Comedy has historically been one of the most heterosexual and male-dominated arenas in entertainment. In 2013, every one of Forbes’ 12 top-earning comedians were heterosexual men. In 2019, Amy Schumer cracked the glass ceiling and was the only woman on the list at number 7. Although women and queer comics have made breakthroughs in the scene over the last few decades, only a handful of them have become big names (e.g. Ellen DeGeneres, Wanda Sykes, Margaret Cho, Tig Notaro, Bowen Yang).
The emergence of a few standout “token” queer comedians might only be further evidence for the fact that they are exceptions in a culture which was not originally built for them. Even the modern-day casual consumer of comedy is sure to be familiar with the feeling of walking into a club to be met with a lineup of twenty dudes who look the same and present similar perspectives. In the face of this imbalance, we can look to the body of up-and-coming performers as the future of queer representation in comedy. In light of Pride Month, here is a list of seven LGBTQ+ comedians who you can expect to make a big splash in comedy very soon.
Sam Jay is one of the hottest queer comedians in both the New York club scene and television. In 2017, she made history as the second Black lesbian woman to become a staff writer on Saturday Night Live, and now has her own one-hour Netflix standup special, Sam Jay: 3 in the Morning. Jay performs regularly at the iconic club The Comedy Cellar, where she is known for her hard-hitting, edgy jokes combined with a relaxed stage presence that makes it feel as though she’s talking to a group of friends. As a queer comedian, Jay writes with the goal of provoking a conversation with just about anyone, even those who are against her. In her own words: “I’m not talking to a wokey-woke, I’ve-read-everything, I-understand-this person. I’m talking to motherfuckers in my own family. That’s who I was talking to in this joke.” Jay has recently transitioned into the world of late-night talk shows—in her new HBO half-hour series PAUSE with Sam Jay, which premiered in May 2021, she interacts with a wide range of perspectives—from other queer comics to Black conservatives and gun advocates—in the form of candid conversations with real people at a weekly party in her apartment.
Emma Willmann is a lesbian comedian and actor who was recognized by Time Out New York in 2014 as one of the 10 funniest women in NYC. She is a regular at the Comedy Cellar and has standup performances featured on Netflix’s The Comedy Lineup and CBS’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. You might also recognize her as Beth from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, or from HBO’s Crashing, where she plays a guest role based on herself. Hailing from rural Maine, Willmann brings a small-town-turned-big-city charm to her comedy and pokes fun at her upbringing (In her Late Show set, she jokes: “As a lesbian, my dad always asks ‘Who’s the man?’ It’s very offensive. Obviously I’m the man.”) Willmann is constantly grappling with the identify of a “gay comedian.”
She tells Bustle: “It is frustrating to have to think so much about every word choice and how many minutes of ‘gay content’ I have in a show and when to ‘come out’ to an audience.” Ultimately, Willmann aims to call out her own internalized homophobia while straying as far away from being pigeonholed as possible so as to let her work speak for itself. As she explained in an interview: “My jokes don't need to all be put under the gay umbrella. They're not ‘gay jokes.’” Willmann co-hosts the podcast Inside the Closet with fellow gay comic Matteo Lane, where they talk relationships, mental illness, and being a comic on the road. Willmann is constantly on the move, so keep an eye out for her live shows in clubs around both New York and Los Angeles.
Matteo Lane is a multi-talented gay comic who lived in Italy as an oil painter and opera singer before moving to New York to pursue comedy. Like Willmann, he co-hosts Inside the Closet and plays himself on Crashing. Lane has standup sets featured on Netflix’s The Comedy Lineup, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Late Night with Seth Meyers, and Comedy Central. Lane’s comedy provides a mix of wit and absurdism, whether he is offering a queer interpretaton of Disney characters or comparing coming out of the closet to admitting you’re a demonologist. Despite his lighthearted stage presence, Lane’s career as a queer comic has not been without struggle against prejudice. He shares with NewNowNext: “I play the line of people constantly wondering if I am stereotyped, or if I am using my minority as a chance to somehow get ahead. So I’m put on defense a lot, where people question me for what I’m doing in comedy.” Lane takes on a responsibility to the gay community, given that queer comics are “changing the stereotypes of what it means to be gay in this country.” He is optimistic that “people are more open to seeing gay men in a raw form like comedy, and hearing their opinions and life experience without feeling threatened.” Keep an eye out for his shows on the road—Lane is touring live all over the country from June 25 to November 13.
SNL superfans will recognize Punkie Johnson as one of the new faces added to the cast at the beginning of the year, making her the first out Black lesbian cast member. Johnson had her start as a standup comedian, first waiting tables and then performing as a regular at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles. She is still at the very early stages of what looks to be a long career in comedy ahead of her. Just last year she was “this little lesbian chick from New Orleans who is just enjoying life doing comedy and thinking that's it.” Now, she is grateful to be a face of representation in comedy and television, telling NBC: “My heart just opened up. I want this responsibility.” Keep a lookout for her in the upcoming season of SNL and in standup as she takes on bigger and bigger roles.
Jes Tom is a young queer, nonbinary comedian and actor who is making major waves in the comedy scene. At only 28 years old, Tom was one of last year’s StandUp NBC’s finalists, and was named one of TimeOut New York’s “LGBTG POC Comedians We’re Obsessed With.” As a contributor at Reductress, Tom is leading the way in new-age absurdist comedy (e.g. their popular article: “I Use ‘They’ Pronouns Because I’m Non-Binary and Also Because I’m Always Surrounded by My Bees”). Queer issues are near and dear to Tom’s heart. As they told Forbes: “I want the face of comedy to change. I want you to pull up Netflix comedy specials and it’s all queer people of color.”
Tom uses their standup to explore queer issues while also including self-deprecating jokes about being a San Francisco hipster who “used to sell Girl Scout cookies in the Castro.” Looking to the future of queer comedy, Tom is hopeful: “Now, I think we are in a moment of there being a lot of opportunities in a lot of different ways for queer and trans and gender nonconforming people, but in the early 2000s, I had never dreamed that we would ever reach this place.” Keep an eye out for Tom’s live standup performances in New York’s comedy clubs.
Jay Jurden is a NYC-based upcoming bi comedian who has been featured on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Drew Barrymore Show, and HBO’s High Maintenance. Jurden is known for being a powerhouse writer, and has contributed to Vulture, Teen Vogue, McSweeney’s and The New Yorker among others. Jurden identifies as a “comedy nerd” who loves to deconstruct jokes, and one can expect a tight set packed with sharp, well-worded punchlines. He identifies a desire to “find the humor in uncomfortable subject matter, and also to please a lot of people...both sexually, but also on stage.” When it comes to being a bisexual comedian, Jurden feels it has only enhanced his comedy: “People seem to appreciate honesty, and being forthright and transparent, especially in this industry. By talking about my experiences with both men and women on stage, it informs people so much more of my story.” Keep an eye out for his upcoming gigs at The Stand NYC and The Comedy Cellar, as well as his comedy album, Jay Jurden Y’all, which has already debuted #1 on iTunes.
Raneir Pollard is a multi-talented Black queer comedian to watch shine. Both a fitness influencer and standup comedian, Pollard is popular on YouTube for his instructional workout videos and is also a favorite at The Laugh Factory. This unique combination of skills gives him an eccentric and energetic stage presence. Pollard is the type of comedian who will be sure to take advantage of every inch of the stage—in one of his most-viewed recorded sets, he acts out a scene as a gay movie assassin for nearly two minutes straight.
Pollard is equally skilled at tackling political issues in a hard-hitting yet entertaining style. He recently performed a Pride Show at The Laugh Factory, where he told the crowd: “I would love if we respected one another to the point where we did at least a little bit of research before wanting people to hear our opinions.” Pollard will be a bright new face in comedy to look out for in clubs around Hollywood