Butching It Up
Since Queer Eye for the Straight Guy debuted last summer, sketch comedy shows like Saturday Night Live and Mad TV have offered some very funny, on-target parodies (including a queer eye makeover for Santa). With their Queer Eye book, CD, and music video in hand, the Fab Five are now officially overexposed. And so, the folks at Comedy Central thought the time was right to satirize the trendiest show on cable on a weekly basis.
Straight Plan for the Gay Man is a send-up of Queer Eye that, as its title announces, reverses the roles of its gay and straight participants. Each week, a gay man who is curious about what it would be like to experience some facet of the straight world gets his wish granted by four spirited, 20something, gay-friendly heterosexual males.
Straight Plan is not exactly a reality show, but more of a “pseudo-reality” series (then again, isn’t the reality in all reality shows pseudo?). While the gay man who is transformed is an actual person, the straight guys are not, like the Fab Five, professionals in their respective fields, but comedians. Most of the show’s humor, which targets straight male stereotypes, is scripted, with a little improv thrown into the mix. There are a few chuckles, but the laughs are limited because the comedians are required to act (which they can’t) and, more importantly, they are not funny enough (at least compared to Straight Eye‘s Carson Kressley). The same goes for their material, which fails to sustain the hour-long parody.
Like Queer Eye, Straight Plan opens with an introduction to its makeover team, called the Flab Four: Billy, the Appearance Guy; Curtis, the Environment Guy; Kyle, the Information Guy; and Rob, the Culture Guy. They get lost driving through the streets of New York in their shiny new Dodge RAM 3500 pickup truck, but manage to find their first subject, an effete fashion salesman named Jonathan. He describes his career, his Upper East Side apartment, and his boyfriend as fabulous (or, to quote Curtis, “überfabulous”), but wonders what it would be like to spend one day working in the blue-collar world and be as “unfabulous” as possible (Why? I have no idea. Let’s assume he’s curious. Or being paid for his time).
Following the same format as Queer Eye, the Flab Four give Jonathan an intense makeover, beginning with his designer clothes, which are replaced with secondhand duds from the Salvation Army. Meanwhile, Curtis transforms Jonathan’s apartment into a straight man’s crib by littering the floors with newspapers, beer cans, and assorted junk retrieved from the garbage. Kyle and Rob teach him the art of straight male one-upmanship in a bowling alley and, with the help of an acting coach, how to butch it up by lowering his voice and slowing his walk. Jonathan (or as they like to call him, “J-dog”) also gets a remedial lesson in meat (and various other animal parts) to prepare him for the true test—passing himself off as a straight worker in a meatpacking plant.
The “queer” in Queer Eye is exemplified by all that the upscale, white, urban gay male needs for survival: grooming products, fine food and wine, designer labels, and an apartment decorated by a professional. The show’s detractors feel Queer Eye promotes the stereotype of gay men as tasteful, cultured, and shallow (and, as stereotypes go, there are certainly worse ones out there). The show is also accused of perpetuating stereotypes of straight males, who, until the Fab Five walk in the door, are presumably clueless when it comes to fabulous taste and style.
As represented by the Flab Four, the hetero males on Straight Plan are not only unfabulous, but sloppy, competitive, and flat-out gross. The show relies too heavily on the kind of gross-out humor (stuffing your face with hot dogs) associated with teen movies (“Who farted?”). Like an SNL or Mad TV sketch, Straight Plan generates the most laughs when the jokes are directed at Queer Eye, such as the moment when Billy orders Jonathan to remove all of his “product” from his bathroom and replace it with a bar of soap.
The premiere episode’s highlight takes place in a shooting range, where Rob explains they will be participating in a truly male activity—“shooting a gun for no reason.” As each of the straight guys shoots, he shouts a quotation from a James Bond film or Pulp Fiction. When Jonathan has his turn, he quotes from Gone with the Wind (“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”) and tries again with an even gayer Bette Davis line from All About Eve (“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s gonna be a bumpy night.”) It’s the funniest moment on the show, perhaps because the humor stems from the sharp contrast between gay and straight cultures, rather than simply showing us just how irritating straight male comedians can be.
There hasn’t been a good parody on television since Get Smart, and it might be that Straight Plan is the last nail in the genre’s coffin. Sketch comedy should be limited to sketches, so when something is clearly not working (too often the case on SNL), we at least know it will only drag on for a few more minutes.