Ever hear the one about the gay stand-up comic who came out when “out” wasn’t such an “in” thing to be? He’s Jason Stuart, and this year the courageous comic celebrates 20 years of being out and proud in an industry not always known for embracing such openness.
Stuart acknowledges that his decision to live his professional life with the same integrity that he had in his personal life came at a time, as he says, “before the water was safe.” He has been quoted as saying, “It became more important to me to be openly gay than to be in show biz.”
“I feel very humbled by being thought of as either a pioneer or a role model,” Stuart says. But few people out there represent the soul of National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, more than he does.
In a business filled with people desperate to project the right kind of artificial façade, Stuart is the genuine article, and when speaking with him, one is immediately impressed by his friendly and easy manner. Here is a guy who is enviably comfortable in his own skin.
“I’m more relaxed about everything than I’ve ever been. … I’m more ‘OK’ about everything,” he says with a smile, in pondering the state of his life.
Ironically, though, he says it was his eagerness to be accepted that inspired him to take up comedy in the first place.
Born in New York City, but raised in Los Angeles, the entertainer recalls wanting to tell jokes and perform from the time he was a kid growing up in the ’70s. Back then, he’d wait in line at the CBS Television City studios in Hollywood to sit in the audience for all the popular offerings of the time, like The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, All in the Family, and Maude. (“I saw ’em all,” he says with a laugh.)
This, in turn, gave rise to a desire to amuse everyone around him, like the icons he watched. When asked about his first memories of being funny, he replies simply, “It was in school — just wanting people to like me because I didn’t feel like I fit in.”
Since 1993, after revealing his sexual preference publicly on the TV show Geraldo, Stuart has continued breaking down barriers and forging new ground — and in doing so, paved the way for the likes of Ellen, Rosie, Ricky and Anderson. With this single brave act he’s demonstrated that anyone — at any level of their lives or careers — can serve the greater good just by being themselves.
Using humor to disarm critics, he’s managed to win over devotees of all kinds, including in the corporate world, where he is regularly invited to speak about being openly gay in the workplace. Part of this success has been due to his choice to play to the positive elements of society rather than attacking its more hostile ones.
“There are three kinds of people,” he explains. “There are people who hate gay people, there are people who absolutely love us, and then there’s the people who don’t care. I prefer to concentrate on the people who love us, then the people who don’t care. I’m not interested in the people that hate me! I’m not going to spend my life giving credence to what they think, because it’s not going to help me or anybody.”
It’s those who dare to be themselves, he reminds us, who really deserve our time and attention, citing fellow comedian Rosie O’Donnell as one of his personal role models.
“I love Rosie for what she’s done as a humanitarian,” he says. “And not just for famous and rich people, or not just for ‘big’ causes. She’s also helped people under the radar, that she hasn’t talked about.”
He says that the example she sets on a daily basis rouses him to greater action on behalf of his community.
“She does what she does, regardless of, lots of times, what other people may think — even putting herself in the line of fire — and I admire that,” Stuart says. “She’s caused me to think — this is who I am, and this is what I want to do!”
As the chairman of SAG/AFTRA’s National LGBT Actors Committee, Stuart assists and encourages other gay actors, given his unique insights about being out in the business today. Pointing to the sweeping influences of the Internet and social media, not to mention popular tell-all programs like TMZ, he says, “These days, you can’t hide anymore … you just can’t. If you’re willing to be completely in the closet, you’d better never go anywhere with somebody — or be seen touching or supporting someone. But if you want to stay in the closet, try living like that.”
Another way the funnyman-turned-actor-turned-activist has found to be of service is by getting involved in a mentoring program called Lifeworks through the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center. This has enabled him to act as sort of a big brother to 22-year-old Robbie Carlysle, a former Kansas City resident and now an aspiring stand-up comic.
Like so many others, Carlysle found his way to Los Angeles with little more than a head full of dreams.
“I had $20 and a suitcase to my name,” he says. “For about five months now, Jason has been mentoring me, helping me learn life lessons that I still had not yet found out on my own, and showing me shortcuts to help me find my way through.”
Referring to Stuart and Lifeworks as a “real asset” in his life, he adds, “People like Jason are what makes Hollywood the mecca people look to for human kindness!”
Stuart is also working to disprove the narrow-minded perception that LGBT talent can’t play anything but LGBT roles — and as a result, he’s busier than ever. Calling this his “year of playing straight,” he points to all the heterosexual roles he’s played lately, among them a tough prison trustee in the upcoming film K-11 starring D.B. Sweeney, as well as costarring with Daniel Baldwin in the thriller The Guest House.
“Now that I’ve aged out of playing gay, there’s nothing else left for me,” he says with a laugh, alluding to the media’s penchant for depicting homosexuals only as young and outrageous. “They don’t write parts for gay guys over 40!”
In addition to these roles and his numerous comedy engagements, Stuart most recently added radio host to his already jam-packed resume. He’s helping to broaden the horizons of Internet radio with his weekly Name Dropping With Jason Stuart on Radiotitans.com. For the latest episode, go to radiotitans.com/shows/name-dropping-with-jason-stuart. To learn more about his latest projects, check out www.jasonstuart.com or follow him on Twitter at @Jason_Stuart.