You might know Drew Carey from his 10+ years on The Price is Right. Or you might recognize his name from his big break, The Drew Carey Show, which aired from 1995 to 2004. For me, his name brings to mind the nostalgic improv comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway?
With great comedians like Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie, and Ryan Stiles, Whose Line Is It Anyway? is an iconic American television show that aired in 1998 featuring Drew Carey as the host. The show experienced a reboot, which is still airing today, with Aisha Tyler as the host and starring the same comedic mainstays of Brady, Mochrie, and Stiles.
With fond memories of laughing through the night, I revisited some of the old episodes from the 90s recently, expecting hilarity and wistfulness. Instead, my most profound emotion was disgust. I usually can’t get through an episode without at least rolling my eyes and at worst, cursing at the screen. My main issue, to be honest, is Carey’s blatant homophobia (we’ll save the racism and misogyny in the show for another rant). During the 90s, it’s likely that few people found this problematic. Hopefully that’s not the case in this day and age as we see things with a lens of awareness that we didn’t have in the 90s.
I found it especially troubling considering Drew Carey’s previous relationship (and brief engagement) to celebrity sex therapist Amie Harwick (who tragically passed away in February 2020). You would think that he would be an open-minded or sexually liberated man. This is apparently not the case – at least when we look back at his former actions.
To be fair, the content I touch on is 20 years old, give or take (depending on the season). I’m not implying that Drew hasn’t – or couldn’t have – changed. He could be looking back at his behavior and self-reflecting and reaching the same conclusions I am right now. Or maybe he already has. Or, maybe he hasn’t. We won’t know unless he tells us.
And now you might be thinking – this was 20 years ago – why does it matter now? Trust me. It matters.
We can’t forget history. And yes, that’s exactly what this is. History doesn’t only exist in outdated textbooks and museums. The media that raised us is cultural history. In looking back we can learn valuable lessons and move forward. If we ignore it, we learn nothing.
So, yeah, this is a half-rant half-analysis about Drew Carey’s behavior on Whose Line Is It Anyway? and why it matters 20 years later. This is gonna be a long one, so you might want to take a seat and get comfortable.
If you’ve ever seen the show, you know that things can get out of hand quickly. If you haven’t, here’s the gist. The general format goes like this: Drew reads a card with a prompt. The comedians follow suit accordingly, improvising a comedic sketch. Sometimes these prompts are rather ridiculous like one that asks Colin to act as a dating contestant who is “having passionate secret affairs with Wayne and Ryan’s shoes but must decide between them.” See how things quickly rise to hilarity?
Working on an improv comedy show together, the comedians do their best to stimulate laughter – in the audience and their cohorts. For these guys, getting someone to break character is a huge comedic success. As a quick aside, the main comedians, Colin Mochrie, Wayne Brady, and Ryan Stiles, have been working together in this sort of format since the British version of this game aired… which they all starred in before it was reconstituted for a US audience. Their history together presumably solidified a comedic relationship and also provided ample knowledge on how to make each other laugh.
Sometimes, the best ways to startle each other involve kissing, butt-grabbing, or even licking (the face, people, the face). Which in one extreme case was followed by a comedic show of Ryan swallowing an entire can of Altoids that in turn created hilarity when it just about set his mouth afire (well, they are the curiously strong mints).
All the performers have planted a smooch on each other at one time or another (especially Wayne Brady and Colin Mochrie). And all the men on the show seem comfortable enough in their masculinity to touch or kiss another man without “jeopardizing” their sexuality or having their “manhood” called into question. That is, everyone except Drew Carey.
Drew often jumps into the final skit of the episode or manages to get pulled into the performers’ antics before the episode is through whether he wants to be or not. He tries to be a team player, but the fact is that he’s just not as funny or witty as the featured comedians. I think a part of this is that he doesn’t feel comfortable on stage – and it shows. Add to that, he seems to be an insecure man whose toxic masculinity prevents him from unlocking his potential.
Whenever Drew finds himself the target of a kiss or a touch of affection from another performer on Whose Line, his reaction is painfully predictable. He withdraws, and quickly. He literally runs away, and sometimes he removes himself from the skit entirely.
If all else fails, and he’s forced to lock lips with another comedian, he slaps his palm across the other man’s mouth, creating a barrier of “safety” for his lips. Clearly, the social stigma surrounding men kissing infiltrated Drew’s brain.
Okay, so you might say, he just doesn’t like being touched… but this behavior isn’t repeated with female guests or the women they pull from the audience. Just his male colleagues.
Time and again he’s shown that that it’s not just his expected participation that has him rattled. He becomes visibly uncomfortable watching the other comedians get cozy. And he feels the right to voice his discomfort freely.
In one scene, the actors form a sort of dogpile, and in the style of the Whose Line handbook for humor, it gets a bit sexualized. Wayne Brady climbs on top of guest Greg Proops and Drew almost loses it.
Attempting to disguise his disgust with humor (unsuccessfully, I might add), Drew tells Wayne, “the way you straddled Greg there, you almost gave me a heart attack. You guys had – his legs were wrapped around you.” And Wayne explains to him in return “it’s for the scene, dude,” as if it were a reoccurring point of contention between these costars.
Why is Drew so appalled at sexualized male relationships? And you might think well, maybe he’s just a family man, he wants to keep his shows clean. Well, he had no trouble with sexualizing his eccentric female nemesis Mimi Bobeck on The Drew Carey Show. His issue isn’t sexuality – it’s homosexuality. And that’s where the problem is.
Why, for so long, has it been an acceptable opinion that there is something inherently wrong about homosexuality?
And why does this opinion, in media, seem to present specifically towards male homosexuality? Female actresses and comedians aren’t similarly ridiculed as their male counterparts for same-sex affection. Even in everyday life, it’s deemed more acceptable for women to hug, kiss, or generally touch each other. It means they show affection, give support, or display friendship.
Why is it that men giving each other physical affection causes a stir, turns heads, is labeled (with negative connotations) gay? Don’t get me wrong. I know we live in an increasingly progressive society, but we still have a long way to go. Members of the LGBTQ+ society experience more freedom in America now than ever. But they are also still deeply oppressed. And that’s why we need to talk about it. That’s why we need to talk about Drew Carey on Whose Line and why his comments, actions, and behavior reinforce toxic masculinity, heteronormativity, and homophobia.
What’s so wrong about being gay? What’s so wrong about being straight and kissing another man for improv comedy or any other reason, for that matter? For Drew, he probably can’t name it. It’s probably a feeling of disgust and discomfort in the pit of his stomach (or the depth of his psyche) that tells him: being gay is wrong.
He clearly believes that it’s wrong for other men, and it’s wrong for him. At least in these historical episodes of Whose Line.
News flash. Being gay is okay. In fact, it’s awesome. Being straight is okay. It’s awesome too. Being straight and resisting heteronormativity is necessary. We can’t let ourselves fall into these boxes – these cages – that have been built for us by society.
Relying on social ideas about what makes us a proper man or woman is futile. It makes us insecure in our identities. It forces us to judge others unjustly. If you care too much about not seeming gay, you’ll end up looking like Drew Carey: an unfunny homophobe.
If you want to resist heteronormativity, go your own way. Do what makes you happy. Show love and affection to the people who are important in your life (so long as they consent), regardless of their gender.
Analyze what you feel and why you feel it. If someone makes you uncomfortable because of their sexual preferences, behavior, or looks, think about what that says about YOUR values.
That goes for you too, Drew. I wish that you had overcome your insecurities a long time ago. Whose Line would have been better without your comedic fragility and homophobic commentary.