WHAT'S SO FUNNY?

Welcomat - September 2, 1992

I love stand-up comedy. Getting cable TV was worth every penny once I discovered that there's a whole channel dedicated to comedy, and you can usually catch stand-up late at night on one channel or other. But I really lucked into a gold mine last year - the Funny Bone comedy club on South Street. A show at the Funny Bone consists of three comedians - a master of ceremonies, who's usually some kid just starting out, the "featured" comedian, who's traveled the local circuit a few times and is probably pretty good, and the "headliner", who is the one you will see on TV specials. Sometimes the featured comedian is better than the headliner, but usually the quality gets better as the evening goes along. Plus they give out parties with reduced cover charges, and if you play your cards right, you can win these parties every month or so. I've now been to the club many times, and had an enjoyable evening every time.

Which was sort of a surprise, because one popular style of comedy is to be abusive to various and sundry groups (including the audience). Nowadays, only Don Rickles could get away with seriously insulting racial minorities, but it's still socially acceptable to trash gay people, and as a gay man, I fully expected to at some point run up against a homophobic comedian and get insulted. I was ready for that to happen, but, surprise, it never did. Party after party, I went and saw dozens of comedians, all professing to be straight, some of whom were audience-abusive, but none of whom aimed for the homophobic audience. I invited my gay friends to the parties - we all had fun. Clearly, the Eddie Murphy/Sam Kinison school of homophobic comedy was not in style any more.

One memorable evening recently, I brought five other gay men with me to the club. Halfway through the headliner's act, the comedian started talking about a time when some gay guy tried to pick him up. We all tensed, wondering where this was going. He then asked, not expecting to get a response, "Any gay guys in the audience?". Our whole table clapped and cheered. Surprised, he said, "Really?". We laughed and nodded (while the table of Marines behind us got very silent). The comedian went on to make a series of jokes that explored the humor of the differences between gay men and straight men, mostly about how straight men were so afraid of being perceived as gay. He was a riot, we were laughing hysterically, and the tension passed. Afterward, my friend John confessed that he had been worried about the comedians being homophobic, but this guy managed to pull off his gay jokes without being offensive, and more importantly, making everyone, gay and straight, enjoy the humor of the situation.

Well, to my last party, I once again invited John, plus a few other people, mostly gay. The MC was adequate, and the featured player was really funny. Well, the headliner - Percy Crews II, remember that name - got up there, did about ten minutes of comedy and launched into a gay stereotype of the Damon Wayons "Men on ..." school. This wasn't funny, but he wasn't offensive until he finished off with "Gay people, can't live with em..." and stopped there. He went on in that vein for a few minutes, going way beyond the boundaries of taste. Well, I was mad, but mostly felt awful about my friends, since I had unwittingly brought them here to be insulted. And sure enough, John walked out - discreetly and politely, but he left. The remaining party stuck it out and the guy finished his gay-bashing and went on. But we weren't inclined to find him funny any more and we left before the act was over.

The night left me with a really bad taste in my mouth. A lot of hopes and wide-eyed optimism dashed. I had never left the Funny Bone pissed off before. I had sworn up and down that I'd never seen a homophobic comedian there (and I hadn't, until that night). I invited friends to this party, not promising anything, but certainly with an implication that they would be entertained rather than upset. My hope that homophobia was pass‚ was dead - to be sure, the audience wasn't overly positive in their clapping and laughing, but what I should have seen (and didn't) was a still silence and a disapproving "oooo" as soon as he got really offensive. Some people would probably raise the fact that the offensive comedian was black, and certainly there's a history of black homophobic comedians - as mentioned before, Eddie Murphy and Damon Wayons, and now this guy. But I must say that the previous guy (the one with the funny unoffensive jokes) was also black.

I find it really disturbing that a black man can be prejudiced against gay people, or that any minority that has been discriminated against can discriminate against another. I've seen it in the gay community and I don't like it, and I've seen it in other communities and it doesn't make any sense. But the thought of this person on stage night after night fostering ignorance and prejudice under the guise of entertainment makes me sick. Admittedly, with some comedians, you go knowing you'll be abused, but you can tell when it's serious and when it's not. Judy Tenuta doesn't really expect her "pigs" to "worship her", which makes her abuse much more funny. But this Crews guy was obviously serious.

A note to everyone who went to the Funny Bone that week - the stereotypical gay man Crews presented does exist, but most of us don't fit that stereotype. And we don't deserve that sort of treatment. A note to the Funny Bone - I'll still patronize your establishment, because your record has been good up til now, but I'll never pay to see that guy again. And if you bring in anyone else like that, you're going to get bitched at. A note to any other gay people who were in that audience - we all wimped out when we should have stopped him right in his tracks, and we all share the blame for that. And a note to Percy Crews II - you're a lousy comedian, an asshole besides, and your hatemongering and fagbashing has no place in a country with tensions, racial and otherwise, as high as they are now. Good comedy is funny to everyone.


Copyright Eric Peterson, 1992