Out, loud and funny: Queer comedy is coming of age


By Cathy Jedruczek

Do gay and straight people find the same things funny? No, according to Frank DeCaro, gay writer and performer. “If you are straight and you go to see ‘Chicago,’ the movie, you’ll come out and you’ll say, ‘It was really good.’ But if you are gay you’ll say, ‘Ohhh, my Gaaahd! It was ama-a-a-a-zing! We have to go again!’ said DeCaro to the overwhelmingly gay audience at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center on Monday night. Flotilla DeBarge, drag performer and comedian, thought gay people were just “overenthusiastic.”

DeCaro, DeBarge and other gay writers, comedians, and performers participated in a provocative panel discussion celebrating gay humor. Julie Halston, a comedienne/ actress, who recently joined the cast of “Hairspray,” was a moderator. Her questions and comments spurred hilarious responses from panelists, while the room frequently erupted in laughter.

“So, was everybody out when they started performing?” asked Halston at one point. A majority of the panelists said they were not, but that their friends had known they were gay.

“I wasn’t out, but everyone that I knew knew I was gay,” explained Judy Gold, a standup comedian and host of HBO’s “At the Multiplex with Judy Gold.” “There was something funny about my life, and being gay was just a part of my life, but it wasn’t all of my life.” Gold went on to say that having two children and having a family made her want to be open about her sexuality.

Bob Smith, known as the first openly gay comedian to appear on “The Tonight Show,” recalled the day when his mother found out that he is gay.

“My mother read these 3-by-5 cards I was writing jokes on about being gay,” said Smith. “She said, ‘Well, it could be worse. Look at them across the street with those two retarded grandchildren.’ ”

Asked if they resent comedians who are gay, but not out, panelists had various responses. Reno, the comedian and performer, said she felt it’s hard to come out and that not everyone is always ready for it. Gay comedians who are not out don’t bother Smith at all, while DeCaro sounded a bit ambiguous.

“I don’t resent them,” DeCaro said, “but I feel like they are not stepping up to the plate at the time when they must.”

Gay comedians are always on top of things when it comes to politics. Kate Clinton, a self-described “faith-based, tax-paying, America-loving political humorist and family entertainer,” said that people first pay attention to her political views not her gayness. Sometimes comedians’ views stir controversy, like when Leah Delaria, a Broadway actress, comedian, writer and jazz musician, recently cracked vulgar jokes about the first family. While in Palm Springs, performing at “Evening Under the Stars,” the annual benefit for AIDS Assistance Program, Delaria criticized President Bush and said she wouldn’t mind having a fling with the Bush twins or even the first lady. At the panel, Dilaria stuck to her comments — and repeated them.

Comedians also thought that despite gay issues and gay marriage being discussed on the national level, Amer-ica is still not ready to see a sitcom about a gay family with children. Gold talked about the idea she had for a sitcom about a gay family, something similar to “Everybody Loves Raymond,” essentially about her own life. She shopped it around, but didn’t find responsive audience at TV stations.

Despite blooming careers and enormous successes in show business, comedians recalled their disappointments in life. DeCaro described how he was “unceremoniously fired” from “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” where he was a “sit-down comedian” for nearly seven years. Delaria spoke of her own setbacks.

“I didn’t get a Tony nomination that I thought I was going to get,” said Delaria. “I really was pissed off. I was really angry about it, upset. You didn’t want to talk to me for a while. But if the worst thing that’s happening in your life is that you didn’t get the Tony nomination everybody thought you were going to get, you’re probably leading a good life.”

What keeps them going? The drugs, DeBarge joked. Later, she said it was reaching out to people and making a connection with the audience. Reno said she’s doing what she’s doing because she “was really not such a good mechanic.” Murray Hill — who likes to perform late at night — said it’s the fact that he didn’t set his alarm clock for eight years. Gold admitted she’s a comedian because she has no other job skills. For Delaria, what keeps her going is the hope there might be a hot woman sitting in the front row that would want her. “And I’ll be there for her,” said Delaria, while the audience laughed hysterically.