Being Gay in British Comedy is no Laughing Matter



Being gay in British comedy is no laughing matter


Will Vicious, a new ITV sitcom starring Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi, change British comedy’s attitude to homosexuality, asks Neil Midgley.

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By Neil Midgley7:00AM BST 29 Apr 2013


British TV comedy has not, over the decades, treated its gay characters very kindly. Ever since 1972, and John Inman’s first cry of “I’m free” in Are You Being Served?, gay men have been parodied as camp and effeminate – with lesbians usually not featuring at all. Tonight – perhaps reflecting our more enlightened, tolerant age – ITV will broadcast Vicious, the first British sitcom to revolve around a gay couple. It’s a ground-breaking move, but it remains to be seen whether Vicious will break a more important mould – by allowing its gay characters to be individually drawn (and genuinely funny) comic creations, rather than stereotypes.

It’s astonishing, given what’s happening in the real world, that TV comedy still consigns its gays to a fictional ghetto. A remarkable (yet almost silent) change has taken place in British attitudes over the past few years. The vast majority of straight people now barely notice the gay people in their midst, and gay marriage – which would have been unthinkable not 10 years ago – looks likely to sail through Parliament with hardly a murmur.

Some comics have, to their credit, spotted this shift – and used it to poke fun at gay people who still tediously insist on being special and different. Little Britain, for example, deliciously undermined the delusional Matt Lucas character who insisted on being “The Only Gay in the Village”. But other comedians have, perhaps, seen the robust confidence of their own gay friends as licence to wheel out more off-colour gags.



In 2009, the sketch show Horne & Corden featured a spoof of homoerotic fragrance commercials created by the fictional “Fag Le Jay Jean-Peterson”. James Corden was aghast at the suggestion that this was homophobic, saying in an interview with this newspaper that “our show is one of the most gay-friendly shows you could ever imagine”. Humour like this, which has a “knowing” tone that expects gays to be in on the joke, takes a serious risk of misinterpretation – and, more to the point, of just not being funny.



In 1979 – in sitcom as in politics – the future looked so bright. ITV’s Agony saw Maureen Lipman living next door to a gay couple who (while fulsomely moustached) were well-adjusted, witty and not camp.

All in the family-01






And, in the US, ever since All in the Family in 1971 featured an ordinary gay character, that baton has been picked up by generation after generation of increasingly sophisticated sitcoms.



Will & Grace, about a rather normal gay man and his slightly less normal female best friend, ran for eight seasons from 1998.

WILL & GRACE -- NBC Series -- Pictured: (l-r) Megan Mullally as Karen Walker, Eric McCormack as Will Truman, Debra Messing as Grace Adler, Sean Hayes as Jack McFarland -- NBC Photo: George Lange


Current hit Modern Family features a crazy gay couple alongside two crazy straight ones.



But in Britain, sitcom gays broadly have only one trick: to hover around the closet. Only recently we had Sue Perkins’s abysmal effort, Heading Out, in which she played a 40-year-old vet who still hadn’t come out to her mother.

The transatlantic difference can, perhaps, be explained by the difference in what makes US and UK sitcoms tick. In America, the comedy usually comes from characters who try, endearingly, to achieve normality despite their foibles – as true for the gays in Modern Family as it is for the geeks in The Big Bang Theory. Over here, sitcoms rely on characters clinging on to their self-aggrandising delusions despite the normality all around them – as true for Sue Perkins as it was for Basil Fawlty or David Brent. But being closeted is tragic, not comic. And in modern Britain, it also defies credibility.

To be fair, there have been moments of contrary brilliance – for instance, Simon Amstell’s deeply screwed-up but utterly believable gay character in the underrated BBC Two sitcom Grandma’s House. And maybe Vicious, in the hugely capable hands of Sir Derek Jacobi and Sir Ian McKellen, will mark a step change. But you only have to watch seven seconds of its trailer to learn that both of their characters are bitchy and camp, and that Jacobi’s has – you’ve guessed it – still not told his mother he’s gay.

Surely, in 2013, Vicious’s jokes will improve from there – won’t they?



Source: The Telegraph







A BROWN EYED BOY PRODUCTION FOR ITV VICIOUS CHRISTMAS SPECIAL Starring: IAN McKELLEN as Freddie, DEREK JACOBI as Stuart, FRANCES DE LA TOUR as Violet,MARCIA WARREN as Penelope, IWAN RHEON as Ash. All images are Copyright ITV/BROWN EYED BOY and may only be used in relation to Vicious. For more info please contact Pat Smith at or 02071573044

Watch The Christmas 2013 Trailer:













ITV sitcom with Sir Derek Jacobi and Sir Ian McKellen as an elderly gay couple living in Covent Garden. Also stars Frances de la Tour

Genre: Sitcom

Broadcast: 2013 – 2015

Channel: ITV

Episodes: 13   (2 series)

Creators: Mark Ravenhill and Gary Janetti

Starring: Derek JacobiIan McKellenFrances de la TourIwan RheonMarcia Warren and Philip Voss

Writer: Gary Janetti

Director: Ed Bye

Producer: Gary Reich


Vicious tells viciousthe story of ageing partners Freddie and Stuart; two men who have lived together in a small Covent Garden flat for nearly 50 years. Freddie was a budding actor and Stuart a barman when they first met but their careers are now pretty much over and their lives now consist of reading books, walking their dog and bickering.

Joining Freddie and Stuart is feisty best friend Violet. She’s young at heart with a delicious sense of humour and always on hand to calm Freddie and Stuart down during one of their many arguments. Also part of their long-standing friendship group is dizzy Penelope and grumpy Mason.

Freddie and Stuart’s worlds are turned upside down with the arrival of a young man, Ash, as their new upstairs neighbour.









Source:British Comedy Guide