During the Edinburgh Fringe I performed in the semi-finals of a fairly major comedy competition. I won’t say which one, but there are only a couple that it could be. I was excited about it, as progressing in this competition seems to be fairly advantageous to the ol’ career. The venue was one of the biggest I’d performed in, and I had a relatively good gig, but I was fully aware it wasn’t good enough to get to the final. As much as no-one will believe me, I was genuinely OK with this. I had to perform material I wasn’t too keen on by this point, as it had to be the same as the heats earlier in the year. My closing two minutes were about how unsuitable I am as a ‘gay best friend’.
After the gig, I went to the venue bar, where the judges of the competition were to give the competitors feedback. All of the judges told me the same thing. I should play up to my sexuality more. One judge even used the phrase that has haunted me since I came out, ‘I had no idea you were gay until you mentioned it’. If it was possible to know someone’s gay before they mention, there would be no need to come out. I found the whole discussion with comedy agents and reviewers to be quite cynical, which I suppose is testament to nothing more than my laughable naivety.
The material I currently perform is based largely around my feelings towards the feedback of the judges, and that it is still surprising to a lot of people that, as a gay man, I’m ‘allowed’ to like heavy metal, real ale, and darts. It’s the set I’m most proud of, and I hope to perform an Edinburgh show on this subject at some point in the future. I believe that people can act any way they like, but the media and gay bars must take some of the rap for reinforcing these stereotypes. While I’ve only ever had one or two heckles relating to my sexuality, I am plagued by seeing a man of a certain age at the back of gigs solemnly shaking his head. It’s happened several times now. I’m starting to think it’s the same man each time.
It made me think about the ideas and expectations of a ‘gay comedian’. I think most people view gay comics, especially gay male comics, as drawing humour from reinforcing gay stereotypes rather than challenging them. I have in fact found that sometimes when I tell audiences I’m gay, the atmosphere changes. Other comics have suggested to me that people prefer gay comics to act in the manner they would expect from high-profile gay comedians such as Julian Clary (pictured above) and Alan Carr, and my coming out halfway through my set throws them, though I’m not too sure of this myself.
I guess comedy’s about subverting the audience’s expectations, so in that sense I suppose my very existence is something of a (quite lazy) pull-back-and-reveal joke. Whilst it does annoy and upset me that people still expect all gay people to behave in a stereotypical manner, I still get laughs from this fact. My favourite jokes to perform use the conventions of stereotypical ‘gay comedy’ to highlight how little those tropes apply to my excuse for a personality. The title of this piece comes from a good friend, who, as compère of a gig at which I was performing, said it directly after I came off stage after shouting about how furious I get about people’s view of gay men. I liked it so much I’m considering using it as a show title.
Whilst I agree that doing this, especially as this is in line with the advice of the judges at that fateful competition makes me the worst kind of hypocrite, I hope that I’m doing it in a positive way. On the rare occasions people say nice things to me after gigs, I have been told that I did surprise people, and sometimes made them think. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this might be a replacement to telling me I was funny.