Gay men have always been a part of comedy, even if at their own expense — prissy sissies, snide queens, and swishy creatives. Portraying male homosexuality on screen as appealing or relatable has been a small part of the long history of film, but only in the last three decades have gay creatives been the ones opening the doors for those ideas. With the release of two gay romantic comedy films last year (Bros and Fire Island), the industry may finally have come out of the closet.
This moment really begins in the 1990s, when mainstream comedy not only included but considered gay men. Called the “golden era” of queer cinema, the swell of gay stories wasn’t just limited to art-house or indie circles, either, as bigger-budget studio projects were greenlit for wide release in order to capitalize on what studios saw as a potential market.
In a newly post-AIDS-crisis America, these mainstream comedies not only let gay men exist joyfully on screen, but also humanized them to straight audiences. The prominent example is The Birdcage, which adapted La Cage aux Folles for American audiences. The 1996 film stars Robin Williams and Nathan Lane (who was closeted at the time) as two gay club owners out to convince their son’s new in-laws that they are in fact a Straight Conservative Family. What was revolutionary at the time was showing that two gay men as not just partners, but as caring parents as well. GLAAD even awarded the film for “going beyond stereotypes to see the characters’ depth and humanity.”