The Saturday Night Live queer canon
June 18, 2019 6:32 AM   Subscribe

Looking back at the show’s history, queer content has come in a few distinct forms. Tracking the evolution of these forms across the years can give us an appreciation for just how far Saturday Night Live and we, its fitfully patient (and just as often impatient) queer audience, have come.
posted by Etrigan (24 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Was there less offensive gay caricature stuff on SNL than I'm remembering? Or did this author mostly skip over that to try to highlight some stuff that wasn't awful? I feel like "Straight Guys Playing Gay as Funny" could be any episode from 1975 to 1990. That Dana Carvey thing is just, wow, that was funny? He doesn't even play camp well. And "It's Pat" was clearly offensive and stupid even at the time it was being done.

Wells for Boys is genuinely funny. What makes it work is the sensitive boy is not the butt of the joke. Even the mother isn't. The father a little bit, but the real joke is really on us, the audience. Why not have toys for sensitive boys?

Cheating because it's some other Lorne Michaels show, but Buddy Cole - Dinosaurs (Scott Thompson) is the funniest gay thing I ever saw on TV. Mostly because it seemed to come from out of nowhere on early 90s TV, at least in America, and it reached young gay me at a very needy moment. Maybe it won't work for people now, I feel like I have to put in a trigger warning for the f-slur. (Used lovingly, I promise.)
posted by Nelson at 7:24 AM on June 18 [7 favorites]

I hadn't seen Wells for Boys. Delightful. <3

I will say that the Ambiguously Gay Duo right when I was on the precipice of puberty (I specifically remember the one shown here, where they're writhing together while suspended from cables :P ) and I'm pretty positive it was the first time I saw queer masculine sexuality in any form. That and Rocky Horror were pretty much it, even though I definitely knew gay guys were out there. It would take another two decades for me to untangle my own transness in light of my attraction to men and things like this were problematic puzzle pieces, definitely.

It was also the same era as Mickey the Dyke, though, and I can see how they're reaching for progressivism in the skit but failing. I don't actively remember seeing it but man, is that song about Mickey's fear of not being accepted painful (and there's the subtle implication that she's "really" a man named Mike--how that would have played into all my 10/11 year old terrors!). I don't know where I'm going with all this except to say that even how our society handles humor matters so much. The kids are watching and paying attention.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:34 AM on June 18 [6 favorites]

The author has inexplicably skipped over the first decade or so of the show; they may have simply not seen any of it, but it's not like it's not available online or at least in transcript. The original cast had "The Adventures of Miles Cowperthwaite", which takes place aboard the ship The Raging Queen, nudge nudge. The Martin Short/Christopher Guest/Jim Belushi prison sketch in the mid-eighties was another.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:41 AM on June 18 [5 favorites]

No mention of The Girl With No Gaydar.
posted by Melismata at 7:49 AM on June 18 [5 favorites]

Thank you for reminding me that Stevie Nick's Fajita Roundup exists.
posted by Automocar at 8:10 AM on June 18 [6 favorites]

Thanks. This is interesting and engaging, and in no way authoritative, but still it sure is nice to have roundups and reviews like this be part of normal posting around here.

Also from the article, "we can still tell when a sketch is or isn’t coming from inside the house."

We absolutely, very much can. I keep saying this and will keep saying it. Marginalized folks can tell if art is or is not coming from a place of (outsider) privilege. Sure, sometimes that's intended, but in most cases, privileged people labor under the illusion that they can't be seen, which is very much not the case.
posted by kalessin at 8:29 AM on June 18 [9 favorites]

Never saw the sink sketch before - delightful. Very canny to point out its queer sensibility.

Totinos is a masterpiece.
posted by Emily's Fist at 9:02 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]

Nelson, Kids in the Hall is part of my comedy foundation, and as a young queer Buddy Cole (and Scott Thompson by extension) was surprisingly important to me, even if I didn't realize it (I was in fifth grade when the show was cancelled, and in middle school when the reruns on Comedy Central were running heavily). Having an unabashedly gay character who was not the joke on TV was amazing. Not to mention the John Waters episode of the Simpsons, which is hands down top three Simpsons eps for me.

I didn't get Schlitz Gay at the time because it was so... gay, so bluntly in your face gay that the joke blew right past me. I kept thinking, "So wait? Are they gay? Just a gay pool party?" I should have known then... Still, good on them for committing to the bit and having the beefiest of cake in the sketch.

And Stevie Nick's Fajita Round Up is fantastic, and I worry we missed a Lucy Lawless comedy career (a la Sigourney Weaver). She's just dead-on perfect.
posted by gc at 9:20 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]

Post-script, not to abuse the edit button...

I totally was the boy that Wells For Boys was made for.
posted by gc at 9:21 AM on June 18 [4 favorites]

Schmitts Gay is one of my favorite SNL sketches ever, but it really loses something without Van Halen's Beautiful Girls. I have to watch it muted now (I also see the skit in my mind when the song comes on the radio, they're that linked together for me). It was just so unapologetically gay. And so unapologetically normal. Just two everyday joes, like you'd find in any beer commercial, who happen to be gay. That was pretty subversive for network tv in 1991.
posted by Ruki at 10:25 AM on June 18 [11 favorites]

Just two everyday joes, like you'd find in any beer commercial, who happen to be gay. That was pretty subversive for network tv in 1991.

I think people young enough they weren't around when that aired the first time don't realize that TV back then was truly buried in beer commercials that were all "a couple everyday Joes surrounded by babes in bikinis." The Schmitt's Gay bit doesn't even exaggerate, it just flips the genders. It's a simple, perfect twist, and I think most of us gay folks at the time were super excited about it.
posted by dnash at 10:51 AM on June 18 [13 favorites]

This reminds me of the gay football sketch from the (often problematic) MadTV, which was...nervously subversive, really? I can’t say I feel any certainty about whether it was “coming from inside the house.”

(The gist of it was two bro-ish guys watching football and every time their team scored, they’d get excited, bump chests, etc and then end up making out, and then freaking out about it. It’s weirdly gentle gay panic that seems to be mocking gay panic, and the end of the sketch is...affectionate? If anyone else remembers this sketch, am I remembering it correctly?)
posted by Smearcase at 11:05 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]

Yep...It’s A Football Thing.

Very funny (and also kinda hawt).
posted by darkstar at 11:45 AM on June 18 [3 favorites]

As a Gen Xer in Canada I watched a ton of Kids in the Hall in the early 90s, and I cannot believe that the show is not more well-known these days.
posted by JamesBay at 3:27 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]

Yeah, the countdown seems to start at 1987 or so, which is weird and far from ideal. It misses the show's 1970s glory days, Eddie Murphy, all sorts of juicy stuff for analysis.

I feel like people might be giving Schmitts Gay too much credit. Airing in the era it did, with Farley and Sandler in the leads, I suspect it was mostly about shock comedy and making a straight audience squeamish with the in-your-face gay stuff. I didn't take it as a feminist thing or a gay thing, but more of a, "Ew, isn't gay stuff gross?" thing.

I also think Mango was supposed to be super gay or at least bi. IIRC he often had quick affairs with the male hosts and then rejected them, leaving guys like David Duchovny and Ben Affleck swooning over their lost love. Kattan said somewhere that he was inspired by The Blue Angel, and Mango was a major tease who enjoyed breaking hearts and playing hard to get. Again it was probably mostly shock comedy, we were supposed to be squirmy about the straight movie star host chasing Mango around, but it always struck me as pretty benign. The weird thing was that a lot of the joke seemed to be based on the idea that Mango wasn't really sexy at all, and while Chris Kattan did a lot to sell that with silly faces and stuff, Kattan was still kind of a pretty thing. He had to work to not be sexy, you know?

I'm trans and have some affection for Pat, but I can see how Pat would bother some people who identify as non-binary. To me Pat seemed like a person who didn't identify as non-binary or trans and never had a clue they were androgynous or causing any confusion. Pat would have very much identified as a man or a woman, whatever they were, and would have been offended at the idea that people couldn't tell, so the joke was in everybody trying to figure out Pat's gender without coming out and asking. I actually feel like the sketch could work fine today with just a slight tweak, if the characters were like, "I want to respect this person's pronouns, but how do I find out what those pronouns are without being rude?"

I'm kind of amazed Deep House Dish didn't even score a mention. (Not-so-fun fact: Kenan Thompson apparently stole the name of the character DJ Dynasty Handbag from a performance artist who was not flattered.)

I feel like a big problem with modern SNL is sometimes you can't tell if something's coming from "inside the house" and you kind of need to know who wrote the sketch to know if it's offensive or not. Like that recent sketch with the Jon Snow guy mincing around in lingerie and all the women were cringing about it. I'd assume that mess was written by straight guys or anti-trans gay guys, but who knows? Beyond the specific LGBTQ stuff, they'll do some sketch about silly entitled white feminist women and I feel like I need to know if it was written by Michael Che or Kate McKinnon before I can get mad or not. Or they'll do something that seems racist to me, like that bit about the crack-dealing Batman guy, but then maybe it was written by a POC, so...
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:19 PM on June 18

"Straight Guys Playing Gay as Funny" could be any episode from 1975 to 1990.

And well into the 90s, if I recall correctly.

As an Old (well, late Gen X'er), I've been thinking lately. My downtown has been bedecked with rainbow and trans flags all month. Our annual Pride event is a tourist draw. (The local police always have a recruiting table.) A number of local establishments display "Trans Ally" stickers in their windows all year round. Trans folks work in customer-facing jobs at a number of the more corporate establishments - and although I'm sure they get rude customers, I've never seen it. (And from what I know of the management, those customers would get kicked out flat on their asses.)

If any of my white-picket-fence coworkers have any negative feelings about all of this, they know to keep those opinions to themselves.

All of this would have been un-fucking-thinkable when I was a teenager in the 90s. Ambient homophobia and transphobia were everywhere, and it went pretty much unchallenged. And, yes - it was a staple of lazy comedy, with SNL being a prime example.

Things really have changed remarkably quickly since then. I'm not sure that Kids Today understand how much worse things were in very recent living memory.

When you see brands from Oreo to Nike bending over backward to pander to pro-LGBT sentiment, and local banks and police departments sponsoring Pride events, and positive representation of LGBT folks across mainstream media - it's probably hard to see exactly why the LGBT rights movement was so necessary in the first place.

I suppose that's the nature of progress. Let's just be clear, though - SNL was in no sense on the leading edge of that progress (or any other progress).
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:21 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]

So as not to abuse the edit window:

why the LGBT rights movement was is so necessary in the first place
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:23 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]

Let us not forget Norm McDonald’s never ending run of prison rape jokes on the news segment.

For this gay guy, SNL was dead to me nearly from the moment I graduated from the insipid suburban imperative to laugh hysterically at every repetitive skit because...well, what else are you gonna do—just talk to your friends and family on a Saturday night? I had reruns of SCTV and scratchy VHS tapes of Kids in the Hall, and plenty of access to far funnier material in other media. My ex and I enjoyed our weekly Norm McDonald hatewatch, though. He always managed to win the bet on exactly when McDonald would whip out his trump card—forcible anal sex. Yay for comedy!
posted by sonascope at 5:16 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]

And as straight-playing-gay-for-hahas goes, I will never understand why Robin Williams got a pass.
posted by sonascope at 5:19 AM on June 19 [3 favorites]

Schmitts Gay is one of my favorite SNL sketches ever, but it really loses something without Van Halen's Beautiful Girls. I have to watch it muted now

Oh no you don't!
posted by kirkaracha at 10:15 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]

Wells for Boys literally made me shriek-cackle out loud for almost its entire length, holy shit. I haven't laughed that hard at something in a while. P.S., if you haven't seen Julio Torres's standup you really should.

And The Actress is such a perfect riff on that overwritten, self-referential style of actors acting about acting, and gay porn from someone who actually gets the things that are funny about gay porn (as opposed to thinking the whole concept is hi-larious enough to rest the punchline on), and that "right in front of my salad?" meme for good measure.

I had to pretend to think a lot of SNL sketches that made me feel gross were funny as a teenager and so I'm particularly glad SNL finally has queer writers -- especially ones that are treasures like Bowen Yang and Julio Torres.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:40 AM on June 19

Let us not forget Norm McDonald’s never ending run of prison rape jokes on the news segment.

Easily one of the most overrated and over-venerated comedians of the past 30 years. I'd rather listen to Rich Little.
posted by JamesBay at 2:07 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]

And as straight-playing-gay-for-hahas goes, I will never understand why Robin Williams got a pass.

I think in part because there were a lot of gay people who thought he was one of ours who would eventually come out? But I mean also because for reasons I don’t understand, he was thought of as a comic genius rather than just a sort of annoying ham without a volume switch. If people like you, they give you a pass on stuff.
posted by Smearcase at 10:22 PM on June 19 [1 favorite]

In the April issue of the gay magazine, OUT, Greg Louganis says on the subject of a possible new mate: "This is extremely quirky, but I think Robin Williams is extremely sexy. He's intelligent. He's got a quick wit. Funny. Hairy chest. I do like that" . . . Louganis, the Olympic diving champ whose new book, "Breaking the Surface," is the No. 1 nonfiction best-seller in the country, was at A Different Light bookstore on Castro Tuesday evening. Some 2,000 people showed up -- including Robin Williams, who ran to the head of the line, hugged the AIDS-diagnosed Louganis and teased, "Here I am, your dream lover!" Then he scampered off without buying a book.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:37 AM on June 20 [2 favorites]

« Older The Hot Mess of Hawai‘i’s Renewable Power Push   |   Theories on Māori moa hunting methods, based on... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments