As a comedian, I have tons of stand-up comedy heroes — but none I really see myself in. There are plenty of doughy, mean white guys out there, but they talk about their girlfriends or their wives or their kids; they never talk about their boyfriends or their partners or their kids.
When I initially sat down to write this column, I was ready to write about the dearth of openly gay male stand-up comedians. Because when the hilarious Todd Glass came out on WTF, my immediate reaction was “Yes! We got one!”
From what I knew, there were no gay guys telling jokes outside of gay bars. Turns out I’m wrong, and I'm part of the problem.
It’s curious, because I can name a dozen lesbian comedians off the top of my head. And there are superstars of stand-up like Kathy Griffin and Margaret Cho who gay men spend big bucks supporting, but from what I knew, there were no gay guys telling jokes outside of gay bars.
Turns out I’m wrong, and I'm part of the problem.
For some context, I have been a fan of stand-up comedy for almost my entire life. My parents were never careful about what their kids watched, so I saw Eddie Murphy: Raw way earlier than I should have. That also means that as I sat hypnotized by Murphy’s purple leather ass, I heard the word “faggot” before I knew what a gay person was.
Stand-up can be a harsh, homophobic place. For better or worse, good stand-up is where the ugly truth and the mean subconscious come out. My father is a huge Sam Kinison fan, and I was as afraid of him as a child as I was of the Trash Heap from Fraggle Rock.
And it’s like a children's playground all over again at comedy open mics, for better and for worse. I started doing stand-up almost a year ago, and I am in love with it.
But everything you’ve heard about open mics is true. At open mics, "fag" jokes are low-hanging fruit for comedy punchlines. I can name some brilliant, hilarious gay jokes written by the straightest of my city’s comedians, but at open mics the point of the jokes isn’t always good-natured. Sometimes, the point of the joke is just getting to say “faggot” for a laugh.
It's incredibly important for a stand-up to have comic heroes. Geniuses like Phyllis Diller make young women think that they can and should be stand-ups. Gods like Richard Pryor convince young black comics that they, too, can become giants in film and comedy. Ellen and Wanda come out of the closet, and lesbians become hilarious.
For better or worse, good stand up is where the ugly truth and the mean subconscious come out.
So in my laziness and ignorance of non-lesbian gay stand-ups, I had incorrectly concluded that comedy must be a harsh, homophobic industry that brutalizes new gay guys like me until they just can’t take it; that only Ellen DeGeneres and Wanda Sykes get to be the new Oprahs.
I took to the Internet to confirm my suspicions and was surprised to find that, actually, there are more than a few hilarious, talented, respected comics who also happen to be gay men. I'd encourage you to find out about Glass (whose material isn’t really "out," exactly), Chip Pope, Adam Sank, Vidur Kapur, Gabe Liedman, James Adomian and Brad Loekle. (And please, leave more recommendations in the comments, too.)
I hope Glass’ interview on WTF is a first step towards gay comics’ careers taking more of the spotlight. I really hope his coming out will teach more gay men how much we are missing by not engaging with the brilliant comedians who come from of the same communities we do.
I wish there were a classic comedy special like Richard Pryor's epic Live on the Sunset Strip that spoke directly to gay men. It would be my heart's delight to watch a theater of thousands of gay men absolutely dying while listening to an openly gay male comedian telling really dirty jokes about blowjobs. It doesn’t sound like it would mean that much — until you realize you don’t have it.
So of course there are tons of gays in the industry who do/have done stand-up as part of their career. Now, it's up to fans of comedy to embrace those that have laid the groundwork — and then, to become a role model myself.