Tuesday, 4 March 2008

92: "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" and Alan Sues

Alan Sues was a regular performer on the comedy series "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" from 1968 until 1972, where Sues played a number of characters as well as “himself”. Alan Sues’s most famous character was "Big Al", a fey and clueless sports anchor who loved ringing his bell which he called his "tinkle." Sues had been in the original 1953 production of “Tea and Sympathy”. He also performed on the cabaret circuit where he was spotted for “Laugh-In”. Big Al was a character from his own nightclub act. In 1969 critic Richard Warren Lewis described Sues as “‘Laugh-In’’s resident pansy”. While never explicitly saying he was gay, Sues employed exaggerated gestures and was known for acting in an intentionally "over the top" effeminate way. Other than “Big Al”, Sues would appear in a number of rather hamfisted mini-sketches where he would ask to hold a male celebrity’s hand, including Ringo Starr and James Garner, and then this being shocking enough to win a laugh, would then disavow it. Other black-out sketches would include the likes of:

A cowboy asking for a dacquiri.
A cop asking a girl if those were his hotpants
Saying to camera: “You know. I think God save the Queen was written for Oscar Wilde”.

(A police officer approaches Sues who is behind the wheels of a convertible)
POLICEMAN: "Okay, okay, buddy, where's the fire?"
ALAN SUES: "In your eyes, officer."

Since I’ve only seen a few brief clips on youtube, I can’t really say much about his performance. He was a surprisingly large man, which sets up an immediate contrast, but from the clips I’ve seen, his seems a rather toned-down sort of nelly or camp. Although on mainstream TV at this time it probably stood out on its own. Really, it’s a rather dull performance and has little lively comparison to real screamers like Kenneth Williams. Or to use an American reference, he’s no Paul Lynde (and apparently Paul Lynde loathed being mistaken for Alan Sues).

In 1970, one year after the Stonewall riots in New York City, the show created the stereotypically effeminate character named Bruce, who was subjected to long strings of anti-gay jokes about gay men and gay liberation. (this from: www.glbtq.com/arts/am_tv_sitcoms,2.html)

In 1979 CBS attempted an unsuccessful American adaptation of “Are You Being Served?”. Sues played the role of Mr Humphries in the 1979 pilot, “Beane's of Boston”.

It’s possible the deliberately over-the top gay stereotype of “Big Gay Al” on “Southpark” may be some sort of tribute to Alan Sues’s Big Al.

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