Streaming platforms and their programmes have allowed me to discover new queer comedians I had never heard of. Last week I wrote about Moms Mabley, who I found out about on an episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and this week I’m going to talk about Lea DeLaria, who I discovered due to her role in Orange Is The New Black.
Lea DeLaria has been performing stand up since the early 1980s, for longer than I’ve been around, and she’s been openly gay all that time! More even, she’s been an openly butch dyke! And it took me decades of my own life to even know what that meant!
If we don’t count Moms Mabley’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, then Lea Delaria was the first openly gay comic to appear at a late night talk show, when she performed a five minute stand up set at the Arsenio Hall Show in 1993. And let’s face it, Moms Mabley wasn’t really doing material on how much of a dyke she was, so we probably should give credit to Lea.
In 1993, as a seven year old, I might not have been thinking about my sexuality, but I sure as hell wasn’t seeing anyone remotely openly queer on Portuguese TV. You’ll have to fill me in about your experiences of LGBTQ+ representation on 90s U.K. TV!
That same year, Lea Delaria hosted Out There, a Comedy Central special with a mix of sketch and stand up by gay and lesbian comedians. That was the first all gay comedy special. It is available to watch on YouTube and has a cameo by Sir Ian Mckellen.
What I have been finding out with my decision to highlight LGBTQ+ people this month, both here and on my social media, and my choice to focus more on those people I didn’t know much or anything about and not solely the ones who have been references in my life, is that there is a lot more out there on the world wide web about the American examples of LGBTQ+ activism and representation. America truly is a paradoxical country, where undeniably racist and homophobic things happen out in the open, but an effort on representation and celebration of underrepresented voices does happen in what appears to me, a foreigner in both countries, a prouder and freer way than what I see in the U.K., and in what also seems to be a trigger for change around the world.
Is britspeak, that elusive and deemed polite way of communication used in Britain, subject of many translation memes about what people really mean when they use certain expressions, hiding the same levels of racism and homophobia that exist in America within the British society? As someone who has been dubbed as blunt in my proficient use of English, I may need to enlist a British person to help me navigate this subject.