Out of the Closet and Into Our Hearts

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Out of the Closet and Into Out Hearts

by rock oakeson

I must say how surprised—and delighted—I am that the Emmy award winning NBC sitcom, Will & Grace, has found such a huge and accepting audience. It is original, creative, well written and acted, and two of its four main characters are gay. It’s a show about life in Manhattan as seen through the eyes of this thirty-to-forty-something foursome. It is one of the top-rated shows currently on the air, and Middle America loves it.

And did I mention that two of its four main characters are gay?

With the Republicans in control of virtually everything right now, what would make a TV show featuring homosexuality as a main ingredient so popular? In fact, what has prevented Mormon-owned KSL from yanking it from its Thursday night lineup (which it has done before with such shows as Saturday Night Live)?

I think the answer is that it is so well written and acted. Unlike other attempts at sitcoms with gay characters (Ellen comes to mind), Will & Grace manages to pull off some of the funniest comedy by doing it as non-controversially as possible. Even when an episode’s premise is a hot topic, such as when Jack (one of the gay characters brilliantly played by Sean Hayes) attends a religious meeting for “ex-gays.” After the show, one is left feeling the comic delight of our human foibles rather than the sting of a political statement. It is television comedy that reveals the character flaws we all share, regardless of sexual orientation, profession or where we live. And it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The characters are so lovable that we can’t wait until the following Thursday evening to see what they will be up to next.

In fact, my partner Eddie watches taped videos of his favorite W&G episodes every day while he works out. “Don’t you ever get sick of that show?” I asked one day as his feet pounded the treadmill in our basement. “Nope,” he said, and then added: “I am going to find out how to be in their studio audience during a taping. I’d give anything to be there to see the actors in person and watch the process of such a good show.” Determined, he found out how to get on the waiting list while searching the Web for any information about Will & Grace. And after four months, we received our confirmation by both telephone and mail. Eddie and I were on our way to Hollywood.

More than merely watching the edited final version of a sitcom at home on the telly, being in the studio audience reveals either how well or how poorly a show is executed. (Eddie and I have attended tapings of other shows in the past, some good and some not so good.) Will and Grace was no doubt the best one yet. And although the characters were fun to watch as they acted out the wonderful script, they worked in some scenes with a huge St. Bernard that wasn’t always behaving as he was supposed to. They even fumbled their lines, only to have to retake scenes. I was equally impressed with the members of the studio audience. I saw why this show is so popular—and important to the progress of equality and acceptance in the world.

Even as we were being seated in the audience bleachers before the show began, Eddie and I were very interested in who would come to be in the audience for this show. There were many gay and lesbian couples. As the “warm-up man” asked many of us where we were from, we were impressed with the fact that these couples hailed from all over the United States, as well as Israel, England, and Australia (where they told us that W&G is as hot as it is here). But the gays and lesbians were not the majority! The straight couples in our audience were from all over the U.S. as well, openly declaring their acceptance and love of gays when asked. Another amazing thing was the two other categories of the majority of the audience: entire families—moms and dads—with their teenage children; and groups of high school and college students (such as a San Fernando Valley high school cheerleading team) on a school night field trip. Is the taping of a gay-oriented TV sitcom the proper place for a Family Night or a teenage group activity?

You bet it is! I am very thankful that Will & Grace is actively taking such a large and commendable part in showing the world that homosexuality is natural and okay. And as people enjoy the show each week—all over the globe, in fact—they see that there is nothing to be frightened of, that gays and lesbians are people just like anybody else. And our young people are not being taught the irrational prejudice and hatred that so many of my generation was; just the opposite, they are taking in stride the differences between people. Just as the black sitcoms which began in the 1970s taught us not to hate people of other ethnic groups, Will & Grace is teaching our young people how silly it is to think that gay people are all that different from anybody else, or to label homosexuality a “sin.”

Although some individuals and groups, most notably religious ones, have shot themselves in the foot by maintaining the outdated stance that gays and lesbians are somehow “wrong” or “biological errors” (through no fault of their own), there is no turning back for people who are willing to become educated and have their boundaries broadened. Thank you, Will, Grace, Jack, Karen, and all the people behind the scenes—the audiences included—for helping to widen our horizons. The entire world owes you a debt of gratitude!