'Funny Gay Males' offers humor and understanding


Danny McWilliams, Bob Smith and Jaffe Cohen call their act "Funny Gay Males," and that's certainly accurate -- except the word "funny" should be underlined or capitalized or emphasized in some way because these guys are very FUNNY.

Over the years, comedy acts have been some of the most successful presentations at the Theatre Project, where Baltimore audiences have caught early glimpses of such now-established talents as Kathy and Mo and the folks behind "Oil City Symphony." Now "Funny Gay Males" seems headed on a similar star-bound path. This week the 3-year-old New York-based trio announced it will make its off-Broadway debut in the fall.

Nonetheless, if you catch their act at the Theatre Project -- and you should -- you won't be able to claim you "discovered" them since they've already appeared on "The Joan Rivers Show," CNN and National Public Radio, as well as in cities from Los Angeles to Montreal.

But speaking of Joan Rivers -- can we talk? Surely few mimics do a better Rivers' impression than McWilliams. With only a blond wig in the way of makeup and costume,McWilliams captures the comedienne-turned-talk-show-host, from her gawky arm gestures -- including the seal-like hand clapping -- to the unabashed self-congratulatory way she laughs at her own jokes.

The show is structured as three stand-up routines -- each in a separate style. As the above description suggests, McWilliams specializes in female impersonations. But not just celebrities. He's also a stitch as a bossy law firm receptionist -- the type who can conduct a simultaneous phone conversation with her girlfriend while chewing out the firm's clients and sweet-talking the lawyers.

Smith, who appears second, has a more autobiographical approach, which he calls "docu-comedy." This preppy-looking performer initially seems ill-at-ease at the mike, but he turns out to be a good storyteller, due in part to the poignancy underlying his reminiscences. He admits, for example, that it's easier to tell an audience he's gay than it was to tell his folks. "Parents go through three stages," he claims. "They don't talk about it, then they talk about it, then they talk about it on 'Oprah.' "

Cohen, a brash Jewish comic, wraps up the show after intermission, and though his Jewish jokes -- like his gay jokes -- probably appeal more to those segments of the audience, he also goes in for more universal humor, such as his description of his Aunt Anita, who "had five sets of hair on Styrofoam, five sets of fingernails, five sets of eyelashes. When I was little, I thought she was Mr. Potato Head."

Well, tempting as it may be to print all of "Funny Gay Males' " best lines, it would not only be unfair, there isn't room. And there's also a serious underpinning to the show that is especially telling. The impulse behind much of the trio's comedy is the same as that frequently expressed by more mainstream comics who grew up feeling like outsiders and discovered comedy was their best defense. In this case, it also may be one of the best bridges to increased understanding and acceptance.

"Funny Gay Males" isn't flawless and it isn't for everyone. The routines have uneven patches, and it would be interesting to see more interaction between the three men. But while some audiences will find the language and gay material too graphic, if you don't mind a little blue humor -- or rather, powder blue humor -- you'll have a gay old time.

"Funny Gay Males" continues at the Theatre Project Thursdays through Sundays through May 10. Call (410) 752-8558.

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