is because her character on "30 Rock" is best friends with a man, so she's always confiding her secrets to a man. Also, Liz is comfortable with sex — so men don't relate to her through that. Oh my God, I'm exhausted talking about this. Straight men have a difficult time identifying with gay men as people, because their sexuality is always out there. etc. etc.

melis (#1,854)

@land surveyor k How is Jane Lynch a semi-closet case?

melis (#1,854)

But, um, YES to the rest of your comment. Upon rereading I have chosen the pettiest throwaway fact to hash out, apparently.

land surveyor k (#8,921)

I mean to say Liz is UNCOMFORTABLE with sex.

Cobalt (#7,571)

So the core point of this piece is specifically about gay stand-up comedy? Yes, gay stand-up comedy about being gay can be too insular, and can become far less accessible to straight people. Of course any form of gay comedy about being gay can be too insular, preachy and off-putting. See also: reason people stopped watching Ellen's sitcom.

However that sort of reductionism can then be applied to any stand-up comedian that has a niche audience focus based around personal experiences. Female comedians talking about female issues, like bras and sexual harassment–not funny unless you're a woman, etc. So next you should address why female comedians aren't funny.

cstrollers6 (#11,764)

"That's so gay" Even if you think it's funny or a hip turn of phrase, don't forget that "That's so gay" is hurtful. Just because it doesn't have the same bite as "fag" or "dyke" doesn't mean it's not harmful or hateful. It is. We need to stop using the word "gay" to mean dumb, stupid and worthless and to think before we speak (or post on Facebook). As Shannon Gilreath, a law professor at Wake Forest, explained to me last year, "Physical violence begins with bullying, name-calling and homophobic remarks. When nothing happens to someone [for making slurs], it escalates to violence."

bennimaddi (#314)

i think a better question– and one i have often asked myself– is why gay man are not successful as comedians. because gay men are quite successful as humorists in other realms (ie sedaris, whether one likes him or not) and are in fact stereotyped as funny, whether that's true/fair or not.

meanwhile lesbians are stereotyped as humorless and yet seem to be represented quite well in the comedy world. whether gay man comedians are actually FUNNY (vs whether they are successful) is obviously a matter of taste, which to me leads to the related question of why "comedy" (which I'm using here to mean, I guess, stand-up and sketch comedy) is so generally painful in the first place.

also related: why are lesbians such legendary talk show hosts? especially if you count dinah shore and oprah.

JAdo (#11,771)

James Adomian:


“Why Aren’t Gays Funny?”

So asks the title of this searing exposé from N.Y. culture blog The Awl, which I read tonight after performing standup at a gay bar here in L.A. Maybe I’m not the right guy to answer that question, but perhaps I can ask a better one: why aren’t media gatekeepers like Choire Sicha aware of what’s going on with gays in comedy these days?

We’ll give Choire the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is gay (and merely confused about comedy, given his list of exceptions so absurdly long it ought to overturn his hypothesis). Still, where, pray tell, have you been looking for funny gays, my dear Mr. Sicha? The t.v.? You can’t just sit around waiting for things labeled “GAY COMEDY” to fall into your lap and then be upset when you don’t like what you get. You have to go out into the world and see what actual gay people are doing to make actual comedy audiences laugh. And to do that, you might occasionally have to venture beyond the comfort of gay bars and cruise ships, into the scary world of live comedy! Maybe even — heaven forbid — an alternative venue!

YES, American comedy — especially standup — is a straight boy’s game. That’s why it would be so awesome if an LGBTQ writer with the power of the pen could shine a light on the gay comedians who do manage to break through and thrive in that oppressively heteronormative and often homophobic world. You might be the one to connect gay audiences with the gay performers — and you might even have a good time!

If the The Awl’s masthead is an accurate indication, Sicha lives in New York, center of all things gay and all things comedy! Check out the hilarious Brent James Sullivan and John Roberts, who both live there. Go see Drew Droege when he’s in town. Same goes for Solomon Georgio and Chip Pope and dozens more outrageously hilarious boys and girls of a curious persuasion.

Gatekeeper: open the gates! And consider a followup story in a few weeks: “A Look at the Funny Gays Doing Comedy.”

joeclark (#651)

I agree with (that is, “+1”) the contention that this is yet again a commingling of homosexualism with wymmynism.

Jazzstral (#11,778)

At least it's a nice dress.

hman (#53)

Michael Ian Black is gay, right?

Matt Ruby@twitter (#11,794)

I recently wrote about this topic here fyi:

Gays and lesbians in comedy

Talks about a (gay male) research psychologist who examined the over-representation of lesbians in comedy for Scientific American. Might be interesting for you to check that out.

+1 to James' comment. (He is also hilarious by the way.) There's a new crop of gay male comics coming up. Guys who talk about being gay but don't rely on the usual stereotypes about homosexuality to get laughs (e.g. Brent Sullivan, Gabe Liedman, etc.). There's a great feature article waiting to happen about that. But yeah, requires someone actually being a fan of standup or doing a bit of reporting.

I think the more important question to consider here is: "Why Aren't Funny People Gay?"

MollyBloomberg (#1,169)

I smell someone chumming the internet.

We're going to need a bigger boat.

Nick Douglas (#7,095)

Why the fuck are we counting Margaret Cho?

pepper (#676)

An ex-girlfriend once had a book about lesbian humor. It was a very thin book. It also began with the premise that the requirement that jokes actually be funny was a legacy of the phallocracy.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

That's not funny.

nycguy (#11,977)

How could you not mention Mario Cantone? I saw him last year at Caroline's and he was hilarious, as he was on "Sex and the City" and has been on TV talk shows, in movies and (seven or eight years ago) in a one-man, autobiographical show on Broadway.

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