The Guardian

'The world of comedy has changed': how queer comics are making their mark in America

While mainstream visibility is still limited, LGBT comics are moving past cliches and homophobic roadblocks to take their place in the US comedy scene
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 20: Lea DeLaria attends The Cinema Society with OWN host the 'Queen Sugar' garden cocktail party at Laduree Soho on May 20, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

Twenty-five years ago, Lea DeLaria became the first openly gay comic to appear on American television when she performed on The Arsenio Hall Show. “It’s the 1990s,” she announced with characteristic gusto. “It’s hip to be queer, and I’m a bi-i-i-i-ig dyke!” At a time when homophobia was rampant, forcing queer comics to traffic in innuendo when discussing their sexualities onstage, DeLaria and other out standups like Kate Clinton and Scott Thompson were radically candid and brazenly political, sometimes at their own expense. On Arsenio, where she was invited back twice more that year, DeLaria, who now plays Carrie “Big Boo” Black on Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, uttered the words dyke, fag and queer 47 times in four minutes. “I didn’t just open the closet door,” she recalls to the Guardian. “I fucking blew that door off with a blowtorch.”

Just a few years earlier, in the thick of the Aids crisis, Jaffe Cohen of groundbreaking comedy trio Funny Gay Males, who frequently appeared on the Joan Rivers Show, liked to open his sets by outing himself as “half-Jewish and half-gay”, or a “shlomo-sexual”, as the gag went. But when he delivered the line at a comedy club in Queens, the emcee wiped off his microphone, as though gay men were contagious. “It was horrible,” Cohen remembers. “The audience laughed at that.”

But today’s generation of queer comics, having stormed through the doors left

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