Comedic Fragility

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 History doesn’t only exist in outdated textbooks and museums.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.

The Timeless Art of Debate

The timeless art of debate. At its greatest, it is a showcase of two opposing views finding mutual respect for each other’s perspectives and in the end each walks away not only swelling with pride at the affirmation of their own beliefs, but able to further understand the rationale behind their opponents differing opinions. At its worst, people call each other doody-head and stick their tongues out whenever they hear something they don’t agree with.

Oh, how I wish that second half wasn’t true. Sadly, even though that juvenile behavior is a shameful thing to see displayed amongst first graders, we adults haven’t evolved much past that either. Sure we gussy it up some and cover it in anger, but that’s all just smoke and mirrors to the reality that when we don’t get our way, some of us become assholes.

I’ve recently been noticing more and more that someone, let’s call him Joey, will start a conversation (either in person or on Facebook — that wonderful venue for open discussion) that promotes an idea that differs from what someone else, let’s call her Monica (I may have watched some Friends re-runs recently, don’t judge), believes. The back and forth starts and for some reason instead of staying civil, it turns into an all-out argument where both Joey and Monica are getting defensive and trying to cut down each other’s arguments by calling them unsubstantiated. Why can’t we all seem to remember that, hey, it’s FINE if someone believes something different from you? It’s not the end of the world people and I hate to break it to you, but what you believe is not always the only right answer.

Now, if we’re talking about a fact-based argument then it gets a little murkier, but it still boils down to the same thing: belief. Joey can substantiate his viewpoint and provide BBC links and NPR interviews and whatnot, but if it’s something Monica really doesn’t want to believe then all that “proof” doesn’t mean anything. She’ll just find her own proof or take the ace from her sleeve and point out that not everything that is printed is actually true (shocking, I know) and then we’re right at the beginning again.

I can speak from personal experience. Recently I was giving someone a little industry info that’s been gathered from years of extensive research, investigations and inside information. You know, the things I’ve seen with my own two eyes and talked about with people who were actually on-site. But I was re-buffed, doubted, and scoffed at because what I was saying hadn’t been published in the paper. “How can it be true if it’s not in the newspaper?” was the look I got in return.  Because the newspapers didn’t pick up the story it might as well have been a fairy tale.

Facts are still facts even though they don’t show up in the press. A tree still makes a sound when it falls and no one’s around to hear it.

Since when does public accessibility mean that something must be true? That’s like saying that just because Katherine Heigl has been in movies she must be a good actress. Visibility should not automatically bestow validity. Watch an episode of Friday Night Lights or Almost Human and try to tell me that Minka Kelly can act. Sure, she’s on screen but that doesn’t mean jack. Just because something can be seen doesn’t mean it should automatically be believed. Especially when dealing with the press.

So these debates keep driving and driving and driving themselves towards a cliff where both sides shut off from hearing what the other has to say. That’s when posts get deleted or comments dismissed that have anything whatsoever to do with a perspective that differs. It’s just so incredibly frustrating to talk to people who are hunkered down in their ideals and resist taking the blinders off.

Let’s really think about that metaphor. What if you actually had blinders on that only allowed you to see what’s directly in front of you? Sure, you may like what you see so why change? I get that. But think about how much you’d be missing without any peripheral vision. It’s like our mental peripheral vision is slowly going and we need to get it back before our tunnel vision steers us in the wrong direction.

nifty argument techniques

nifty argument techniques from the ever hilarious Dave Barry — sadly too many people take these ideas to heart

British Invasion

I would like to bring up something that amuses me to no end.  Okay, okay, I’m easily amused.  What can I say?  Anyway, the U.S. is on the cusp of celebrating the Fourth of July—a holiday that reaffirms the independence our forefathers fought valiantly to bestow to their future generations after escaping the clutches of British tyranny— yet we sure do seem to copy a lot of their stuff these days.

It seems like every show, movie, and game an American station airs is some knockoff of a British version. We copied the “…Got Talent” series. We re-vamped Being Human (even though ours sucked). We re-imagined Sherlock Holmes and Family Feud and Life on Mars and House of Cards and The Office. We even got The Weakest Link from them! Is American originality so far gone that we must import all the good ideas from England? Seems like it. Can’t say as I blame the producers really. It’s good stuff we’re talking about here. After all, they came up with Doctor Who. Which by the way has garnered a significant American fanbase (myself included).

When we do try to come up something on our own, something patriotic, what do we get? Jersey Shore. Teen Mom. Party Down South. And a host of Bigfoot hunting, river monster seeking, Honey Boo Boo inspired reality show detritus.  Okay, so maybe our thievery isn’t necessarily a bad thing after all. The last thing we need is yet another show about the nation’s pride in gluttony (10 pound stacks of pancakes and banana splits made with a full gallon of ice cream). The list goes on too. Check out all that we’ve “created” based on a British template.

It’s not just media either. We welcomed their music with open arms, which is great because it rocks. The Beatles, Dave Clark Five, The Animals…there’s even this thing called the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, a genre of music specifically targeting British metal bands that have influenced American ones. More examples, should you be interested, are here.

And what about the food? Brits get a lot of grief about their food, but I don’t buy into that negative hype. In reality we’ve stolen their fish & chips with gastronomical glee and taking in a daily tea is becoming more and more popular each day with those who want to be “hip.” Scones haven’t quite made their mark on this side of the Atlantic yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were all the rage after this kale fad fizzles out. And I for one would welcome it. I love scones.

I can’t help but find it funny that for a country that once rebelled passionately against being anything at all like England, we sure are doing a hell of a  lot to mimic them now.

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