Openly gay actor Alan Sues, 85, best known for his work on Laugh-In, died on Dec. 1.
Laugh-In was a pre-Stonewall, quick-paced comedy-sketch TV show that also featured another gay performer — Lily Tomlin. But Sues’ characters were all outrageously, unapologetically, screamingly gay. Among them was Big Al, a gay sportscaster (see clip below).
His campy characters even carried over into commercials. In the early 70s, Sues was featured in Peter Pan Peanut Butter ads as a very flamboyant Peter Pan.
According to the LA Times, Sues was openly gay but not publicly, because he was afraid it would ruin his career. At that time it was OK to be gay as long as you didn’t say you were gay out loud.
However, during a radio interview I did with Sues in the early 90s, he was open and talked freely about being gay.
Sues was in Dallas at the time to perform in Breck Wall’s Bottoms Up revue — a live sketch show that began at Jack Ruby’s Dallas night club and moved to Las Vegas in 1964 where it ran for years. Wall, who died last year, and Sues appeared on Lambda Weekly to promote the tour of Bottoms Up.
In person, Sues was as joyously flaming as his Laugh In characters. On the LGBT radio show, he talked freely about being gay and walking the fine line between his characters being gay and actually saying his characters were gay on a ’60s TV show.
Since a character couldn’t say he was gay on TV then, the only way to know the character was gay was through his flamboyant persona. Stereotype? Sure. Funny? Very. And without a few people like Alan Sues on TV then, we might not have Mitchell and Cam on Modern Family today.
For gay kids growing up in the 60s, Sues was the TV star who let us know there were others like us out there.