Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution Netflix Review

The history of entertainment, like practically everything else, has been stained by years of hate and injustice. Page Hurwitz’s new documentary “Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution” celebrates over a century of queer humour, highlighting key icons and movements while painfully demonstrating how every time the LGBTQIA+ community makes social progress, there is a horrifying conservative backlash that sets the movement back decades.

Page Hurwitz has collected a tiny army of gay comedians for the film, which will be set against the backdrop of the “Stand Out: An LGBTQ+ Celebration” event in 2022. Hurwitz co-directed the programme, which brought together trailblazing comics like Sandra Bernhard, Lily Tomlin, Margaret Cho, Suzy Eddie Izzard, Wanda Sykes, Judy Gold, Scott Thompson, and Marsha Warfield, as well as relative newbies like Trixie Mattel, Mae Martin, Patti Harrison, and Fortune Feimster. To mention a few. And you can tell it was a great event because every few minutes, “Outstanding” switches to backstage footage of all these comics hugging each other.

A shared past has helped to foster a sense of community. “Outstanding” transports us back 100 years, when queer acceptance was on the increase before being pushed back down by conservative forces around the world. Queerness did not vanish from the media; rather, it transformed. Humorists like as Paul Lynde, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Rip Taylor were well-known in the mid-twentieth century and openly gay in all aspects of their lives and careers, except that they were not permitted to discuss it.

Lynde, Reilly, and Taylor, like many of the early queer comedians, are no longer with us and thus unable to contribute to this type of documentary, but Robin Tyler is, and she is fantastic. The comedian and activist provides many of the documentary’s most jarring comments — “Closets are vertical coffins, all they do is suffocate you to death” — and recalls on coming out publicly on television in 1978, as well as the backlash that wrecked her career soon afterwards.

The fear of being publicly outed and destroying your career still lingers in the traumatic memories of many of the older comedians in “Outstanding.” Todd Glass recalls nearly dying from a heart attack and crying out to Sarah Silverman to “call my girlfriend,” because even when he thought he was dying he was afraid someone would know he had a boyfriend.

The Netflix documentary does an excellent job of emphasising, in case someone doesn’t understand, how dangerous it is for LGBT people in entertainment. Job losses, performance cancellations, public outrage were all awful enough, but the sound of a White House news conference declaring the AIDS epidemic that instantly turns to gay panic jokes and laughter is like a stab in the heart of this entire country. It’s the sound of evil, and it’s not humorous.

“Outstanding” is also not hesitant to criticise other comedians, properly pointing out how many popular comics have made homophobia a significant part of their humour. Eddie Murphy, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Sam Kinison, and Andrew Dice Clay are all singled out in this film, but there are plenty of other stand-up comics who should probably send Page Hurwitz an expensive edible arrangement because that segment of “Outstanding” could have been a whole movie in its own right, leaving scorched earth in its wake.

It’s worth noting that “Outstanding” isn’t afraid to criticise queer activism, citing Richard Pryor’s performance at “The Star-Spangled Night for Rights” in 1977, when he openly discussed his own queerness before turning the tables on the almost entirely white audience for decades of ignoring Black people’s rights. And all anyone can say about that is, “Good point.” Give them hell, Richard.

It’s sad that ‘Outstanding’ doesn’t conclude its history lesson on a more positive note than where we are now, the latest in a long sequence of harsh social regressions. David Chappelle, Ricky Gervais, and Bill Maher are not just chastised for cracking transphobic jokes, but also for failing to tell jokes at all, frequently engaging in racist rants that may not always meet the minimum technical standards for being classified as humour.

“Humour,” Robin Tyler tells us, “is the sharp edge of the truth.” ‘Just kidding.’ does not exist. So if someone makes homophobic jokes, they mean them.”

As we turn the camera inside, it’s worth emphasising that “Outstanding” isn’t without flaws. As younger comedians discuss how vital it was to finally see varied gay lifestyles represented in the stand-up comedy medium, it becomes painfully clear that some queer people, such as asexuals, are not represented in “Outstanding” in any way. Then there’s one especially telling footage of a comedy show mocking LGBT panic by normalising anxiety over sex work. We’ve got a long way to go.

For better or worse, “Outstanding” sheds a strong light on the heroic, tragic, cyclical, and extremely challenging world of homosexual humour. It’s a remarkable and practically thorough review that will likely have something to educate almost everyone in the audience, regardless of their prior knowledge of the subject. It stands out, it stands tall, and it’s nearly perfect.

1 thought on “Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution Netflix Review”

  1. I was appalled by the fact that this documentary failed to acknowledge the “We’re Funny That Way” LGBTQ+ comedy festival in Toronto in 1997 which spanned 4 days and the 1998 documentary by Bruce Glawson about the festival. One of the opening lines of “Outstanding” is “we have 22 LGBTQ+ comics here tonight, this never would have happened 20 years ago”. Completely untrue. Comic Maggie Cassella created the world’s first queer comedy festival 27 years ago! While I love many of the performers in the documentary, the fact that it pretends to be the first, ignoring Cassella and Glawson, irritated me so much, I had to turn it off.


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