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Your Local Gay Performer

Your Local Gay Performer


Gay men will turn out in droves to support our favorite female stars. But with gay entertainers, we're not interested. What's up with that?

Gay men love female performers so much you would think they were on salary. A brassy woman on the stage can count on our adoration. Cher, Bette, and insert name here would never have lasted without gay fans. They even latched on to Tammy Faye Bakker, forgiving her fundamentalism because she looked like a drag queen.

In comedy, Margaret Cho and Kathy Griffin have huge gay followings to thank for their bank accounts. But will that same audience pack a theater for a gay man? I spoke to several friends who are successful out performers. According to one well-known comedian, "If you aren't a strong female or fat black woman, good luck getting gay men to come out and support you. Unless you're doing a benefit show or cruise and the ticket includes you, no dice."

Gay comedians are under no illusions about this. If all the male audiences I have met on gay cruises who said "When you perform in my town, I'll come" actually did come, gay comics would be outselling the road company of Wicked. A comedian friend who performs in Provincetown said, "If there's something else going on where they might see a hot guy or get laid, they do that. Maybe I should just do steroids and become a prop comic -- Carrot Bottom."

Why don't gay men flock to see gay performers as they do to women? They do -- if they're dressed in drag, or nothing. A drag queen is simply a satire of a woman. And many plays catering to gays include nudity to heat up the box office. Naked Boys Singing! made a fortune from gays before being commandeered by the bachelorette party crowd, and it wasn't because of the vocals. Making Porn packed them in to see the packages. But if The Big Voice -- God or Merman? an off-Broadway musical starring a middle-aged (and clothed) gay couple, had attracted audiences equivalent to its ecstatic reviews, it would still be running.

An out singer-songwriter told me, "There have been many gay men who have been incredibly supportive, and I'm very grateful. But I would be much further along in my career if I could count on a big gay audience. There are so many opportunities for gay men to support each other that we don't take enough advantage of."

I know the memory of antigay comics like Andrew Dice Clay and Sam Kinison has scared gays away from comedy clubs, unless an event is marketed as a gay comedy night. But even then, lesbian comics are far more likely to get the girls to show up. Sisterhood trumps brotherhood.

And anyway, what brotherhood? Gay performers are often advised to stay in the closet by--surprise--gay executives. Gay casting directors repeatedly cast straight men in gay roles and seldom cast a gay as straight. A friend recently saw a gay actor in a Broadway show and said, "What a big fag."

Perhaps history plays a part. Back in the olden days, gay men couldn't come out but could secretly identify with tragic Judy Garland or campy Tallulah Bankhead. They got the moral support from women that they didn't get from men, and they gave loyalty in return. The singer told me, "We have a long history of supporting women, and now we need to train ourselves to support each other."

Gay men have related to each other on a sexual level for so long, they might not be used to appreciating a gay performer they're not attracted to or consider too old--a problem they don't have with women. Elaine Stritch's one-person show attracted a much bigger audience than Charles Nelson Reilly's (he had a lot to say about the Hollywood closet). And experience teaches that there have always been gay men who don't even want to be in your presence if they're not attracted to you. These guys need to relax and knock it off. It's a very short road between here and the nursing home

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