I feel like there are several different fronts to the LGBT movement, and ultimately, one of the most important is (in my opinion) the cultural normalization of our lives. The “ick” factor—the perceived abnormality of gay sex or gender nonconformity—continues to be the primary motivator of LGBT opponents, and so to normalize discussions of gay sex and the presence of queer people in our society is to minimize that ick factor out of existence.
There are a number of comedians who are on the forefront of this slow, but important, cultural change. Even if it’s well known that they are straight men, their casual suggestion that they might not be demonstrates their own comfort with sexualities and their commitment as allies. For example, both Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert have both used this in nuanced ways on occasion, such as this week’s running gag on The Daily Show, “Come on Jon Stewart.” (It’s not overtly a gay joke, but I think it still reads as one and contributes to what I’m describing.)
But there are two comedians who I think are on the forefront of this phenomenon.
The first is Daniel Tosh. His show, Tosh.0, just began its third season on Comedy Central. If you haven’t seen the show, you’re missing out. Not only is it hilarious, but Daniel’s biting commentary on videos from the web doesn’t hold back any punches. Sometimes, I do think he goes too far, especially with his application of racial stereotypes, but even when he does, it’s still clear it comes from a metacognitively aware point of view, which I can at least appreciate. (I just worry that not everybody understands that it’s the commentary that’s funny, not the racial joke itself.)
But my favorite part is his ambiguous sexuality. I have no idea—not even a clue—what Daniel Tosh’s sexual orientation actually is. And that’s something I love about him. He certainly is at the least a devoted ally and has absolutely no qualms about his body or suggesting that he is ever-so-gay. But, we never really know for sure. What we’re left with is a seemingly-straight comedian unflinchingly embracing the ick factor. It’s funny, which helps folks who might be uncomfortable, but it’s also persistent. It’s a normal part of the show for him to do something gay, and it’s rarely something offensive to gay people.
This week, for example, Daniel was interviewing Brian Atene for a web redemption video. During the interview, he had some twinky assistant bring him a drink, insisting he do it without a shirt, and not hesitating to take a long glance as the assistant walked away. I’m not even sure what relevance it had to the interview, but there it was. I certainly didn’t mind it.
I’ll let this montage of gay moments from the Season 2 finale speak for itself:
|Tosh.0||Tuesdays 10pm / 9c|
|Season 2 Gay Moments Montage|
Another comedian who has really embraced this approach is Craig Ferguson on The Late Late Show. We know that Craig is happily married and expecting a child, and yet the self-referential gay jokes are incessant. He regularly refers to “lesbian row,” a front row of four seats usually occupied by ladies (who are probably rarely lesbians). His robot sidekick, Jeff Peterson, is gay and the show is very casual about its discussion of sex, in general.
Now, despite being a brilliant social commentator, Craig is not always the best on trans issues, regularly joking that Lady Gaga has a penis. The fact that he’s willing to talk about trans issues at all might be welcome to some, and certainly it’s clear he doesn’t actually think she does. In fact, his casual use of that “joke” might very well be representative of how hackneyed and inappropriate such claims about people’s gender are. Still, at face value, it doesn’t quite seem as welcoming or helpful as the rest of what I’m describing, and I thought I owed it to the trans community to make this distinction.
Still, throughout his show, Craig constantly refers to himself as possibly gay. Last night’s show was rife with such connotations, from the very opening segment discussing why straight men like lesbians, to his interview with comedian Rick Fulcher, in which Fulcher constantly had to reiterate that he’s heterosexual. Both clips are below.
Both Tosh and Ferguson are doing important work as allies that I think deserves to be recognized. By normalizing the presence of gay (and sometimes trans) people among us, they are helping diminish the “ick” factor that motivates anti-LGBT points of view. We should recognize these comedians and celebrate them as the allies they are. They are incredibly funny, but perhaps without even intending it, they are important part of the change that needs to happen to achieve full LGBT equality in our society.