Gay “Laugh-In” star Alan Sues dies

Alan Sues

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.

 

—  David Taffet

Bouncin’ wit’ it

When Big Freedia sissy bounces, everybody listens

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

MAN ENOUGH Big Freedia brings a whole lotta shakin’ to The Loft Saturday.

BIG FREEDIA
with Rusty Lazer. The Loft,
1135 S. Lamar St.. Dec. 4. at
7:30 p.m. $12–$14.
GilleysDallas.com.

……………

Sissy bounce. The two words either say it all — or say it all wrong.

But Big Freedia says it’s just a party to him. Relying on heavy samples and jagged dance beats, the sound is having a resurgence just as its home, New Orleans, is, too. And for Freedia, right now is the time for the world to get onboard. The gay performer plans to show Dallas on Saturday just how New Orleans gets down.

“At the end of the day it’s all bounce music,” he says. “That category just separates us from other rappers, but I’m totally fine with it.”

“Bounce music” has its roots in Southern rap and is characterized by party beats, sexualized chants and call-outs. Add a queer slant to it and it becomes “sissy bounce.” Outside its Deep South roots, sissy bounce takes on a more underground flavor.

And people are taking notice. Articles have been appearing more in recent years featuring Freedia and his gay bounce contemporaries, Katey Red and Sissy Nobby. But the music and musicians may have gotten their most rewarding exposure when Jonathan Dee’s impressive piece in the New York Times, “New Orleans’ gender-bending rap,” came out this summer. When the Times takes notice, people follow.

“It’s not a new thing going on, just right now,” Freedia says. “The music has been around for 20 years, but it’s new for a lot of people all around. There’s a boom and I’m just excited to be one of those artists.”

Out musicians across genres are having a noticeable emergence in music. Beyond mainstream Ricky Martins and Melissa Etheridges, indie rock, neo-folk and pop are genres bursting with their share of LGBT musicians contributing to the musical fabric; gay rappers Drew Mason and Yo! Majesty take on hip-hop to tell their stories in a genre that’s notoriously homophobic. But sissy bounce takes the gay perspective to different levels. The brash aggressiveness of it could be a declarative statement of Pride, but could it also perpetuate stereotypes?

“Bounce music is up-tempo with a heavy bass. It’s party music that’s all about ass-shaking and pussy-popping,” Freedia says.

Note that last part — sissy bounce is highly charged with lyrics on defiant sex and partying. Sometimes this is an image gay men can’t escape. As the profile of sissy bounce grows, it’s easy to ask if mainstream coverage will focus on the actual brilliance of the music as a whole or merely pinpoint lyrics that will be used as a tool against LGBT communities.

Sissy bounce might suffer from “parade syndrome,” where all mainstream media shows are scantily clad dancers and high-heeled drag queens rather than paint a complete picture. and rebuilding both his career and his home, Freedia is on the verge of bigger things and any publicity is good exposure. Besides, he’s got a positive message underneath all that rapping about “Azz Everywhere” and “Gin in my System.”

“My mission is to put bounce music all over the world and teach my culture about growing up with struggles. I firmly stand and believe on encouraging peers and my younger generation. If you believe in anything and move forward, good things can happen. That’s my message — especially in the gay world.”

Non-gay listeners can take heed as well. Freedia’s music has resulted in mixed crowds at his shows. This excites him as a gay performer to break boundaries.

“It don’t matter who it is. [Audiences are] loving what I’m singing and feeling it,” he says. “When I perform, my intention is all about bringing it and making people have a good time. Some people don’t know exactly how to accept it at first, but by the end, it’s a real party.”

Which sounds like a reasonable approach to the music itself for the uninitiated.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 3, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens