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What Comedy Means to the LGBTQ+ Community

Bowen Yang

Out's editor in chief reflects on the importance of laughter in times of hardship.

When I was a teen, my friend Eric casually invited me to see Margaret Cho perform stand-up comedy in a New Jersey theater. I hadn't been too familiar with her work at the time. But I thought Eric was cute, so we went -- sitting in front-row seats (thanks, Eric!) -- and my life was transformed. Cho, as fans know, has a sublime gift for impressions and physical comedy; her impersonations of family members killed every time. But it was her epic "Persimmon Diet" skit -- in which she reenacts the bowel consequences of an unfortunate six-month fruit regimen -- that nearly had me wetting my own pants. I had never laughed so hard in my life, and honestly, probably haven't since.

I was reminded of Cho's brilliance by our cover star, Bowen Yang, who cited the Korean-American's Margaret Cho: Notorious C.H.O. live show as a turning point in his life. Hearing a queer Asian-American performer bring the house down inspired him to follow a path in funny business that led him to the summit of televised sketch comedy as a cast member on Saturday Night Live. Now he's set to become a bona fide movie star through two LGBTQ+ films coming out this year, Fire Island and Billy Eichner's Bros.

In queer media, we talk a lot about "the importance of representation." It's a topic touched upon in most interviews. And in 2022, it can sometimes feel moot to mention in a TV landscape that seemingly teems with LGBTQ+ characters. But Yang's story reinforces the reality that one great zinger from a queer tour-de-force like Cho can change a life. Who knows how many young queer folks of Asian descent will pursue their dreams because of Yang's brilliant portrayal of the iceberg that sank the Titanic on a "Weekend Update" skit?

And we could all use a good laugh nowadays -- so how lucky that LGBTQ+ people have Yang to broadcast comedy to us and the world. Humor plays an important role in the lives of queer people. From The Boys in the Band to RuPaul's Drag Race, wit and wordplay are wielded as a coping mechanism and a weapon against would-be oppressors. Laughter helps us to survive and stay sane. It's a light in the darkness.

Historically, comedy has been dominated by straight white men, which has unfortunately influenced our culture's humor; hence all those unfunny "gay jokes" we're still contending with. To put this history into context, we revisited the story of SNL's first out cast member, Terry Sweeney. His appearance in the '85-'86 season -- dressed in drag as Nancy Reagan and skewering Hollywood's "pinklisting" in the midst of the AIDS crisis alongside Madonna -- was an all-too-brief gay fever dream; it would take until Kate McKinnon's casting in 2012 before another out cast member would join the NBC sketch comedy series.

Comedy shares the stage with music in this issue. Speaking of the importance of representation: Grace Baldridge, a.k.a. Semler, is saving Christian music as one of its biggest (out!) stars; the gay EDM saxophonist GRiZ is conquering the metaverse; this year's Grammys are getting gayer thanks to GLAAD; the Big Drag Bus is taking over Music City; and Anthony Roth Costanzo is singing opera in his birthday suit and queering classical music with Justin Vivian Bond.

In other spheres of the entertainment world, we caught up with our favorite Hedwig rocker, John Cameron Mitchell, who's traded his wig and guitar for big cats and a mustache in his Joe vs. Carole portrayal of the Tiger King; Queen Charlotte, a.k.a. Golda Rosheuvel, dishes on the gossip of the new Bridgerton season; our columnist Alexander Cheves does the hard work of figuring out how to make a living on OnlyFans; and Clifton Mooney makes Polaroid pictures an art form with his male portraits.

This is all music to our ears, dear reader. Enjoy the show -- and go easy on the persimmons.


Daniel Reynolds
Editor in Chief

This article is part of Out's March/April 2022 issue, appearing on newsstands April 5. Support queer media and subscribe -- or download the issue through Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.

Related | It's Not All Jokes With Cover Star Bowen Yang

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Daniel Reynolds

Daniel Reynolds is the editor-in-chief of Out and an award-winning journalist who focuses on the intersection between entertainment and politics. This Jersey boy has now lived in Los Angeles for more than a decade.

Daniel Reynolds is the editor-in-chief of Out and an award-winning journalist who focuses on the intersection between entertainment and politics. This Jersey boy has now lived in Los Angeles for more than a decade.