‘Portlandia’s’ “Disappointing Gay” Sketch Looks Very Familiar


A few years ago, my good friend Mikala Bierma and I made a web series called Disappointing Gay Best Friend. It was successful in a specific way: a number of sites shared the videos (such as Jezebel, Salon, The Awl, and BuzzFeed), which each racked up a few hundred thousand views, and there were also some comments attesting to my attractiveness (making this project the only time in the history of the world I took anonymous comments on the Internet at face value, thank you very much). For a very brief period of time, I was even recognized in public — and not, as I had been before then, as “that guy from Modern Family.” It was a brief moment in the sun, and it was fun to make silly videos with my friend that other people seemed to enjoy.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjPao2yjRk4] [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dOrThsV3yE] [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRNH4V–R7M]

This morning, I received an email from my friend Rich Juzwiak at Gawker (subject line: “What.”) with a link to this sketch from tonight’s episode of Portlandia:

“I’m sure you already know about this,” Rich wrote, but the clip — featuring Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme as Carrie’s gay brother and Nick Swardson as his equally slobby boyfriend — was quite a surprise, especially given that the clip’s title was “Disappointing Gay.” In it, Carrie and Fred are dismayed at how disappointingly not-gay Josh and Nick are — they met at a sports bar, are into taking Jägerbombs for breakfast, and don’t care much for interior decorating. “I got totally ripped off on the gay relative thing!” Carrie complains, not realizing that Josh and Nick overhear her complaints while spooning on the couch.

Cut to a scene in which Josh and Nick redecorate Carrie and Fred’s apartment in a decidedly fabulous fashion while wearing blazers, and a valuable lesson is learned: Carrie doesn’t need Josh to be any different than he already is, to conform to a stereotype that insists all gay men behave a certain way.

Yes, it all sounded pretty familiar to me!

While the similarities are blatantly there, from the sketch’s title to the color of Homme’s hair, I can’t say I was very upset to see the clip. It was certainly an odd experience, but I hate to be presumptuous enough to suggest that the Portlandia writers were ripping off our idea (although I will say that a quick Google search might have influenced them to go with another title). I’m still pretty proud of the videos I made with Mikala, mostly because, unlike what the climax of this sketch makes very obvious, we had absolutely no agenda going into the process of making our web series. We wanted to make something together in which we got to play exaggerated versions of ourselves and create something that hopefully other people would laugh at. The response to our videos — that the stereotypes about gay men are, at this point, silly and reductive, and that there’s room for a lot of visual representations of the queer experience — was a blessing, but not anything that we anticipated at first.

Did we invent this concept? Probably not, so I’m not too pissed at Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein for lifting it for their series. And even though the two-and-a-half-minute clip feels long (which is a lesson we did learn when making Disappointing Gay Best Friend: no Internet video with a single joke needs to be longer than 30 seconds), it might very well be successful in that it’ll reach a larger audience and make them consider the stereotypes that are still perpetrated about gay men: that they’re all the same. That we aren’t is the point — not that any one of us is more “realistic” than any other.