First Published: September 2002
       This is an OutUK Archive Item and so some of the links and information may be out of date.
OutUK's Adrian Gillan examines the rise of the gay comedy club and asks the creators of Scotland’s OOT and London’s Comedy Camp if there’s really such a thing as a gay sense of humour. And you can be your own stand-up when you try out our top five gay jokes on your mates!


“I suppose there is a gay sense of humour,” pensively contends Bruce Devlin, one of Scotland's top gay stand-ups and sometime compère of OOT, the award-winning monthly Scots funny club in Edinburgh and Glasgow featuring gay or gay friendly acts since 1999. “Some of it,” he continues, “involves gay specific references to the places we visit, sexual behaviour or activities like cruising, or maybe even things to do with fashion and popular culture. It is also about turning around some of the problems we face as a minority group.”

Indeed - a nightly hysterical catharsis of all the gay, Jew or black jokes we’ve all suffered in silence through direct abuse or in passive compliance. But enough of the substance – what of the style? “In general,” says Devlin, “gay comedy is quick witted and acerbic. Not that heterosexual performers can’t be quick or acerbic, but these are the most obvious and identifiable traits of gay humour. Naturally, the measure of a good comic is still always going to be whether they make you laugh regardless of who or what they are shagging.”

“Gay comedy is quick witted and acerbic.”

“Throughout history there must always have been a gay sense of humour since there have always been gay people,” he goes on. “Oscar Wilde had a particularly coded representation of a gay world. With television and the mass media people like Kenneth Williams suddenly had greater exposure. Such often camp genres were not created by such people because they’d always been around. But for the first time people could put a face to the name since they were in their own homes on TV every day.”

“However,” Devlin cautions, “remember that many earlier gay comedians, including Kenneth Williams and Frankie Howerd, were not out. Many suffered because they felt they couldn't be. Society has since changed and, just as a gay lifestyle - through its comparatively recent legality - has become more accepted, it is possible for gay entertainers to be out and for gay comedy to develop openly.”

So what of the audiences? What do straights make of it all?

“Heterosexuals can make an informed choice of what they go and see,” says Devlin. “The likelihood of a hostile straight person taking a wrong turn and ending up at some gay or gay-friendly camp comedy show is pretty slim. Also, gay performers have to make a living like everyone else and the wider the audience group you can work, the more gigs you can do, the more challenging and satisfying it is for you as a comic and – ultimately - the better you become as a performer.”


“I’m not so sure there's such a thing as a gay sense of humour,” confesses Simon Happily, organiser and promoter of London’s Comedy Camp at Bar Code in Soho every Tuesday and a gay stand-up himself. “But,” he continues, “lesbian and gay audiences do seem to find some things funnier and other things less funny than a predominantly straight audience.”

And there’s just no telling: “I've booked some big acts who usually only play the likes of the Comedy Store where they storm, but not all of them do so well at Comedy Camp. And vice versa.”

“The most obvious type of gay humour would be camp.”

Since its launch in March 2001, some of comedy's biggest names, people like Graham Norton no less, have performed at Comedy Camp. Like OOT in Scotland, it welcomes a mix of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and nice straight people, both in the audience and on-stage – week in week out!

“The most obvious type of gay humour would be camp,” Happily admits cheerily, when pushed. “There is definitely a tradition of camp comedy. And there seems to be one really big camp star for every generation: Kenneth Williams, Frankie Howerd, Larry Grayson, Julian Clary, Graham Norton. But you shouldn't confuse gay comedy - if there really is such a thing - with camp comedy. Many gay comics don't do camp - much less lesbians! Likewise, some of the funniest camp men are straight.”

“And we have a mix of acts just as we have a mix of audiences,” gushes Happily echoing Devlin north of the border. “If I only booked lesbian, gay and bisexual acts the bills would probably repeat themselves. Talent and the ability to make people laugh are far more important than sexuality. The audience especially love some of the straight women, who are often given a hard time on the mainstream circuit.”

“At the end of the day, Comedy Camp is marketed as a straight-friendly lesbian and gay comedy club so bigots know not to attend,” says Happily of his punters. “We have a few regular straight couples who have defected from the bigger comedy clubs as they have a better time at Comedy Camp. Straight magazines often recommend us as a pick of the day or week which helps.”

He expands: “It's also known as a place where lesbians and gay men are very happy to bring their straight friends – their family even! One gay guy invited his dad who had previously been homophobic and wouldn't let anyone know about his son. He told me the next week his dad - who had had a great time - had completely changed his views and had gone into work the next day and told all his colleagues what a good night he'd had at a gay comedy club with his gay son!”

So who makes Simon Happily laugh these days?

“I have two favourite comics” – he confides – “Graham Norton, and Paul O'Grady who plays Lily Savage. Both are gay men who've kept true to themselves and have moved into the mainstream without sacrificing their personal or professional identities. Both their senses of humour have come from a camp tradition, but they've modernised it.”

OOT runs at The Stand comedy clubs in both of Scotland’s main cities: every second Tuesday of the month in Edinburgh (Booking: 0131 558 7272) and every second Wednesday of the month in Glasgow (Booking: 0870 600 6055). Comedy Camp runs at Bar Code in London’s Soho where doors open every Tuesday from 7.45pm onwards, acts starting at 8.30pm (Booking: 020 7483 2960).


1. The Gay Gorillas
2. All Our Sons
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5. Barrel Of Laughs


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