In 10 Words or Less
Looking for laughs in the comedy ghetto
Loves: Sketch comedy
Likes: Erica Ash, Kate McKinnon
Dislikes: Niche comedy
Sketch comedy really hit a bit of a nadir on television before "In Living Color" arrived on the scene, injecting the form with a healthy dose of diversity that energized the comedy. Up til that point, black cast members on sketch shows served in a mostly token role, perhaps out of a lack of writers with the inspiration or inclination to provide them with material. Giving a mostly black sketch cast a chance to shine resulted in a fresh new comedy voice and a big success.
Of course, while "In Living Color" had a focus on comedy influenced by black culture, it wasn't the only aspect, as anyone who watched a young white Canadian named Jim Carrey could tell you. The series courted and drew from a niche audience, to be sure, but they didn't let the show get stuck in a comedy ghetto. That spot was apparently saved for the GLBT audience and Logo's "The Big Gay Sketch Show."
It's not a gay minstrel show, but it's severely focused on gay jokes. Now, obviously, if I was a part of this underserved community, I wouldn't want to spend a single minute on the same subject matter I could find on "SNL" or "Mad TV," but there's a difference between gay jokes and jokes about being gay. For example, a sketch about a flighty check-in clerk is only Logo-friendly because they made the clerk flamingly gay. The same goes for the mildly amusing lesbian version of "The Facts of Life," which just makes the girls gay.
When the show stretches a bit to try something more complex, it feels much fresher (a fact made abundantly clear in Season Two.) For example, a speed dating version of the stereotypically fragile lesbianrelationship is a fun bit of conceptual comedy, while the adorably trangender dreamer Fitzwilliam (Kate McKinnon) mixes schoolyard humor and a spoof on British properness. That the characters' sexuality is integral to the joke, yet doesn't serve as the joke's reason for being makes for better and more accessible sketches.
What's unusual though is there are several sketches were sexuality has nothing to do with anything. The recurring Svetlana sketch, in which a brutal-looking Eastern European female dancer (Stephen Guarino) will do anything to win, has nothing noticeably gay about it; the middling Rachael Ray-parody has a the slightest gay tint; while "Afromations," in which Dion Flynn plays a Black Power philosopher lorded over by his wife, has absolutely nothing gay in it. It's almost jarring because these sketches are so different in their tone. The lack of balance in the sketches would be fine if they were funnier, but there seems to be a disconnect between the concepts and the execution. Some bits have great ideas and follow through on them, like "Gay Werewolf," "Bear in the Backyard" and "Girls Gone Wilde," but too often the ideas fall flat, like "Political Project Runway" and the many "America's Next Top Model" take-offs.
The cast, made up of lesser-known comedic actors (like any sketch show) who are mostly gay, is a pretty solid and likable group, with a nice diversity of styles and strengths. It's hard to pick a stand-out among the actors, as the list would get pretty long, with Erica Ash's versatility and Jonny McGovern's physicality battling for the top spot. Even the less noticeable castmates, like average girl Nicol Paone or swishy Michael Serrato, have memorable characters, like Paone's over-the-top Elaine Stritch caricature and Serrato's frightening (yet funny) Mrs. Garrett. What doesn't work is the set design, which leans too heavily on computer illustrations projected as backdrops behind the scenes. There may be beauty in minimalism, but in sketch comedy, it comes off as either lazy or cheap, and when you combine it with the low-budget graphics used in the TV parodies, it distracts from the content, and removes the sense of "realism" that's important when creating a parody.It may not be fair, but when one compares a high-school production to Broadway, the look is one of the most obvious differences, and it creates a different mindset in the audience.
The six episodes in Season One of "The Big Gay Sketch Show" are on the first disc of a two-disc set, which is packaged in a standard-width, dual-hubbed keepcase. The disc features a static, full-frame main menu with options to play all the episodes or select individual shows. There are no audio options, no subtitles and no closed captioning. The second disc holds the special features.
The full-frame transfers on these episodes look terrific, with crisp color, a sharp image and surprisingly deep blacks. The low quality of the visual effects comes across too clearly due to the clarity, and there's no dirt, damage or compress artifacts to mess with the weak graphics.
The audio is just what you'd expect from a basic cable comedy, with a Dolby Digital 2.0 track that is clean and free of distortion, delivering the dialogue fine and presenting the limited music well. Expect little and your expectations will be beaten.
The bonus features are left for the second disc, and feature a spread of featurettes and interviews. First up is a trio of bonus sketches that are amusing, but nothing that should have made it into the show, though "Cruising 101" is very "SNL" like in the way it takes a simple, amusing concept, stretches it too far and then doesn't end well. They can viewed in one chunk, or individually.
"The Big Gay Interviews" are short sit-downs with the cast and director Amanda Bearse, which can be watched separately or in a 20-minute chunk. Each segment focuses on the cast member's personality and their experiences with the show, though they don't get very deep, in part because of the short length of each piece. There are even more interviews, five of them, in "Julie Goldman's Celesbian Interviews," which sees the comedian chat for about 20 minutes with famous lesbians, including model Jenny Shimizu and actresses Alexandra Hedison and Michelle Paradise. Goldman will not be confused for Mike Douglas any time soon (well...), but the awkwardness of her interview technique is part of the charm and raises them above the level of fluff.
"Behind the Big Gay Scenes" is a group of five featurettes (approximately eight minutes) with footage from the set of the show. The first three, "Dressing Room Tour," "Backstage Antics," and "Big Gay Bloopers" is mostly the cast screwing around, while the fourth displays how a Fitzwilliam sketch comes together, showing the same small bit of the scene in various stages. The fifth segment, "Pre-Show Backstage Exclusive." is simply a promo for the show that uses clips from behind the scenes of a live recording.
"More Gay Stuff" is made up of some odds and ends, like a segment from Logo's NewNowNext with Jonny McGovern and his music group, Team Pimp, the Gayest Super Group in the World. I'm assuming it's all a joke, but you actually get to hear (and see) a bit of what McGovern describes as "dirty underground fag pop" in the video "Something for the Fellas," which wins the title of gayest music video ever. It's not the worst house song I've ever heard, but I can't say the video was my cup of tea(bag). Anotherre-purposed clip, from Logo's Wisecrack, features a very funny three-minute set by Goldman about gay weddings, before the disc wraps with a short promo about the Logo media empire.
For some reason, the extras are censored, while the main series isn't. Also, the wide majority of this material is (or has recently been) available on the Logo web site, so fans will have little new material to check out.
The Bottom Line
Every group wants to laugh about what they think is funny, and the gay community is no different. But they deserved something better than what you get in this collection, which has a couple of high points, but overall it's a confused mix of sketches that are either only supposedly funny because they're gay or not so funny and only tangentially gay (Afromations?) The DVDs' quality is solid and they provide a descent set of extras (even if you can get them elsewhere), but anyone curious about this show would be better served by checking out the second season, where the series found its voice.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.