So I shelled out the fifty or so dollars to see Margaret Cho’s show “Mother” during the Melbourne Comedy Festival.
After a little under 50 minutes of Cho-time, the Capitol Theatre lights came up - almost abruptly - and she left the stage. The guy behind me reassured his companion, “don’t worry, she’ll come back out.”
I’ve written previously about length being no determinant of value - of enjoyment - and truth be told, 48 minutes was sufficient. I’d heard quite enough about the importance of same-sex marriage - cue too-predictable hootin’ and a'hollarin from the audience - and it was getting close to my bedtime.
There’s a story to be written about a billed show bearing no semblance whatsoever to the marriage-equality-ranty monologue that was delivered. I’m more interested however, in the content of one of Cho’s anecdotes.
Cho was doing a little subtle name dropping and mentioned being on set with John Travolta (presumably during the filming of Face/Off (1997)).
She belaboured how oh so flaming queer Travolta was. About how everybody in Tinseltown knows just how poofy Danny Zuko is. Of how she had to break the news of his supreme gayness to a naive Olivia Newton John.
I’ve written about what I see as the scourge of sexuality speculation before. More than mere speculation however, Cho was outing Travolta.
Not funny and certainly not okay.
Tom Cruise and John Travolta and Hugh Jackman and pretty much every handsome Hollywood leading man has, at one time or another, been at the centre of gay rumours, cast in the infamous gerbil story and had their face plastered on a gay club poster glued on a pole in my street.
Maybe because they’re heterosexual, maybe because they’re non-practicing gay - or bi - or maybe because they just fear a bloody public backlash - but whatever their reason, actors like Travolta have asserted their allegiance to the Good Ship Straight. And I think we need to leave it at that.
No, we might not like it, might not believe them, and we may have heard accounts like Cho’s and think we know a truth, but it’s not doing equality a service to drag people out of the closet kicking and screaming.
Sure, I’d love for everyone to feel safe and empowered and righteous enough to be their true sexual selves without fear of demonisation. Equally I’d love for homosexuality to be an attribute that people feel is worth shouting from the rooftops.
But making closet jokes - shaming people for not coming out all loud and proud - is not the way to speed this process up.
Cho didn’t out Travolta because she thought it would help him on his sexuality journey. She didn’t out him to encourage him to establish himself as role model.
Cho did it for easy laughs: oh how Goddamn funny it is that Travolta is so camp but thinks people don’t realise. Ha ha ha. Like so hilarious.
And she got away with it because she identifies as bi and she gets cut slack for it.
Don’t get me wrong, something bristles in me too when wives crap on to women’s mags about how very poker straight their man is. And lawsuits implying that gayness is akin to being called a war criminal or paedophile revolt me to the very core.
But surely it’s Travolta’s choice to do his sexuality as he sees fit. If it’s okay to be gay and it’s okay to be bi - and if I’m okay and you’re okay - then it’s got to be okay for John Travolta to “do” his sexuality whichever way he chooses.
I frequently find Margaret Cho hilarious. I have a poster for her film It’s My Party (1996) on my office wall and I’ve repeatedly quoted her line about her bed looking like a crime scene because of all the menstrual sex. And I did laugh, once - admittedly tentatively - during her Melbourne show quip about her father’s Virginia Tech massacre remark (“one or two okay, but 32?”)
But it’s not funny to use the sexuality of other people as fodder for a shoddily structured act. It’s cheap and it’s sad.
(On the upside, Cho’s show wasn’t nearly as painful as Mr Snotbottom. Alas, another story and another round of therapy).