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American Television, Situation Comedies  
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All the World's a Stage

In terms of queer portrayals in television comedy, sketch comedy shows such as NBC's long-running Saturday Night Live and Fox's urban showcase In Living Color have aired numerous depictions of hilariously bizarre queer characters (though too often the point seemed to be that being queer was itself hilariously bizarre).

Since its debut in 1975, Saturday Night Live has provided such recurring sketches as the cartoon superhero send-up "The Ambiguously Gay Duo," the weightlifting pair of "Hans and Franz" (Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon) who promised to "pump you up," and the sexuality-challenged, genderless being "Pat" (Julia Sweeney). Sweeney's sketch "It's Pat!" ran from 1990 to 1994, and much of its humor derived from speculation about Pat's gender and sexuality. By tacitly extolling the acceptance of , the sketch's theme jingle added further fuel to speculation over Pat's gender identity.

Many cast members also appeared regularly in drag for such popular sketches as the organized religion spoof "The Church Lady" (Dana Carvey) and the Jewish chat show segment "Coffee Talk" (Mike Myers).

During the 1986-1987 season Saturday Night Live boasted as part of its complement comic Terry Sweeney who, by virtue of his recurring role on the show, became the first openly gay regular performer on network television.

Sweeney's stint, however, was short-lived. Speaking to Advocate columnist Mike Goodridge, Sweeney's partner and former SNL writer Lanier Laney remarked that the show had a very straight, homophobic atmosphere, and it was quickly apparent that, even though Terry was one of the most popular performers in the 1986 season, he was not going to last long.

A homophobic atmosphere can also be discerned in the troublesome broad sketch humor of Fox network's In Living Color. Flamboyant black queens Blaine Edwards (Damon Wayans) and Antoine Marywether (David Alan Grier) appeared in a recurring series of sketches titled simply "Men On . . ." and discussed topics ranging from film to art to vacation to football. Although the sketches were often very funny, the stereotyped depiction of two gay men as bitchy, mincing, and effeminate struck many viewers as offensive.

Still, In Living Color was one of the first television shows that featured openly gay black men and, paradoxically, paved the way for the appearance of "normal queer" Carter Heywood (Michael Boatman) on ABC's sitcom Spin City.

In contrast to the problematic queer portrayals seen on Saturday Night Live and In Living Color, the Canadian sketch show Kids in the Hall was filled with a positive mixture of broad satire and thoughtful, if subversive, humor. Formed in 1985 in Toronto, the Kids troupe consisted of five Canadian improvisational comics (Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and openly-gay Scott Thompson) whose humor, according to MacLean's columnist Diane Turbide, routinely targeted middle-class suburban blandness, shark-like businessmen, and homophobia.

After four years playing comedy clubs in Toronto, the Kids moved to television with their eponymous weekly half-hour sketch series. From 1989 to 1994 Kids in the Hall aired simultaneously on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Channel) and subscriber network HBO, and it was later picked up by CBS and cable network Comedy Central.

Although the show was acclaimed for its irreverent humor, its notable trademark was the characters' use of drag. The joke, though, never came from them being in drag but, rather, from the situations in which they placed their characters. The Kids, in fact, made a conscious effort to be accurate and convincing in their portrayals of women, relying on the sketch's overall humor and their appearances as females rather than using drag as parody.

The cast members also routinely portrayed a variety of characters with differing sexual orientations, and although the characterizations were sometimes offensive, the troupe's verbal delivery, body language, and sheer comic momentum made up for occasional lapses into bad taste. Indeed, with an emphasis on more "normal" comic portrayals, Kids in the Hall signaled a new approach to queer comedy that would become commonplace by the late 1990s.

We're Here, We're Queer, We're Just Like You!

As the 1990s drew to a close, appearances by queer sitcom characters became more frequent and, gradually, more normalized. Rather than relying on stereotypes, television comedies began to portray queers more postively and more complexly.

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