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Keenan, Joe (b. 1958)  
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The light-hearted and campy antics in Blue Heaven caught the attention of James Burrows and Glen and Les Charles, the creators of the sitcom Cheers. They invited Keenan to join them in creating a new sitcom for their production company. The resulting pilot, Gloria Vane, starring JoBeth Williams, about a 1930s movie star, was sumptuously produced in 1993, but the network declined to put the series into production.

About the same time, Keenan was asked to be one of six screenwriters who would each contribute a scene to Rory Kelly's romantic comedy Sleep With Me (1994). Keenan's scene features a hilarious riff on the subtext of the 1986 film Top Gun.

Despite the failure of Gloria Vane, in 1994 Keenan was invited to join the writing staff of Frasier, a spinoff of Cheers that had debuted the previous year. During his six-season tenure on the series, he rose through the ranks from executive story editor to co-producer, supervising producer, co-executive producer, and, finally, executive producer. He left Frasier in 2001 to create an ill-fated series, Alice and Bram, which aired to poor reviews and ratings in 2002 and was promptly canceled. But Keenan returned to Frasier in 2005 for its eleventh and final season.

Although television writing is a highly collaborative process and the premise and characters of Frasier had been well established by the time Keenan joined the series, he nevertheless had great success in putting his own stamp on the show. Of his role in shaping the situation comedy, Keenan said, "I certainly did push the show towards exploring comical, farcical gay themes. I think more than anything, my contribution to that show was to import farce storytelling into it."

The first episode of Frasier that Keenan wrote, "The Matchmaker," is a comedy of errors in which Frasier attempts to arrange a date between his associate Roz and one of their male coworkers, only to discover at the end of the story that the coworker is gay and believed that the date was to be with Frasier.

"The Matchmaker" was honored with a GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Award for Outstanding Comedy Episode in 1995. Keenan also earned an Emmy nomination for writing the episode, as well as the 1995 Writers Guild of America Award for Episodic Comedy.

The accolades for Kenan's work on Frasier continued. In all, he received five Emmy nominations for his writing, with one win; and six nominations for producing, with four wins.

Because of their fondness for opera, theater, fine wine, and decorating, Doctors Frasier and Niles Crane were often called the gayest characters then seen on American television, despite the fact that both consistently pursued romantic relationships with women--albeit usually disastrously. For his part, Keenan described the Crane brothers as "metrosexuals a good five or six years before the term was coined."

Although Frasier was a light-hearted series, it occasionally broached serious subjects. One of Keenan's funniest--but bitingly satiric--episodes was "Dr. Nora" (1999), which features Frasier's involvement with a woman who has applied for a job as a call-in psychiatrist at KACL.

The episode savagely caricatures right-wing radio psychiatrists like Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who was much in the news at the time for her comments (notoriously describing gay men and lesbians as "biological errors"). Played by Christine Baranski, Dr. Nora, for all her self-righteous pronouncements, turns out to have questionable credentials and a lot of baggage: not only is her doctorate in physical education rather than psychiatry, but in addition she has had two failed marriages, an affair with a married man, and a bitter estrangement from her mother. The parallels with Dr. Laura could hardly have been missed.

Keenan's most recent writing for television is for Out of Practice, a situation comedy about a family--including a lesbian daughter--all of whose members are doctors (though the younger son feels that he receives a lack of respect because his doctorate is a Ph.D. rather than an M.D.). The show, which debuted in the fall of 2005, received favorable critical comment but only moderate ratings and was put on hiatus in January 2006, though it has since returned. In addition to writing for it, Keenan also serves as executive producer of the series.

Keenan now has three books in his Cavanaugh and Selwyn series. Because Keenan had little time for his novel-writing while working on Frasier, it was not until 2006 that Cavanaugh and Selwyn's next adventure, My Lucky Star, appeared.

Like the other books in the series, it is characterized by, in the words of reviewer Kaite Mediatore Stover, "witty banter, zany plot twists, and colorful, likable characters (even the dastardly villains)." And like the earlier books in the series, the new novel is a "smart drawing-room comedy crossed liberally with farce," but the setting of My Lucky Star is Los Angeles rather than New York.

In addition to Philip, Gilbert, and Claire, the novel features a legendary Hollywood diva, her action-film-star son, and her has-been actress sister, all caught up in a convoluted plot involving a (plagiarized) screenplay, a tell-all memoir, and prostitution. Although Keenan retains the light tone of the previous books, in My Lucky Star he raises the issue of homophobia since the macho actor is a closeted gay man. He also adds more explicit sex than the earlier novels contained.

Despite the presence of an increasing number of glbtq characters on television--some of them thanks to Keenan--he stated in 2005 that "it would be a box-office disaster" for a male action-film star to come out. Offering a bit of hope, he added, "I suspect the situation will eventually change, people will be more accepting, but that's the way it is for now."

Keenan lives in Studio City, California with his life partner of over twenty years, Gerry Bernardi, to whom he attributes his success, saying, "[he] manages our lives well enough so that I don't have to do anything but write."

Linda Rapp
Claude J. Summers

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arts >> Overview:  American Television, Situation Comedies

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literature >> Overview:  Camp

Combining elements of incongruity, theatricality, and exaggeration, camp is a form of humor that helps homosexuals cope with a hostile environment.

literature >> Overview:  Humor

Like other minority groups, gay men and lesbians have had to develop both a particular sense of humor among themselves in order to make their marginal social status endurable and also a defensive awareness toward the rest of the world in order to disarm their adversaries with laughter.

arts >> Overview:  Screenwriters

Although film may be a director's rather than a writer's medium, gay and lesbian screenwriters have made significant contributions to both mainstream and independent film.

arts >> Butler, Dan

Actor Dan Butler, best known for his portrayal of "Bulldog" Briscoe on the television comedy Frasier, not only came out as a gay man, but also authored and starred in the gay-themed play The Only Worse Thing You Could Have Told Me.

social sciences >> Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) is a watchdog group dedicated to promoting accurate representations of the glbtq community in the media.

arts >> King, Michael Patrick

Writer, director, and producer Michael Patrick King has been creatively involved in a number of ground-breaking television series featuring gay themes and strong women.

literature >> Maupin, Armistead

A sharp social critic, novelist Armistead Maupin places his gay characters within a large framework of humanity, creating a social history of San Francisco during the tumultuous decades of the 1970s and 1980s.

arts >> Pierce, David Hyde

Award-winning actor David Hyde Pierce, best known for his comic performance on the long-running hit comedy television series Frasier, belatedly acknowledged his homosexuality in 2007.

arts >> Star, Darren

Responsible for such pop culture touchstones as Beverly Hills, 90210, Melrose Place, and Sex and the City, writer-director-producer Darren Star has had a prolific career in television.


Cannon, Peter. "Joe Keenan, Novelist or TV Writer? Stay Tuned . . . ." Publishers Weekly 252.46 (November 21, 2005): 22-23.

Duralde, Alonso. "Pretty Witty--and Gay." The Advocate (January 31, 2006).

Hersh, Amy. "Facing the Music: Three Up-and-coming Musical Theatre Teams Fight the Odds." Backstage 34.22 (May 28, 1993): 1-6.

"Putting on the Ritz." Publishers Weekly 240.5 (February 1, 1993): 40.

Stover, Kaite Mediatore. "Keenan, Joe. My Lucky Star." Booklist 102.6 (November 15, 2005): 27.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rapp, Linda ; Summers, Claude J.  
    Entry Title: Keenan, Joe  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2006  
    Date Last Updated July 9, 2007  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2006, glbtq, Inc.  


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