20 Moments That Changed LGBT Comedy

From The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, and The Golden Girls to more recent memories, these are the 20 most pivotal moments in television and film comedies for the LGBT community.




11. Bob Smith
Scott Thompson as Buddy Cole on Kids in the Hall wasn't the only counterpoint to the homophobic stand-up comedians who dominated popular culture in the late 1980s. Bob Smith, a comedian from Buffalo, New York, was the first openly gay male comedian to appear on The Tonight Show and have his own stand-up special on HBO. Countless young comedians climbing the stand-up comedy ranks today cite Smith as their top influence. Diagnosed with ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2007, Smith's health has deteriorated and he has had to hang up his microphone. Smith said in a 2011 interview, "According to my doctors I should be dead by now. So that’s good news. I’ve had to stop doing stand-up due to the deterioration of my voice, which was painful, because I still immodestly think I was one of the best gay male stand ups out there." No arguments here.


12. Nancy Comes Out on Roseanne
As a kid whose gay roots are firmly planted in the '90s, this was the first recollection I had of a gay person on television. Roseanne didn't just feature one gay character, but two. Both Nancy and Leon were seminal characters in my very southern, trailer park upbringing. Roseanne was my parents' favorite show because the characters were the closest representation of my family on television at the time. In my opinion, the characters of Leon and Nancy moved mountains in my household because it was the first time I remember discussing the concept of gayness with my parents. This clip will forever remain a favorite of mine as a result.

Bonus scene: The gang play an elaborate prank on Roseanne by convincing her that Jackie's husband, Fred, is secretly gay. 



13. The One With the Lesbian Wedding on Friends
A year before Ellen DeGeneres came out on her sitcom, '90s kids remember when Ross Geller's wife, Carol, left him for a woman she met at the gym. Although the show's slant was focused mostly on Ross' feelings of rejection and inadequacy about being left for a lesbian, the writers did soften their relationship over time and began depicting Carol and Susan as series regulars. Although other sitcoms talked about commitment ceremonies, Friends was the first to actually depict one.


14. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
This low-budget film from Australia was initially rejected for financing by the Cannes Film Festival and later became a cult classic and a Broadway musical. It was also celebrated for its touching portrayal of a transgender woman, played beautifully by Terence Stamp.


15. To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar
"Lord grant me the serenity to accept that I'm just a boy in a dress and the courage to change with the fashions and the wisdom to know the difference." In 1995, Universal Pictures made a huge leap of faith by making a big budget movie that centered around LGBT characters. Representation in cinema up until this point was relegated to independent films (see Priscilla, Queen of the Desert). With the casting of box office stars Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, and relative newcomer, John Leguizamo, this movie ushered in a new wave of gay friendly movies in the 1990s.


16. The Birdcage

Following the success of To Wong Foo came my personal favorite gay movie of the 1990s (and maybe ever.) To Wong Foo may have been the first mainstream gay comedy but The Birdcage was the first box office smash. It raked in over $136 million in sales compared to $36 million for To Wong Foo. Nathan Lane, Robin Williams, and Hank Azaria are over the top campy and Gene Hackman brilliantly plays the straight man (literally and figuratively).


17. Will & Grace
Will & Grace, which ran for eight seasons on NBC, was the most popular television series featuring gay principal characters. It has also been heralded as responsible for opening the door to a long line of gay-themed television programs, such as Queer as Folk and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. One of the best episodes of the series is "Homo For the Holidays" when Jack, the show's most flamboyant character, comes out to his mother at Thanksgiving dinner. The best line from the episode comes from Karen Walker. "When you're old and in diapers, a gay son will know how to keep you away from chiffon and back-lighting."


18. But I'm a Cheerleader
"A comedy of sexual disorientation." This little gem from 1999 digs its nails firmly into the notion that people can be taught to be straight. Natasha Lyonne is hilarious as the popular cheerleader who'd rather fantasize about the sexy cheer squad than her football star boyfriend. She is sent to a "sexual redirection" camp to learn how to rediscover her appropriate role from an ex-gay camp counselor, RuPaul. Spoiler alert: RuPaul is a terrible teacher on the subject.


19. Neil Patrick Harris on How I Met Your Mother
Why would this show make the list when other LGBT characters on modern comedy shows are getting left out? Because this list is focused on pivotal moments in comedy for the LGBT community and an out gay actor playing a stereotypically straight male role in one of the most successful shows on television is pretty damn pivotal. There are countless instances of straight actors playing LGBT characters but Neil Patrick Harris's character, Barney, is the most successful example of an out gay man playing it straight. Even in these modern times, it's an anomaly.


20. Orange is the New Black
This modern show also makes the list for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, it is also still an anomaly for a transgender character in television (or film) to be portrayed by an actual trans actor. Orange is the New Black is pivotal because it accurately represents women of different ages, body types, gender identity, and ethnic backgrounds who don't play to easy stereotypes. It's a refreshing change of pace that hopefully signals where LGBT characters are headed in popular culture.

Tags: Comedy