Laugh out loud

Queer comedy sketch show launches with former sitcom actress calling the shots

By Chris Azzopardi

Pick up a Pocket Gay. They're like a babbling Barbie, only better - and queerer. These portable homo peeps offer (gay) style tips, abrasive (lesbian) baseball breaking-in and if they're not fed, well, dig a whole in the backyard cause they can croak, too. The parody commercial is already a buzzed-about farce - even before airing on Logo's new series, "The Big Gay Sketch Show."

"I would take a Pocket Gay and a Pocket Lesbian. And then switch them off," laughs the show's director Amanda Bearse, who notes the online stream of the commercial has sparked hype.

Think "Saturday Night Live" or "MADtv," which Bearse - known for her role as manic Marcy D'Arcy on "Married ... With Children" - also directed. The scripted series' pilot, airing at 10 p.m. April 24, mixes a political parody of the modern fashion show "Project Runway," a spoof on Wal-Mart and coming-out tales in "When I Knew," among others. With a gay take on "The Honeymooners," it also launches the first of several future mocks of classic television shows. But what about "Married ... With Children"?

"My daughter who's 13 came to the second taping," Bearse says, "and she enjoyed the sitcoms as well and she said, 'Mom, how about 'Unmarried ... With Children?' Because we're not able to have gay marriage yet. And I thought, good one!"

The second episode mocks "The Facts Of Life" with an in-costume Michael Serrato as Mrs. Garrett inhabiting every bit of the face-twitching, droopy-mouthed mother. With a shrilly laugh, Bearse recalls Serrato's all-day mockery of Mrs. Garrett's famous line: "Girls, girls, girls."

"That wasn't actually too hard to parody into a gay sketch," Bearse notes. An overhead shot of Jo (Nicol Paone) and Blair (Kate McKinnon) show them sharing a bed; first they're at each other's throats, than at each other's lips. As Paone awkwardly makes the first move, extending her lips out toward McKinnon, she nearly busts out laughing - one of few candid moments.

"I did come from the world of sitcoms for so many years (so) I particularly enjoyed doing those sketches," Bearse says. "I think they became a bit of a stamp for us as well. I would look for more of those if we were able to return to the series."

<HEADER Giggle gays>

The pilot is one of six already-shot episodes (more if these fare well), that give a fresh take on silly sketch comedy in a gay way. Bearse was elated to take the project under her wings and sail free from, as she notes, the downfall of sitcom television.

"I begged to do the show," she insists, explaining she has wanted to be affiliated with a Logo show for a while and this show fit her like a gay in a pocket.

The sketch show, which stars eight comedians including "Gay Pimp" Jonny McGovern, will likely launch a ceaseless case of the giggles - and not just for the program's crew. "We made each other laugh a lot," recalls Bearse, who relived the three weeks of shooting through a series of photos given to her by a co-producer.

She admits they're not flattering. "In every single shot I'm laughing. I'm standing there with one cast member or another and I'm cracking up ... . And what a great job to be able to go to work and laugh every day."

McGovern had to keep a straight face, he says - or else Bearse might unleash some evil curse upon him and the rest of the cast. "She would not be having any crack-ups or you would've heard the voice of God telling us: 'Start it again!'"

As so-simple tipster Michael Chad, along with his counterpart Chad Micheal (Steven Guarino), McGovern offers fruitless advice - like making ice instead of buying it - on the show's highlight "Logo Life Tips." "That's one that really blossomed when we had the audience in front of us," he notes, adding they weren't sure how funny the end product would be.

The comedian, whose staple is his popular "Gay Pimpin' With Jonny McGovern" podcast, isn't foreign to the tube. He was a correspondent on "The Ricki Lake Show" and appeared on Comedy Central and Vh1.

"I'm made for TV, baby!" he insists.

<HEADER Rosie's on-set rants>

On "The Big Gay Sketch Show," McGovern gets to flaunt several costumes, which took him back - way back. "If YouTube had been around when I was a child I would've been on YouTube 24/7," he says. "I used to sit in front of my gigantic VCR/camcorder and make little things called 'Jonny McGovern Presents...' where I play all sorts of different characters. It was like coming home."

Another TV mogul, Rosie O' Donnell, made frequent visits during the show's pilot filming, but as the crew launched into full-series shooting mode the star, who executive produced the series, began her controversial gig on "The View." Still, she visited - and brought some dirt with her.

"She would come straight from the set right to our show," McGovern says. "We got to see full-on celebrity Rosie 'cause she was still done up from 'The View'; her 'View' hair, 'View' make-up, 'View' outfit."

Though the cast anticipated O'Donnell's occasional check-ins, it was Bearse they had to answer to. Though she, McGovern notes, helped to shape his umpteen characters, for him it was like learning to ride a bike again.

"When I first moved to New York I was doing one-man shows where I was playing all different characters so it was really kind of a welcome return - a welcome return to my old faggoty form."

For McGovern, the early 8 a.m. shooting schedule took some - actually, lots - of getting used to. Luckily, he had a human alarm clock. "Whenever I had trouble I would have one of my drag queen friends ... wake me up in the morning," he says.

For both Bearse and McGovern, working with a goofy gay group has plenty of golden moments. The director relishes that the comedy show, besides simply working for a show that has the word "gay" in its title, represents the diversity of our community.

McGovern couldn't even imagine working with queer-less quipsters. "It's a good thing I didn't have to go to work in some kind of straight-laced environment because I don't think I would've fared too well. I'm pretty used to being as gay as I want, whenever I want."

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