Queer ladies have been performing comedy for a very long time, even when audiences haven’t all the time realized it. Saturday Night Live hires like Kate McKinnon (solid in 2012) and Punkie Johnson (solid in 2020) made headlines as the primary brazenly lesbian and first brazenly Black lesbian solid members, respectively. Yet, many viewers won’t notice that Denny Dillon and Danitra Vance, who had been on SNL within the Eighties, had been the earliest identified queer ladies on the present. They and different queer ladies who’ve gone largely unrecognized helped pave the way in which for among the most prolific comedians all through historical past.
Moms Mabley (Nineties-1975)
Jackie “Moms” Mabley, born Loretta Mary Aiken, began her comedy profession taking part in vaudeville exhibits. She turned a daily on the Chitlin’ Circuit, a sequence of venues all through the United States the place Black performers might ebook gigs throughout segregation, and was the first woman to have a solo comedy present on the Apollo, the place she turned a daily performer.
Mabley turned most well-known for her stage character “Moms,” an previous lady who wore home attire and favored younger males, as evidenced by one among her signature strains: “Ain’t nothin’ an old man can do for me but bring me a message from a young man.” Offstage, Mabley dated ladies and wore silk shirts and fits just like the one she sported in her first movie function (1933’s The Emperor Jones). Although her relationships with ladies weren’t identified to the general public, they had been no secret amongst individuals who knew Mabley personally.
Mabley loved huge success on the stage within the Nineteen Thirties, ‘40s and ‘50s. During the 1960s, she also appeared on TV shows like The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and The Ed Sullivan Show and released numerous comedy albums.
Lily Tomlin (1939-)
Lily Tomlin began her comedy career in the 1960s, performing at clubs in New York City and on TV shows like The Garry Moore Show and Music Scene (on which she appeared with Moms Mabley). From 1969 to 1973, she gained national attention as a cast member on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, where she played characters like Edith Ann the little girl and Ernestine the telephone operator, becoming known for signature catchphrases like “And that’s the truth” and “One ringy dingy, two ringy dingy.”
Tomlin made her film debut in the 1975 movie Nashville, for which she earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress. Since then, Tomlin has worked steadily in films, television and plays. The comedy series “Grace and Frankie” launched in 2015, teaming her up with Jane Fonda, one of her co-stars from the 1980 comedy 9 to 5.
Tomlin began dating her current wife and collaborator, Jane Wagner, in the 1970s. Although their relationship was not a secret among people who knew them, it didn’t garner a lot media consideration till the 2000s. Tomlin and Wagner married one another in California in 2013, the 12 months the state completely legalized same-sex marriage.
Danitra Vance (Fifties-1994)
Danitra Vance was the primary Black lady employed to be a repertory participant on “Saturday Night Live.” In addition, she was the second queer lady to be a daily solid member, after Denny Dillon (who was on the present in 1980 and 1981), although this was not public information when both Dillon or Vance was on “SNL.”
Vance carried out comedy with the famed Second City improvisational troupe in Chicago earlier than shifting to New York City and starring within the off-Broadway revue, “Danitra Vance and the Mell-o White Boys.” In 1985, she joined the solid of “SNL” together with Terry Sweeney, the primary brazenly homosexual male solid member. Although the present incessantly solid Vance as a maid or prostitute, she was in a position to stand out with sketches like “That Black Girl,” a parody of the Marlo Thomas sitcom “That Girl.”
After leaving “SNL” in 1986, Vance starred within the off-Broadway play “The Colored Museum” and won an Obie Award for her efficiency in “Spunk,” an off-Broadway play tailored from tales by Zora Neale Hurston. Vance was identified with breast most cancers and had a radical mastectomy, an expertise she utilized in her efficiency piece, “The Radical Girl’s Guide to Radical Mastectomy.” Unfortunately, her most cancers returned and unfold to different components of her physique, and he or she died in 1994 whereas nonetheless early in her profession.
Paula Pell (1963-)
Comedian Paula Pell has carried out in motion pictures and TV exhibits, however is greatest identified for her writing behind the digicam. As a author on “SNL” between 1995 to 2013, Pell helped create characters like Debbie Downer (performed by Rachel Dratch) and the Spartan cheerleaders (performed by Will Ferrell and Cheri Oteri). In 2006, she turned the present’s first openly gay head author.
Since then, Pell has continued to jot down for motion pictures and TV exhibits however has additionally begun to work extra in entrance of the digicam. In the 2019 film Wine Country, Pell drew on her personal experiences to play a divorced lesbian making an attempt to this point once more. Most lately, she stars as one of many members of a former ‘90s girl group in the TV comedy “Girls5eva.”
Wanda Sykes (1964-)
Wanda Sykes started doing stand-up in 1987 and moved to New York City in 1992 to pursue a career in comedy. Starting with HBO’s “The Chris Rock Show” in 1997, she has written for and performed in numerous movies, TV shows and stand-up specials. In 2009, she became the first Black woman and openly gay person to be the featured comedian at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. In 2022, she co-hosted the Academy Awards.
Sykes married her spouse, Alex Niedbalski, in California in 2008. Shortly after, Proposition 8 made same-sex marriage unlawful once more within the state. In the wake of the regulation’s passing, Sykes publicly got here out as a lesbian at a rally supporting same-sex marriage.
Patti Harrison (1990-)
Patti Harrison started her comedy profession doing improv and stand-up. Over time, she honed a hilariously weird comedy type that gained her reputation on Twitter and YouTube, the place she posted movies of herself “reviewing” unique animals.
Starting in 2019, the transgender comic gave standout performances on the present “Shrill” and the absurdist sketch comedy “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson,” and have become a author on the present “Big Mouth.” In 2021, she was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for greatest feminine lead in Together Together, the primary function film wherein she performed a starring function.