Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution (2024) Movie Review – The topics raised in this Netflix doc are no laughing matter

The topics raised in this Netflix doc are no laughing matter

In an ideal world, Black comedians wouldn’t have to address racism when standing in front of a crowd. Gay, bisexual, and trans comedians wouldn’t have to talk about the prejudice they have received either.

Sadly, we are not living in an ideal world as racism and queer bashing still exist. We need only turn on a news programme or cast an eye over a newspaper story to know that people are still being persecuted (and even murdered) for their skin colour and sexual identity, despite their human right to be heard and seen.

But while we’re not quite at the stage where prejudice has been eradicated – perhaps that day will never come – people are freer now than they used to be to be themselves. Seeing the lineup of queer comedians standing together at the 2022 “Stand Out: An LGBTQ+ Celebration” is evidence of this at the start of the Netflix documentary “Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution.” Such comedians as Mae Whitman, Billy Eichner, and Tig Notaro stand united with their fellow comics, able to wave a flag (not literally) towards the progress that has been made. 

But while there has been progress, there are still those who push against it, sometimes in the name of comedy by those ‘straight’ comedians who think it’s okay to display their homophobia on stage. Ricky Gervais is one such comedian who, in one Netflix special, tried to make his audience laugh with jokes that poked fun at the trans community. He is briefly mentioned in the documentary, as are comics from years past, including Mel Brooks, Eddie Murphy, and Andrew Dice Clay who are also singled out for their bigotry.

The Netflix documentary isn’t 90+ minutes of LGBTQ comedians bemoaning the ignorance of past and present comics, however. That topic is raised but the doc is more focused on the struggles comedians faced during the 70s and 80s when they dared to ‘come out of the closet’ (“Closets are vertical coffins, all they do is suffocate you to death – Robin Tyler) to audiences who had been swayed by the prejudices imposed upon them by political and religious groups. Jobs were lost, shows were cancelled, and accusations of pushing a ‘gay agenda’ were the consequences of their bravery.

The documentary incorporates talking head interviews of comedians who tell us what it was like to come out as gay or trans at a time when anti-gay groups were prominent. Wanda Sykes, Lily Tomlin, and Todd Glass are just a few of those who talk about their time in comedy and how their acts were shaped by the attitudes of the period. We also see archival footage of such comedians as Sandra Bernhard and Robin Tyler shining a spotlight on the homophobic attitudes of society during their stage performances. 

Thanks to Bernhard, Tyler, and comedians like them, many of today’s queer comics now feel able to be themselves. In the documentary, comedian and actor Joel Kim Booster says he was “floored” by the footage gathered for “Outstanding” and talks about his gratitude to those trailblazing queer comedians who “busted down a door” so his generation could walk through it.

There is still work to be done, which is why many of today’s LGBTQ comedians continue to educate others through their performances. The Netflix doc does an effective job of discussing the homophobia that was prevalent in the past, while reminding us that, while society has moved on in waves since the Reaganite area when the White House looked down upon homosexuality, we still have a long way to go. 


Read More: 10 Best LGBTQ+ Movies to Stream During Pride Month

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