Gay paper dolls?

Is this show too gay?


“Is this show too gay?” That’s the question I’ve gotten from lots of people once I started promoting The Vow Factor, a sketch-comedy show about the proposed marriage amendment I’ve co-written with Joshua Will and Dennis Curley which will be running at the Bryant-Lake Bowl starting June 28. It’s in my nature to want to reassure people, and so I find myself smiling sympathetically and almost saying, “why, no, it’s not too gay! It’s just gay enough!” But I’m a Libra and a twin and am emotionally unresolved AND I’m an improviser (good heavens!) so my dual nature insists that I answer the question, “Is this show too gay?” with a resounding “YES! AND thank you for asking! The Vow Factor is too gay! It’s mind-blowingly gay! Chances are you’ll see The Vow Factor and walk away gay yourself! It’s that gay!”

I should leave it at that. Trust my declaration. Let our finely-crafted promotional materials speak for themselves. But I also teach psychology (which is ironic since I don’t understand people at all) and so I’m compelled to fret and snoop and identify some problem even if I have no intention or ability to solve it. I can’t take anything at face value. So here goes: there’s something about the question, “is this show too gay?” that makes my nostrils flare and my toes curl. I’ve lived in Minnesota long enough to recognize a critical statement wrapped in a seemingly innocent question. I think people are actually saying, “I hope this show’s not too gay.” Again, I want to reach out and touch the person’s forearm with a non-threatening gesture and say, “I understand! Of course, you know, The Vow Factor is about the upcoming marriage amendment, the one that would codify the exclusion of LGBT people from basic civil rights, but the show is in no way too gay! I mean, I’m gay, but there are enough straight people in the cast to dilute my gayness. You’ll be fine. And there’s food and drink at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, which helps, too!”

My grandmother’s voice kicks in: “Now, Jimmy (please don’t call me that), you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar “ (and then she’d add, “although I don’t know why you’d want to catch flies in the first place,” which is one of the reasons I loved her so much). Sarcasm is not a terribly effective promotional tool (really?!!). It doesn’t put flies in the seats. But then neither does earnest pleading (although I do think food and alcohol work: you can eat and drink during The Vow Factor at the Bryant-Lake Bowl! Come see it!). I was talking with comic genius Lauren Anderson the other evening and she said, wisely, “it’s tough to be earnest and be in comedy.” She’s right. Part of me wants to reply like this: “But you must come to The Vow Factor at the Bryant-Lake Bowl opening June 28 and running for three weeks! Sure it has sketches about horses and cloning and that movie Billy Jack that no one under 40 will remember, but it also takes a measured look at the illogical arguments used to legislate unjustly against a beleaguered but ultimately triumphant segment of our community! It’s righteously gay! And your question quite possibly offends me!”

And yet if I’m going to take that approach then I might as well create a project that matches the advertising, something noble like a staged reading of Born Free set to cello and Peruvian pan flute. There would be mimed monologues. But then, because we’re a comedy troupe, we’d have to make Elsa-the-lioness lesbian and emotionally co-dependent and, therefore, complicit in her own domestication. And then we’d have to face the fact that the demographic that would get the Born Free reference is the same slender sliver who saw Billy Jack, and isn’t “co-dependent” a bit too 1980s to get a laugh nowadays? It’s unpromotable, even on Facebook.

You see, I’ve identified the problem. There’s no way to fix it.

Except, maybe, to say this: I can imagine a time, very soon, when the question “is this show too gay?” will be absurd. LGBT folks are becoming, for lack of a much, much better word, normal. Or, at least, it’s not our sexuality that makes us eccentric or idiosyncratic or threatening. It’s not even our sexuality that makes us ripe comic subjects (unless you’ve got the mindset of a suspiciously defensive 15-year-old boy and want to deflect anything gay away from your insecure self. I know. I’ve been there). What is funny, or at least deserving of satiric skewering, is the outlandish lengths people will go to in order to keep gay people jammed in the closet. I mean, what is this amendment really about other than to be certain that LGBT people understand in as clear a voice as legally possible that they—we—are not part of this community? And why should any gay kid have to question his or her worth for one living second because a bunch of grown-ups can’t handle the fact that love and commitment come in all sorts of couplings? I think these are questions are worth asking.

I’m lucky. I’m surrounded by people who think “too gay” is an asinine phrase. I work with actors who make me laugh, who think about characters and scripts and blocking and never, ever balk at “having” to play gay (come see my brilliant colleagues Michelle Cassioppi and Rachael Brogan Flanery and Joshua Will and Dennis Curley in The Vow Factor!). I can bring in ideas about gay lionesses and Peruvian pan flutes and characters from Star Wars or Star Trek even though I can never remember which is which and they indulge me. I can fret about being “too gay” and they remind me that I’m not a teenager any more, and that the world has changed in some really wonderful ways. They know I have two characters, and one of them is either asleep or a corpse.

Oh, yeah. And here’s my answer—my real answer—to the question “is this show too gay?”: come to The Vow Factor featuring Joshua Will, Michelle Cassioppi, Dennis Curley, Rachael Brogan Flanery, and me (Jimmy Robinson) at the Bryant-Lake Bowl from June 28 through July 14 and find out for yourself!