When the news was announced that Logo (owner of AfterElton.com) was launching a “gay” sketch comedy show, many people were probably puzzled. “Why do we need a gay sketch show?” they may have thought. “Aren't the cross-dressing-happy sketch shows out there gay enough as it is?” “Aren't the writers going to run out of “gay” ideas for skits?” “And where on earth are they going to find a half-dozen funny, creative gay people?”
So I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Big Gay Sketch Show demonstrates definite promise. While the assortment of skits that I saw were a bit scattershot (ranging from gayed-up recreations of old television chestnuts to spoof infomercials to what were essentially one-acts), the show provides some genuinely sterling moments, some talented performers, and the potential for a clever, solid show once the production finds its feet and its audience.
The cast of Big Gay don't seem outwardly to be any gayer than the casts of say, Mad TV or SNL (and not half as gay as The Kids in the Hall or the fellows from Little Britain, come to think of it). And while Rosie O'Donnell is one of the show's executive producers and the out Amanda Bearse has the director's chair, not everyone involved is gay. Of the cast, Dion Flynn is bisexual and Nicol Paone and Erica Ash are straight.
The guys play a range from masculine to girly, and the girls do the same – that's rather the nature of the form. The cast is called to play celebrities, children, supernatural creatures, and so forth. All of this is fairly standard stuff for sketch comedy. This makes the fact that most of the cast are gay actors on a gay network an interesting point of novelty, but not really significant when it comes to the comedy itself. It's not as if the characters are making out with one another left and right anyway (that actually happens more frequently on other shows than here), so the sexuality of the performers is, for the most part, irrelevant.
But the content is gay, right? Well … sometimes. Again, this is pretty standard sketch comedy, save a few more gay characters peppered in and some humor based around gay relationships. And to be honest, the skits that had little to do with gayness were often much funnier than the ones that lampooned gay life.
For example, a skit about a bitchy male flight attendant was a standout. It worked not because the character was gay, but because they nailed how annoying the process of checking into an airport can be. Another very funny moment came when Broadway legend Elaine Stritch was shown as working in a Wal-Mart (yes, Broadway icons are very gay, but the skit itself wasn't “gay”). In fact, the character would make a hilarious recurring bit, but for the fact I'm not sure anyone under 35 even knows Elaine Stritch's name.
The skits that were “about” being gay came across more like gay youth group retreat skits than anything else. Case in point was a scene set in 1983 where four gay men talk about things and people that would become ironically funny by 2007 – to someone who had been in a coma for every year in between. There were exceptions including a cute skit on lesbian speed dating (take two seconds to think about lesbian dating stereotypes and you can guess where it's going, but it's executed quite well) and a series of “When I Knew” coming-out PSAs (modeled on those annoying “The More You Know” bits) that are witty and clever.
As with any sketch comedy show, even middling material can be elevated to comedy gold by the right cast. And as with any sketch comedy cast, Big Gay has its star performers. My favorite is Kate McKinnon, who portrays what was the most inspired and promising character I found in any of the skits, a small wealthy British boy who only wants a vagina for Christmas. It's a very odd, somewhat creepy character similar to Mike Myers' “hyper hypo” or the irrepressible Stuart from Mad TV – and McKinnon goes at it with all pistons firing. She also does a hilarious Rachael Ray (“we're gonna show you how to eat like a queen by tipping like a lesbian!”) and a convincing Sally Struthers. She's a bright spot in any of the scenes where she appears.
Likewise scene-stealing and consistently hilarious is Michael Serrato, whom most people will likely tag immediately as “the fat one”. Yes, he's the big guy, but unlike other large performers whose gags seem to revolve around their weight, Serrato never depends on it for more than a character detail. In fact, he's a brilliant impersonator. His Michael Kors in the Project Runway skit is uncanny (I love how the Heidi Klum character introduces him as “orange fashion designer, Michael Kors”), his Mrs. Garrett in the lesbian re-imagining of The Facts of Life is brilliant, and his male Edith Bunker is spot-on in both annoyance factor and lovability.
Not everyone in the cast has found their groove yet. Julie Goldman (“the butch one”) is consistently funny in her skits but hasn't yet brought a great recurring character to the mix. I look forward to seeing one when she does, though. And the lone black man in the show, Dion Flynn, doesn't seem to get as much airtime as anyone else. I'm not sure if the writers know quite what to do with him yet.
Likewise Jonny McGovern – probably best known for his “Gay Pimp” act and insanely popular internet videos for songs like “Soccer Practice” – is obviously a funny guy, but here hasn't been given any characters that really show what he's made of (skits like “gay werewolf” and “Logo Life Tips” are too predictable to really take off). Erica Ash does a spot-on Naomi Campbell in a mock PSA on domestic violence, but the material is way too stale to be amusing by this point. These are talented folks, across the board – now it's just a matter of the writers finding their strengths and providing them with the material to exercise them.
Was there an aching need for an all-gay sketch comedy show? Not really. But if Big Gay focuses on developing great characters and skits that don't get bogged down in the concept, the show could become a solid hit.