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Jane Chambers uses black humor to describe the widespread horrors of child abuse in "Why are Daddies So Mean":

In the South there is a saying,
that a virgin is a six year old who can outrun her
Pappy and her brothers.

Jewelle L. Gomez attacks the strictures of political correctness when she parodies Catholic confession in "Our Feminist Who Art in Heaven":

Bless me sister
for I have sinned . . .
I swore three times
(saying God
instead of Goddess).
But the most mortal
sin of all:
politically incorrect sex.

Alfred Corn speaks a volume in the first line of his poem, "Older Men": "I used to prefer them and now I'm one of them--."

And Richard Howard, perhaps our most erudite contemporary poet, turns a steamy gay Italian seduction into a bedroom farce with layers of meaning when his Doberman Pinscher, Deucie (whose name evokes both the actress Eleonora Duse and Mussolini's sobriquet "Il Duce"), jumps on the bed and interrupts the coitus in "Poem Beginning with a Line by Isadora Duncan":

But could a dog deter
that lover at that point? It was my own
      screams of "Deucie, down!"
which shrivelled my assailant to his doom
      as only memory can:
Deucie--Duse: mine as much as his
      the disgrace awakened,
in a sacred name consigned to comedy,
      the fiasco of farce--
laughter has no erectile tendencies:
      Deucie and I were saved . . .

Gay and Lesbian Humor on Stage

When gay humor takes to the stage, it may be overtly or covertly homosexual, according to the tastes of the audience and the time in which it is performed.

In the pre-Stonewall years, the laughter was usually generated by the commentaries on heterosexual social manners, cleverly mimicked and informed by the gay outsider's sensibility. Oscar Wilde's memorable comedies, such as The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) and Lady Windermere's Fan (1892), are full of his well-honed wit.

Noël Coward, whose sexual preferences were widely known but not openly discussed, wrote ostensibly straight sophisticated comedies of manners, such as Private Lives (1930) and Design for Living (1933), which contained implicit or oblique allusions to homosexuality, yet regaled English audiences, who treasured his insight into their lives.

Wilde's and Coward's literary descendant was Joe Orton, whose farces, such as Entertaining Mister Sloane (1964) and Loot (1965), have an angry undertone.

One notable exception to writing about heterosexual society is Mart Crowley's The Boys in the Band (1968), which presents a birthday party attended by an array of stereotypical, self-hating gay men, whose bitterly funny humor allowed straight audiences to laugh at them rather than with them: "Who was it that always used to say, 'You show me a happy homosexual, and I'll show you a gay corpse.'"

After the great emergence from the closet, gay theater with self-affirming characters began to crop up like wildflowers in spring. Now gay patrons could not only laugh at secret jokes in straight plays, they could be directly addressed.

Holly Hughes's The Well of Horniness (1983) turns an allusion to a classic novel of lesbian despair into a celebration of freedom onstage.

Many off-off-off Broadway productions, seen by small but enthusiastic audiences, featured same-sex domestic comedies or bathhouse farces, often focused on the sexual exploits of the newly liberated lifestyles, with laughter imposed by the ironies of the closet.

This grass roots tradition produced a strong comic literature in the plays of Robert Patrick (The Haunted Host [1975], Untold Decades [1988]), Doric Wilson (Street Theater [1981]), Robert Chesley (Stray Dog Story [1982]), and Terrence McNally (The Lisbon Traviata [1985]).

The sexual anxiety imposed by AIDS is treated with comic relief in Paul Rudnick's Jeffrey (1992), and Charles Ludlam's brilliantly campy Theater of the Ridiculous offered transvestite parodies of classic plays, famous stars, and literary guises; and Christopher Durang parodied Tennessee Williams in For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls.

As the audiences grew to include nongays, the awareness level dropped. Drag playwright Charles Busch says that his audience is predominantly gay for about three months, and after that he loses about one-quarter of his laughs.

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