The third gay male in the cast has changed the landscape of comedy. – fr

The third gay male in the cast has changed the landscape of comedy. – fr

In 1985, Terry Sweeney joined the cast of Saturday Night Live, doubling as a member of the editorial staff. Like five of his other cast members during this poorly-rated and criticized season, he was fired from the show after just a year, but not before he managed to get some memorable impressions. He has impersonated Diana Ross, Joan Collins, Brooke Shields, Joan Rivers, Patti LaBelle, Nancy Reagan and, on the rare occasion he got to play a male public figure, Ted Kennedy.

As the first member of the openly gay cast of SNL, and the first member of the openly gay cast on any Network TV show, Sweeney found himself in a frustrating typo. He had a lot of original ideas, but apart from impressions of female public figures and gay cartoons, there wasn’t much for him to do. In a 2017 interview, he explained, “If there was a role for a game show host, they wouldn’t put me on because, well, it wasn’t a gay game show host. Sweeney added that he didn’t think there was necessarily bad intention behind it: “They just did it because they didn’t know… ‘What am I writing for a gay ? ‘ ”

Yang challenges a double standard, one sketch to one time.

When Bowen Yang joined SNL By fall 2019, the show had a much better idea of ​​what to do with him. In the early episodes, he made his mark posing as characters like Andrew Yang and Chen Biao, as well as playing quirky characters like a SoulCycle instructor, the stuffy poster guy, and Bottle Boi. One of the first sketches that would become iconic of Yang’s imprint on the series featured Harry Styles as a social media manager accidentally filling Sara Lee’s Instagram account with comments about gay thirst. Like much of the material played by Terry Sweeney, this sketch is firmly rooted in stereotypes about gay men. But unlike those ’80s sketches, this was written for queer people by queer people; Yang, who co-wrote the sketch, also appears as Styles’ disapproving boss, warning him, “We think it would be healthy if Sara Lee stopped doing threesomes.” The writing does not attempt to appeal to a straight audience who might not be familiar with terms such as twinks or poppers. It’s a sketch waiting for straight viewers to do what queer viewers have always done: learn to appreciate humor in a culture that’s not your own.

It is a conscious choice on Yang’s part. “I strongly believe in repetition,” he told NPR. “The more you see this, the more you get used to it, and the less you’ll have, like, an opposite reaction.” This is an attitude he took from his personal life, growing up in a family that sent him to conversion therapy camp at age 17. As he told the New York Times, “They just sat me down and yelled at me and said, don’t understand this. Where we come from, it does not happen. “Despite this, Yang’s relationship with his parents today is healthy and supportive. They have learned to accept it as it is and are making an active effort to understand it as best they can.

While Sweeney’s outing to his family was much less volatile, he also had to deal with a much less diverse and understanding environment behind the scenes of SNL. While he mostly gets along with the other cast members and the writers, he had to put up with a lot of jokes and comments that wouldn’t air today. SNL writers room. The most famous example was when Chevy Chase, after Sweeney confirmed he was gay, responded by saying, “You can start by licking my balls. Chase also presented a sketch where Sweeney’s character is said to have AIDS and they would have to weigh it weekly. Chase was forced to reluctantly apologize to Sweeney for his behavior, and would continue to host the show four more times and make several more cameos. Sweeney, meanwhile, was fired at the end of the season, and he never returned.

While Sweeney never got a chance to expand beyond the limited roles of his first season, Yang thrives on the show and constantly expands his character roster, from a brotherhood guy obsessed with the cocaine, a French-Canadian news anchor and the sinking iceberg. The Titanic. The iceberg sketch is remarkable in that, while it certainly isn’t the whole sketch joke, Yang’s character is clearly, emphatically gay. Her impossibly flamboyant iceberg outfit and her makeup, slang, and hand gestures are all coded by gay people. None of this is necessary for the joke, exactly, but the uniqueness with which this character is drawn helps make it all stand out. Yang and co-writer Anna Drezen could have written many ways to write this skit, many different directions they could have gone in that had nothing to do with queer culture. In a network comedy show that historically prioritized a straight, white, mostly baby boomer audience, it was a bold choice, although it shouldn’t have been.

Yang has received a ton of criticism and harassment online because of choices like these. While much of the homophobia in YouTube video comments or popular Reddit threads related to him is blatant and easy to dismiss, it’s often disguised as boredom about his lack of reach. “Bowen Yang Is Too… Gay,” was the title of an article posted on the Live From New York subreddit a year ago. (If you sort the messages in the subdirectory by controversy and set the time range to “all,” that message is the very first thing that pops up.) This argument persisted throughout Yang’s first two years on the show, despite sketches like “Murder Durdur” and “Celebrity Sighting” showing that he is definitely capable of playing a straight character.

Another common criticism is that his portrayal of flamboyant characters is offensive and homophobic in itself. This criticism was most prevalent following Shane Gillis’ 2019 dismissal from the show for using racist and homophobic slurs on his podcast. Gillis fans have scoured the SNL subreddit to complain about his treatment of the show, leading to posts like “Can anyone show me how funny bowen yang is?” In which the poster attempted to draw a parallel between Gillis’ use of homophobic slurs and Yang’s use of queer coded characters, arguing that it was hypocritical for the show to have fired Gillis but not Yang . But portraying a queer male character in a flamboyant, feminine way is not offensive; what is offensive is the assumption that effeminate men are inherently off-putting, inherently insulting to queer people.

The radical nature of Yang’s performance on SNL It’s not just that he’s normalizing queer characters on network TV, but he’s normalizing queer men who make no attempt to restrict themselves for straight audiences. As Yang noted in an Instagram story in February this year, responding to criticism and harassment aimed at his alleged addiction to queer postings, “It’s so strange and dissociative that these identifiers are considered games. of characters. After all, cast members like Beck Bennett almost always play straightforward male characters, but never get the same kind of criticism. Audiences are used to the sexuality of straight characters that has nothing to do with the sketch joke, but if a gay character’s sexuality isn’t a punchline, then its inclusion requires explicit justification. Yang challenges this double standard, one sketch at a time.

The question of why Yang finds it so important to challenge these assumptions could be explained in part by statements by Terry Sweeney about why he decided to come out in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, at a time when it could have been. (and had) such a negative impact on his career: “I did what I thought was the right thing to do.” Thirty-six years later, Yang says, “I don’t really care how my tenure on the show is viewed in any particular way, other than… I want that to make something easier. better for the next person. This is what makes Yang’s first two years at SNL so important to LGBTQ + viewers and aspiring artists. And at a time when 81% of LGTBQ + youth in Asia and Pacific America still don’t feel comfortable with their families, her presence on the iconic show is vital to them as well. Every time he plays a queer character, he expands the scope of what is considered normal. It proves that there is actually a place for shameless queer comedy in such a mainstream show, and expands the limits of how an effeminate man can act on television. It’s something Sweeney didn’t have the creative freedom to do in 1985. But in 2021? Yang has free rein and he does not let his opportunity pass.


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