Judge Brett Cullum doesn't think gay is funny, but he takes notice when funny is gay.
Jonny McGovern: I knew I was gay when everyone at school was beating me up and calling me gay. They beat the crap out of me! That's when I knew.
Logo is the "MTV owned" basic cable channel catering to the LGBT community, and one of the challenges the station faces is making original programming. There's only so many times you can rerun edited versions of Queer as Folk and "basic cable cut" gay movies. Sketch comedy shows are cheap to produce and usually do reasonably well in ratings, so it made sense for the cable outlet to create its own version of Saturday Night Live or Mad TV. Logo approached Rosie O'Donnell (The View) to executive produce, and she in turn hired director Amanda Bearse (Married With Children) to guide the shaping of what would become The Big Gay Sketch Show. It was a long haul to get it off the ground, including multiple stops and starts, but by 2006 it was ready to hit the airwaves. The Big Gay Sketch Show: The Complete First Season showcases the first season's six episodes without any bleeps over the language and plenty of extras.
The cast includes eight comedians with varying backgrounds:
There are things that work about the series and things that don't. The Big Gay Sketch Show is at its best when it combines queer sensibilities and history to rework classic television programs as if they were aimed at a homosexual demographic. Director Amanda Bearse started in sitcoms, and the show truly pops when the cast "gays up" All in the Family, The Facts of Life, or The Honeymooners. Another standout sketch is when they decide to take on Project Runway (already big and gay on its own) with political figures instead of aspiring fashion designers. Broadway icon Elaine Stritch as an over-enthusiastic Wal-mart greeter is also a hoot, and surprisingly it's a sketch that requires the audience to know a great deal about the icon. Where The Big Gay Sketch Show falters is that it often aims for the most simple and base targets. It wants to be what In Living Color was back in the day, and to get there it needs smarter and more dangerous material. Although the Stritch sketch was smart, many of the bits feel too base and obvious. The first season feels a bit tentative, as if they were too worried to offend someone. But in fretting about getting too complex sometimes the sketches veer toward "too stereotypical," and that seems as offensive as it dumbs down the humor for the viewers. The sequences are performed live in front of an audience, but for strange reasons the show uses a laugh track to punch up reactions. Are they unsure of how funny all this is? Truth is it's hit and miss like any other comedy showcase.
Logo's DVD presentation brings quite a bit to a series that only has six 22-minute episodes in this first season collection. The transfers are a clean fullscreen with a simple stereo mix. There are no artifacts or color bleeding, but the show is shot conventionally and looks like broadcast quality rather than anything sharper. Simple stereo keeps things lively with dialogue and music. The first DVD contains the shows, and the second disc is dedicated to extras. Most of the "behind the scenes" footage are short clips either produced for the Internet or the type of thing you'd see between shows when they have time to fill on Logo. They are entertaining though, and the collection of backstage antics and bloopers are worth a look for fans. The three bonus sketches are skits smartly cut from the show, so they're okay for what they are without being anything you have to see. Julie Goldman's "Celesbian Interviews" are clips the comic recorded while at the lesbian event "Dinah Shore Week" in Palm Springs. We also get to see some of her standup act in a short clip first shown as a podcast. Also included are promos spots and the uncensored video for "Something For the Fellas That Like the Fellas" from Jonny McGovern and his "gay supergroup."
In the end, The Big Gay Sketch Show: The Complete First Season is a mixed bag with some sketches working better than others because gay or straight, the same problems plague a comedy series. Not every skit works, and the "hit or miss" ratio seems to mirror the current incarnation of Saturday Night Live in that respect. Logo has provided an extras-packed DVD set that will interest fans. The Big Gay Sketch Show isn't as much of a pioneer as it wants to be, but you have to give them props for trying to invert the equation. This is a chance for gays to make the jokes instead of being the butt of them. The only problem is they have the gay part down, but getting the funny is the real challenge. Bless them for trying though, and the parts that work make it all seem worthy enough to give a go. Here's to hoping that as they develop this original sketch show, it will find its rainbow colored voice.
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