It Gives Me the Willies: Remembering Scott Kennedy

4.1.2013

By Nancy Ford

The pioneering gay comedian, who died at 49, will be missed by all those he made laugh over the years

We weren’t close in recent years. Sure, like everybody, we would occasionally trade Facebook notes of encouragement and congratulations. Nonetheless, Scott Kennedy, my old stand-up pal from our old Gay Comedy Jam and Gaylapalooza days together, came to me just this past Saturday.

I was driving to Austin from Houston to do my own show, The Dyke Show. It one of those gray, day-fog Texas afternoons in March, where the weather can and does change in a matter of moments. As I rolled through the stoplight at Giddings, the sun broke out. Willie Nelson’s newest CD, Heroes, was pouring through the speakers, and I recalled Scott’s long-time signature bit about the origin of the concept of “a case of the Willies.”

Putting on my ever-present, beat-up cowgirl hat in an effort to dress more appropriately for a sing-along with Willie, I thought, “I wonder if Scott Kennedy is in town this weekend,” still chuckling at the decades-old routine. Little did I know he was already gone.

Scott knew about costuming and image. Wearing his eternal football jersey and ball cap—the presumed stereotypical uniform of Mr. Every Straightman—was the perfect setup for his ‘Guess what, I’m gay!’ punchline. Surely, no one would think a gay guy spits dip into a plastic cocktail cup—and certainly not while onstage. Think again, he’d silently tell the thousands of unsuspecting people who were his audience, who undoubtedly left his presence with a new realization of what a gay man is supposed to look like, act like, and be.

Rotund, almost hulking, sans man-scaping and designer labels, Scott came out as the ultimate non-gay stereotype at a time when most people, and certainly most comedy audiences, still associated a gay man with a mustachioed, bulging-crotch, Tom-of-Finland sketch. Or a limp-wristed, effeminate pre-Will & Grace interior designer. Or an AIDS-emaciated, near-corpse, the way in which fellow comedian Kevin Mayes eventually became. “I love him to death,” Scott would repeat in truth and humor, like a mantra, poignantly revealing that he and Kevin were partners, not just onstage but in love and in life.

Kevin Mayes died in 1999. This would be the place to say something about how both he and Scott can now keep residents rolling in Heaven’s aisles, with Bill Hicks and Sam Kinnison and all the rest of those late, great comic giants who honed their brilliance on Houston’s early stand-up stages, like Comedy Workshop, Comix Annex, and the Laff Stop. But if I resorted to schmaltz here, they’d never forgive me.

Scott first came out onstage in 1992 at Houston’s River Oaks Laff Stop, at a fundraiser for a fellow comedian and gay guy, Bob Pine. No, Scott didn't actually say, “Yes, I’m a big fag,” onstage that night. But he did wear his Freedom Rings, a simple chain holding a set of rings representing the colors of the rainbow. It was an unmistakable signal to those LGBTs in that club—and there were many of us that night for that AIDS benefit—that they were encountering family.

Shortly thereafter, he and Kevin founded the Gaylapalooza tour, and Scott was full on out, forever after. Closet be damned.

Sure, Scott could have stayed safely within the confines of the LGBT comedy circuit—entertaining on its bacchanalian cruises, at its big-money black tie political bashes—preaching to the big gay choir. Instead, he took his show to the trenches. Literally.

In 2007, Scott formed his own a USO-type production company, Comics Ready to Entertain, producing more than 50 tours to some of the most threatening outreaches of Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan. See, the USO itself wouldn't go to the dangerous places where Scott wanted to bring his show, and certainly not beyond the confines of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

But Scott told. And like Willie Nelson, Scott knew about heroes. Takes one to know one. Thanks, Scott. We love you to death.

Scott Kennedy died in his sleep and was found March 14, 2013. A memorial service celebrating his life took place Saturday, March 30, at the First United Methodist Church of Marble Falls, in Marble Falls, Texas. The Improv in LA hosts a tribute to Scott Kennedy Tuesday, April 16; doors opening at 5 p.m.

Nancy Ford is a Houston-based comedian and writer. Her column, What a World, has appeared in the LGBT press for 25 years. Visit her at ThatNancyFord.com.

Tags: Popnography
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