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Television dreams: a young gay boy takes refuge in talk shows only to later find himself on the other side of the screen.

IN DECEMBER, I PERFORMED STAND-UP at the 10th annual Cracked Xmas benefit for the Trevor Project, the nation's only 24-hour LGBT teen suicide hotline. I was shocked I was asked to perform at all, considering I did the same event six years ago and totally stank up the joint. Granted, it was barely two months after 9/11, so the audience wasn't exactly primed to laugh at much. In hindsight I realize it would've taken more than a couple of fart jokes to snap everyone out of their traumatized stupor--but you live and learn. Last year's benefit was an especially big deal because Jodie Foster was presenting an award and Ellen DeGeneres was receiving one. I'm a huge fan of both. Meeting someone I admire is always awkward. The excitement of meeting a celebrity I love overwhelms me and my inner spaz takes over. I met Whoopi Goldberg at an after-party when I first moved to Los Angeles and was so thrilled I practically dislocated my jaw and swallowed her dreadlocked head. My inner mantra that night was Keep cool. Don't. Swallow. Anyone.

The first person I encountered on the Cracked Xmas red carpet was Miss Foster. I visualized my jaw wired shut. The minute we made eye contact she affably said, "Hi! We've met. How are you?" I answered through teeth clenched like a ventriloquist, "Great! I'm performing tonight." She looked puzzled, smiled politely, then walked away. I'm positive she thought I was someone else: My acupuncturist? Someone from traffic school? I got through my set determined to make amends for the goose egg I had laid in '01. I waited in the wings and watched Ellen receive her award from T.R. Knight. Passing me on her way to meet the press backstage, she said, "You were hilarious." Nine days later I would perform as a guest on her show.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

I lived for talk shows as a kid. I must have known on some level it was the only place gay celebrities came remotely close to being out. On Merv and Mike and Dinah! Charles Nelson Reilly's effeminate innuendo was always celebrated as wit. Wayland Flowers flamboyantly brayed via Madame's papier-mache maw. Liberace wore more makeup than Joan Collins under a klieg light and no one batted an eyelash. As a sissy enduring the relentless schoolyard taunt of "faggot," watching some queens strut their stuff unchecked and unpunished on daytime was an oasis of hope in a desert of daily defeat. In life I pathetically camouflaged any hint of color or imagination with the droopy posture of a loser. On television people like me let their freak flag fly and got applause. I used to press my forehead against the television tube, eyes closed, magically willing myself into this cruelty-free universe. With the static electricity snap crackling through my layered shag I'd whisper, "Please. Please."

Ellen and her amazing segment producer Kate Schellenbach worked tirelessly to cull from my act 2 1/2 minutes of material appropriate for daytime, which was kind of like trying to choreograph a pole dance suitable for the Amish. Immediately after the Christmas giveaway I performed to an audience giddy from the rush of free swag. I was my great big girly self in front of a nationwide audience of Midwest moms, senior citizens, and kids home from school. Ellen was so welcoming during my sit-down interview, I could feel the deepest, most wounded part of me grinning with relief. As we went to commercial, Ellen said, "You can see Alec January 11 through 13 at the Renberg Theatre in Los Angeles!" I smiled into the camera, wondering if there were any other noses pressed against the other side of the tube pleading for escape.
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Title Annotation:COLUMN: MINORITY RETORT
Author:Mapa, Alec
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 29, 2008
Words:624
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