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Keenan, Joe (b. 1958)  
 
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Joe Keenan has won numerous awards for his work as a writer and producer for the hit television show Frasier. He is also the author of three richly comic gay-themed novels. These madcap works brilliantly find humor in the frenetic lives of gay and straight urban dwellers, gently satirizing the mores of contemporary life.

Joe Keenan's interest in writing began early. As a boy he composed short plays that he was able to have performed at a summer camp. During his years at a boys' Jesuit high school in Boston he wrote plays and songs, often with a certain campiness. Among his efforts was a song-and-dance rendition of Oedipus Rex with a song entitled "Hey There, You with the Scars in Your Eyes."

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Keenan won a scholarship to Columbia University, where he planned to major in English. The required curriculum interested him less than elective writing classes and participation in theatrical productions, however, and so he dropped out in his third year.

Although Keenan had not completed his undergraduate studies, he was accepted by New York University to pursue a master's degree in musical theater.

On a summer break at home in Boston, Keenan decided to work on a short story. He was inspired, he said, by the fact that he was able to write daily letters of six or seven pages to his partner, Gerry Bernardi, even though he "had nothing to say because [his] life was so boring."

By the end of the summer Keenan's short story had turned into the first several chapters of a novel. He continued working on the book during semester breaks and had written about half of it by the time that he graduated in 1986. After receiving encouragement from a friend in publishing, he completed the novel, Blue Heaven, which was released in 1988.

Keenan sought to emulate the style of P. G. Wodehouse. "I greatly admired his rigorous plotting and his comedy of escalating chaos," he said.

Both of these elements are evident in Blue Heaven and Keenan's subsequent novels, which recount the convoluted misadventures from which an endearing though sometimes exasperating trio must extricate themselves: struggling playwright and lyricist Philip Cavanaugh, who serves as narrator; his former lover harebrained Gilbert Selwyn, a would-be writer ("He wants desperately to be a world-famous, flamboyant, provocative novelist and will do anything to achieve this goal short of putting words on paper"); and their straight friend Claire Simmons, Philip's collaborator who also functions as a kind of ethical compass.

Keenan's novels bear some resemblance to Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series, especially in their zany characters and surprising turns of plot. But Keenan's characters, though memorable, lack the deep humanity of Maupin's, and his series is less sharply observant of social history and, ultimately, less serious, than Tales of the City. Oblivious to weighty issues such as AIDS and politics, the Keenan series is self-consciously escapist fare.

In Blue Heaven, the plot is set in motion by Gilbert's plans to marry a wealthy duchess's daughter in order to reap lucrative wedding gifts. The plot grows ever more complicated when the Mafia makes an appearance, the love affair between "Philly" and "Gilley" is rekindled, and the duchess is unmasked. Peopled by outrageous (and stereotypical) characters, the novel is redeemed by its breakneck pace and good (though sometimes malicious) humor.

The second novel in the series, Putting on the Ritz (1991), has the characters romping through the world of New York's high society as they investigate rival business tycoons. Described in a Publishers Weekly review as a "clever and campy comedy of morals and manners" and "a refreshingly improbable detective story," Putting on the Ritz caricatures such familiar figures as Donald and Ivana Trump, while also further delineating the complex relationship of Philip and Gilbert, who are at once rivals and friends. Despite Philip's falling for a beautiful man, his most enduring relationship will always be with Gilbert. Putting on the Ritz won a Lambda Literary Award in the category of Humor.

While at NYU, Keenan collaborated on various writing projects with fellow student Brad Ross. One of their projects, a musical comedy, The Times (book and lyrics by Keenan, music by Ross) won the Richard Rodgers Development Award of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1991. After the play was produced in 1993 at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, Keenan received the coveted Kleban Award for his lyrics. A revised version of the show was presented for a limited run in New York in 2005, but it has not been commercially produced.

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