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Documentary ‘Outstanding’ looks at the history of queer comedy

In 2022 Netflix put together a live comedy show at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, billed as the biggest line up of LGBTIQA+ comedians of all time.

Stand Out: An LGBTQ+ Celebration, was filmed and its made debut on the streamer including appearances from Wanda Sykes, Lily Tomlin, Rosie O’Donnell, Trixie Mattel, Mae Martin, Tig Notaro, Eddie Izzard and many others.

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While that original Neflix special certainly delivers a lot of chuckles, far more interesting is the new documentary Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution.

With so many generations of comedy greats in the same spot, director Page Hurwitz took the opportunity to interview them all and explore the history of queer comedy, albeit from an almost completely US perspective.

“Seeing all of those people get together was so important, because that’s the story,” Hurwitz told Netflix’s Tudum.

“Lily Tomlin influenced Sandra Bernhard, and Sandra influenced Margaret Cho, and Margaret influenced Billy Eichner and Joel Kim Booster. It’s this incredible tapestry and that’s how the history was created. It’s been this sustained march toward liberation alongside the emergence of queer comedy through these generational torch passes.”

In the documentary Wanda Sykes, who is also a producer of the project, shares her love of comedian Jackie ‘Moms’ Mabley, who inspired her as a child.

Born Loretta Mary Aitken in 1897, Mabley began her stage career in the 1920s and later made the move into television. She came out as a lesbian in 1921, making her one of the first gay comedians.

Whoopi Goldberg first came to prominence when she created a one-woman play about Mabley, while Wanda Skyes portrayed her in the hit series The Marvelous Mrs Maisel.

The documentary also features interviews with Robin Tyler who found success in the 1970s as one half of feminist comedy duo Harrison and Tyler. The pair got a late-night television variety show, but when they made a joke about anti-gay campaigner Anita Bryant their show was cancelled.

While their careers never recovered, Tyler went on to be a prominent lesbian comedian and a campaigner for marriage equality.

Judy Gold, Sandra Bernhard, Margaret Cho, Kim Joel Booster, Rosie O’Donnell, and Kids in the Hall creator Scott Thompson are just a few of the comedians sharing their experiences in this fascinating documentary.

Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution is available on Netflix.

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