Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

A Sketch of Our Own: The Big Gay Sketch Show Is the Gay Saturday Night Live-Only, You Know, Funny

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

A Sketch of Our Own: The Big Gay Sketch Show Is the Gay Saturday Night Live-Only, You Know, Funny

Article excerpt


IF "EVERY TELEVISION SHOW IS A MAGIC TRICK," as Logo network president Brian Graden believes, then a successful sketch comedy show is a rabbit pulled from a hat, sawed in half, and transformed into a flock of doves. "To find eight people and a group of writers and the characters they bring into it, and have it all just pop, it's not quite as easy as it sounds," says Graden. "So what concerned me the most was that it wouldn't suck."

The show he's referring to--the one that, as it turns out, doesn't suck--is The Big Gay Sketch Show, which begins airing its second season February 5 at 10 P.M. Eastern/Pacific on the Logo network. Adhering to a formula that's hardly changed since Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In--topical jokes, pop culture parodies, fake commercials--the show brings a gay sensibility to a genre that's often portrayed gays with varying degrees of ineptitude.

Relatively speaking, season I was a smash. It generated flattering coverage from major media outlets, including The New York Times and National Public Radio--an enormous achievement for a low-budget show with a no-name cast on a niche cable network. But skeptics and cynics (I was one) should watch for themselves. For the most part, they'll find savvy writing, sharp direction, and an unusually talented cast. "Stars aligned" is how Graden explains it, but there might be more to it. View a few episodes and you begin to get the feeling this program has been waiting in the wings among gays for years. Because what's sketch comedy but a drag performance? What's 10 gays having brunch but an improv troupe sussing out a skit? If ever there was an art form that speaks our native language, this is it.

Success doesn't guarantee longevity, however. Even well-done sketch shows are a risky venture; it's a format known for eating its young. Just ask Dana Carvey or Ben Stiller. Remember their smart, funny sketch shows from the 1990s? Exactly. Even borderline brilliant attempts like The State and Mr. Show didn't last more than two or three years. It's an old-fashioned format--prone to hokeyness, reliant on silly voices and costumes--and unlike some of Logo's other shows, it doesn't have exposed pecs and biceps to fall back on.

But Graden is an industry wunderkind, having shepherded colossal successes like South Park and Punk'd into existence. He's also gay, and he has a reputation for counterintuitive thinking. While head of MTV programming he acquired professional wrestling (for its "huge camp factor," he told PBS). He spotted the genius in Jackass when it was still cult fodder for skateboarders and built it into an empire. And when he was placed in charge of programming for Logo as the network's president, he scrapped its cliched planned lineup of Joan Crawford flicks and Cher appearances before its launch in 2005, using docudramas and reality TV as replacements.

So when he and a friend, producer Joe Del Hierro, began discussing the idea for a gay sketch show over dinner a couple of years ago, Graden ignored the conventional wisdom, approved the concept, and gave Del Hierro one mandate: Get me Rosie.

Graden knew that Rosie O'Donnell's love of the theater might make her amenable to the sketch-show format, and at a meeting with writing partners Del Hierro and Dan MacDonald, he offered her "an open door to get involved with Logo in any way that seemed interesting to her." Sure enough, the media titan was soon signed on as an executive producer, and it wasn't long before her substantial cred began attracting attention.

"When I found out Rosie was doing a sketch show, I threw my hat in the ring, and fortunately, she caught it," says Amanda Bearse, best known for her portrayal of next-door neighbor Marcy D'Arcy on the Fox sitcom Married ... With Children. Bearse had directed many episodes of Married, and after it ended its run she went on to direct other shows, including several episodes of the sketch show MADtv. …

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