Tuesday, 22 December 2009

344: The Ambiguously Gay Duo

by Robert Smigel, J. J. Sedelmaier and Stephen Colbert
Voices of Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell
Narrated by Don Pardo
1. September 28, 1996 "It Takes Two To Tango"
2. November 2, 1996 "Queen of Terror"
3. December 14, 1996 "Don We Now... Or Never"
4. April 19, 1997 "Safety Tips"
5. November 15, 1997 "Blow Hot, Blow Cold"
6. May 9, 1998 "A Hard One To Swallow"
7. November 21, 1998 "Ace and Gary’s Fan Club"
8. May 6, 1999 "AmbiguoBoys"
9. May 13, 2000 "Trouble Comes Twice"
10. October 19, 2002 "The Third Leg Of Justice"

“Playboy”, December 1999

The Ambiguously Gay Duo is a parody of the stereotypical comic book superhero duo. It’s also a parody of the cheapness and formulae of 1970s superhero animation. Which is lucky, since it lets the writers and performers keep repeating in good faith the same jokes and set-ups, just like a cartoon of the period. It puts the joke in a repetitive frame which pardons what would otherwise just be the normal pandering to an audience’s tastes for more of the same from familiar characters.

The typical episode usually begins with the duo's arch-nemesis Bighead briefing his henchmen on a plot for some grandiose plan for world domination, interrupted by a debate as to whether or not Ace and Gary are gay – often with some speculation as to how he knows so much about The Gayness (which is all gym locker stuff to be honest). Once the crime is in process, the police commissioner calls on the superheroes to save the day, often engaging in similar debates with the chief of police. Ace and Gary set out to foil the evil plan, but not before calling attention to themselves with outrageous antics and innuendo, and behaving in ways perceived by other characters as profligately homosexual. And

Ace [patting Gary on the buttocks] : Good job, friend-of-friends!
Villains/Bystanders [gasps, and ghastly stares]
Ace: What's everybody looking at?
Villains/Bystanders [in unison]: Nothing!

is the pay-off in every instalment.

The shorts were intended to satirize suggestions that early Batmancomics implied a homosexual relationship between the title character and his sidekick Robin, a charge most infamously leveled by Fredric Wertham in his 1954 book, “Seduction of the Innocent”. But where that was merely a possible subtext in the originals, the “Ambiguously gay Duo” makes that explicit and therefore the sole point of discussion for everyone except the unwitting heroes, Ace and Gary. It’s not merely that there is the close relationship but that everything they do has a sexual aspect, which is not all that bloody ambiguous. The gags presuppose that the audience now know everything about gay lifestyles. It’s the same dubious pleasure of gossiping and the cheap fun of speculation. It’s assumed that the homosexual’s tastes and mannerisms unwittingly give him away and leaves everyone else nudging each other in the ribs. Of course this is all merely conceptual set- up for the plethora of sodomy puns and innuendo. If the sitcoms and sketch programmes of the ‘70s and ‘80s were quite happy to have gay gags set up by speculation about mincing poofs, by the late 90s humorists on TV can get away with a penis-shaped car and visual gags which ape a cock stuffed into two round arse cheeks, masturbation, oral sex or the Ambiguously Gay Duo fighting in ways which resemble having sex with each other. What in the ‘70s in “National Lampoon” and the likes was the height of deliberate bad taste are now merely a little risqué.

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