The Not-So-Gay Comedian

The Not-So-Gay Comedian

Image by Sofie Praestgaard.

Fourteen thousand likes.

A guy from Al’s standup class got fourteen thousand likes on a tweet yesterday, and Al had never gotten more than a dozen. This was painful for Al. This made him upset.

He was sitting on the small patch of grass behind his mother’s house in New Jersey, staring at his phone while scrolling through Twitter, and he felt the world slow down as he saw what had happened, like the Earth was stopping its spin and he was about to be flung off its surface to die in the dark unknown.

Fourteen thousand.

Al’s New Year’s resolution had been to tweet five times a day. It was August, and though he had more or less kept up, no one seemed to notice. His failure to get attention felt more pathetic now than it had before. Then, he had an excuse for his lack of success: He wasn’t trying. But now, it was worse. He had been trying, and trying hard, and he still wasn’t succeeding. He was failing, no doubt.

The tweet was “gays when kim petras comes on at the club” and there was a gif of people trampling each other to get into a Walmart as it opened, probably on Black Friday or something. Fourteen thousand likes. And it wasn’t just this tweet. This guy, Josh, symmetrical-faced, big-eyed Josh, had been blowing up. He posted videos of himself in flattering lighting with perfect skin doing little skits featuring knowing references to affluent urban gay living. The clips weren’t anything groundbreaking or the sort of thing that you’d ever think about again five seconds after you watched them—basically memes expanded into a thirty-second video format, the epitome of “content” over comedy, car commercial humor for the gay professional managerial class—but they were popular. Josh had over one hundred thousand followers on Instagram, more on TikTok. His career was blasting off.

Josh looked like Gaston, a ’90s corporate cartoon of masculinity. Milky white, permanent facial scruff, a plume of hair erupting from the collar of his t-shirts. His chin and cheekbones thrust in opposite directions, his structure intrinsically more charismatic than Al’s timid bones, which seemed afraid, hiding beneath his skin, receding from the world around them. It was Josh’s hair, though, that Al couldn’t get over. Josh was blessed with a jet black crest that peaked in the middle of his poreless forehead. The thing that killed Al was that Josh didn’t usually show his hair. Most of the time he kept it hidden beneath a generic black baseball cap. Al was popping Propecia daily and was smothering his dome in off-brand Rogaine just to maintain the faint crop of follicles that only looked reasonably acceptable if he kept it buzzed to within an eighth of an inch from his head. And he was only twenty-six. He knew that if he was bald before thirty, he didn’t have any future ahead of him.

On the grass, he wiped the sweat from beneath his barely there hairline. It was a late Saturday morning and hot, and Al was trying to get some sun. A tan, he thought, was the easiest way to upgrade his appearance, but he had to hide around the corner from the kitchen so his mother couldn’t see him laying shirtless. He was self-conscious without his top, his chest looking nothing like Josh’s, which was broad and strong and covered in brown hair. Al just had tendrils in great big rings around his nipples—not the sort of thing that got a lot of likes.

Al knew Josh from a standup class he took last year. They were the only two gays in the class, but they never talked very much. Josh didn’t talk much to anyone. He was focused on the teacher’s feedback. Josh’s standup was confident—that’s how their teacher described it at least.

“And confidence is critical,” she said. “So there’s that.”

Faint praise, but more than she gave Al in their last one-on-one session.

“You need to tell jokes, Al. Actual jokes. You can’t just have fun on stage,” the teacher, Sheila, a fifty-something woman who tended to bring things back to her appearance on the Rosie O’Donnell Show, had told him on the first day of Standup Level 2. “Just having fun isn’t enough. You’re not in Standup Level 1 anymore. The audience needs to have fun, too. You have to make it worth their time. They’re giving that to you, right—time? You have to give them something in return. Level 1, lesson 5: accountability.” She perched herself on a stool.

“I thought I was telling jokes,” Al said.

Sheila hung her head. “How do I explain this…” She looked up, clasped her hands, and pointed at Al. “Your ‘jokes’ have no entry points for other people. Lesson three: relatability. Let the audience into the world that you’re describing.”

Al hadn’t done well with lesson three.

“You have to give your audience something they can relate to,” she said. “Rosie always talked about how—”

“Josh isn’t relatable,” Al broke in.

Sheila waved a hangnailed finger while covering a cough. “Josh goes into details and lets the audience understand what’s going on in his world even if they’ve never done any of the things he’s done. Josh is relatable because he brings his specific cultural experience to life.”

Al made a note on his phone. “I should tell more stories about being gay and going to the gym,” he said as he typed.

“Al,” she narrowed her eyes at him, “no. Talk about whatever you want to talk about. Just give other people a way in.”

Al shoved his phone in his pocket. “What if I want to make comedy that’s only funny to me?” Al asked. “Why do I have to make anyone else laugh?”

“Because that’s the point of comedy, kiddo.”

“I guess I’m just not a funny fag,” he mumbled toward the floor.

“Excuse me?” Sheila said. “We don’t use words like that at the Newark Comedy Academy. So you can see yourself out.”

Banned before his career began, and he didn’t even get a refund for the rest of the four-hundred-dollar class.

Al just wanted to have fun. Or maybe not, he didn’t know, he guessed he wanted to have smart fun, the kind of fun that might mean something—mean what, he definitely didn’t know. He thought Josh’s bits skated over the surface of existence. Al wanted to punch through to the core, but more often than not he just fell through the cracks.

Some of his tweets:

well guess were all fucked arent we on the occasion of news of an asteroid being discovered close to Earth. if the world’s ending at least i dont have to work out

Just realized everyone hates each other. At least i fit in! Wonder why people dont like me more for it…

sex is so weird. like, let’s get sweaty and lay on top of each other. no thank you.

He had tried some front-facing videos where he did convoluted bit characters—someone calling customer support for their broken vibrator, which was actually a fire alarm; a drunk heckler who didn’t know that he was dying and watching his life in a dream—but no one on Instagram seemed to notice. Everyone else’s videos were clear and legible, but Al’s were poorly focused, blurry, confused.

He had once been planning on medical school, a path walked by his older sister ahead of him. She had become a doctor, but only barely, after years of breaking down at the dinner table, watched by Al and their mother, Al’s sister mourning that school was too hard for her while their mother stared, stone-faced. Al’s sister would scream at their mother “you don’t care,” “don’t you have anything nice to say,” “you should be comforting me, I’m your daughter,” but all their mother usually ended up saying was something about how selfish her daughter was, how self-absorbed and mean. What she said didn’t make Al feel good, but he didn’t think she was totally wrong either.

Their father had disappeared after Al’s sister died while Al was still in college. The sister left via propofol injection (“an accident,” his mother said, “a horrible accident”), the father via his old navy blue Pontiac (“the only accident I made was marrying him”). He had moved to Florida or something, Al wasn’t sure.

“Your father,” his mother would say, “is an asshole. An asshole who drank too much, and we’re better off without him. I’ve raised you with my own two feet. Not the best tools, but they get the job done.”

Al didn’t remember his father drinking as much as his mother said, but he didn’t remember much of anything about his father anymore. He had always just been there, sort of, and now, like his sister, he wasn’t. Al thought it all should make him sadder than it did, but all he felt was something else, something more like hunger, like an empty organ was expanding inside him, begging to be filled. It was huge. So, he let go of his pre-med obligations and decided to do what made him happy: comedy. It made him laugh, and that’s all he wanted. It would fill him up with joy. He spent his post-college years at dead-end entry-level jobs, strung out on student loan payments and credit card debt, saving up for comedy classes where he never excelled even when he was allowed to finish. He told himself this was his lifelong dream. This was joy.

“Al, do you want some lunch?” his mother called from the deck. “It’s almost two.”

Inside, she talked about the news, a book she had heard about on the radio, but Al was still stuck on Josh. She set out two cold cut sandwiches and a pickle wedge for each of them.

“This book was all about this doctor in a small town,” his mother said. “It reminded me of your sister. You remember when she had three patients die in one day?”

She handed him a napkin.

“She was doing the Lord’s work,” she said.

Al swallowed a mouthful of sandwich while his mother reached for her iced tea and stared out the window.

He had lost his job as a receptionist at a financial technology startup three months ago. His bosses had told him that they needed to reorient the team toward new strategic goals, but he knew he was let go because he had once lost an important package for the CEO and fell asleep during an all-staff meeting. Now, a handful of panic attacks later, he was living at his mother’s house outside Elizabeth.

“The Lord’s work,” she repeated.

Josh was probably eating a high-protein salad, Al thought as he farted into his chair.

What a boring Saturday. He could go into the city and see a friend from high school, but he should be doing comedy. He should be writing jokes, recording videos, planning skits, producing content, anything to prove that his life wasn’t a waste of time.

“It was amazing what your sister did.”

He took out his phone. Josh was probably spending the day writing a show for Netflix.

“Hello, Al?” His mother tapped the table. “Are you here?” He didn’t look up from his phone. “You know, for the amount of time you spend on that thing, you’d think it would be making you happier.” He didn’t respond. “You’re just like your father.”

“Oh my god, mom,” he rolled his eyes, “I’m not like dad because I’m on my phone.”

“It’s not just that.”

Al stuffed the rest of his sandwich in his mouth. “Yer jush tryin to provo mih.”

“Kill me for trying to make conversation. And could you swallow before you talk?”

He got up and carried his half-finished plate to the sink with one hand, still scrolling on his phone with the other.

“Sometimes you sound like a brat, Al, you really do.”

Al ditched the plate and went to his room.

He lay on his bed and went through the notes on his phone:

weather is so boring. like cant you finally do something different??


why are movies about gay people so depressing? i dont suck dick to feel sad

Not very funny, also not totally true.

i hate my job so much i called it dad

He closed the app and opened Grindr. There weren’t many people nearby. This part of New Jersey isn’t known for its homosexuality. Mostly blank profiles and weird illustrations.


But there was one new message from someone with a clear photo. Cute, slightly younger.

hey Al sent back.

The conversation continued while Al scrolled through Instagram trying not to respond too quickly to the guy’s messages as they came through. Eventually, Al texted his mother asking if he could borrow her car, a hunter green Honda Civic, on the pretense that he was going to hang out with some friends.

“Who?” she asked, and he didn’t respond.

On the drive over to Roselle, the next town over, he thought about anything but what he was driving to. Thinking about sex made him think about his body, and it would be difficult to overstate how much he hated his body. He thought he had an enormous nose, and he wasn’t totally wrong. He wanted to be perfect, but his whole life had become flawed, a sin. His comedy was a sin—he should be doing something to help society, organizing for elections, saving lives, etc.—his sex was a sin, he didn’t need a priest to tell him so, he could tell by how bad it made him feel; his shitty attitude with his mother the worst sin in the mix.

He turned on the radio and set it to scan. A few seconds of song spliced into disembodied speech, something orchestral cut off as a preacher took over. America was rich, its luxuries abundant, and Al felt it while his radio scrolled across the spectrum. At a stoplight, he took a generic Viagra and let the music play.

“Hey,” he said when he got to a modest ranch.

“Hi,” the guy said back.

It had to have been the guy’s parents’ house; everything in it looked at least forty years old, but Al didn’t ask. He thought about leaving as he took off his shoes, the disappointment that comes with every casual fuck already sinking in as he propped himself up on the particleboard counter, but he was interrupted by the guy saying “Sorry.”

“For what?” Al asked.

“Oh, the counter,” the guy said. “It’s peeling.”

Al looked down. It was fine.

“Sorry…whatever…” the guy said. “It’s just…I guess it’s not a big deal.”

Al wasn’t used to being the more comfortable one, and he took advantage of it to take the lead. The guy kissed badly, very badly, lots of tongue right away, but Al didn’t stop him.

When they were naked, things went more smoothly, if blandly, the sort of by the books fucking that let Al’s mind wander. He wondered if he’d stop for McDonalds on his way home. He wondered what the pattern was on the wallpaper. He wondered if this wasn’t the guy’s parents’ house, if the guy had a job that let him afford to buy a house, but why would he buy a house in this boring suburban neighborhood and what would that job be and why didn’t Al have that job? He wondered if he was wasting his time here with this guy, he wondered if he was wasting his time in general, then knew he was wasting time, then wondered what the wasted time was costing him. He wondered if he’d ever be any happier than this and if the rest of his life would continue to be a string of disappointing moments. He wondered what that smell was.

“Oh,” the guy said. “Uh oh, I think…”

He didn’t have to finish the sentence. Al realized what that smell was and what it meant. Before Al could do anything, the guy had already rolled away, Al’s penis sliding out suddenly, which only made the problem worse.

“Shit,” the guy said to no one in particular. “Shit, shit, shit.”

Al watched this person, naked with feces streaked down his legs, running out of the room. The guy popped back in the doorway to throw a handful of towels at Al, reappearing seconds later with a massive wad of wet paper towels.

“This is so shitty,” the guy said as he wiped down the bed. “I’m so sorry. Shit.”

Al took a towel and wiped his crotch. “Apt choice of words.”

The guy stopped wiping and stared blanky back at Al.

“I mean,” Al looked from from the guy to the brown-streaked towel in his hand. “‘This is so shitty’…No pun intended, right?”


Al looked more meaningfully at the towel.


“Oh, wow,” the guy said, turning an even brighter shade of red. “I forgot you were a comedian.” It said it in Al’s bio.

“I never said I was a good one,” Al mumbled.

“This is so embarrassing,” the guy said, hauling streaked towels out of the room.

“It’s weird, though, isn’t it?” Al called out after him. “I mean we’re full of shit, right? What, we can keep it inside of us, but we can’t let it out? What’s that about? We’re constantly full of shit and then as soon as it shows itself we’re horrified. I was just eating your ass, and now I’m supposed to, what, act like I’m disgusted?”

The guy’s head popped back in the room.

“Are you joking?” he asked.

Al perched on the edge of the bed. “I can’t tell.”

“There’s literally poop all over the room.”

“That’s a little dramatic,” Al said. “It’s mostly on sheets and towels.”

He grabbed a tissue and wiped some off his fingers.

“I think you have some in your hair,” the guy said, turning pale.

Al picked a bit of shit off a sideburn. He grinned.

“I’m a real shithead aren’t I?”

Al showered first and waited around while the guy finished after. Al had Josh’s latest video playing when the guy walked up behind him.

“You’re not watching that, are you?”

“You know who he is?” Al asked.

“I can’t stand him.” The guy took Al’s phone. “I mean, what is this? It’s the kind of gay culture that makes me want to slit my wrists.”

“Well,” Al cleared his throat, “don’t do that.”

“I mean, seriously, the only reason people watch these videos is because they think he’s hot, and his lifestyle is vaguely glamorous—all that stuff where he talks about hooking up, doing drugs, and going to Fire Island. He’s just selling some soulless, affluent, white, body fascist fantasy exploiting peoples’ neurotic insecurities caused by crypto homo capitalism. I hate him.” Al was too pleasantly surprised to respond. “I’m not the only one at least.” The guy handed Al’s phone back to him. It showed dozens of well-liked responses panning one of Josh’s Twitter posts. Al wasn’t alone. “There’s something about his videos that I can’t stop watching, though. It’s not even like a hate-watch.” The guy took back the phone and scrolled through it. “I guess it’s nice to let my brain be small. It gets filled up with too much scary shit when it’s not.” The guy tossed his phone to the end of the bed. “Anyway, he sucks,” the guy said. “He’s not your friend is he?”

Al shook his head.

“I think you’re a better comedian than he is. You’ve got better shit inside of you.”

“Good one.”

The guy sat next to Al on the side of the bed.

“Nice place,” Al said.

The guy looked around the room.

“You think? I’m just here to figure some stuff out. I don’t think I want to stay in Roselle very long. It’s my grandmother’s place.”

The guy looked small among what Al now understood to be the guy’s grandmother’s chintz. In a rosy Kate Bush t-shirt and smeared eyeliner, the guy looked like a faun hidden in technicolor toile. They talked about music, about shows they both hated, and where they wanted to move.

“I’d like to go to Mexico,” the guy said. “I don’t know what I’d do, but I’d just like to be in the mountains with the sun and the flowers. Nowhere else seems to work out for me.”

Al wanted to ask what exactly had happened to bring the guy here, but he didn’t. They may have just messily fucked but life details still felt too intimate, and something about the look in the guy’s eyes toward the sliver of sky visible through the window across the room told Al it would be better not to ask him to revisit the past. All the guy said about his present situation was that “it was nice of my grandma to take me in. Speaking of which, she’ll probably be back soon, and I have to make sure the towels are clean, so…”

Al stood up.

“I’ll see you later, then.”

“I’d like that,” the guy said. “Really. Text me sometime okay? It gets a little lonely out here. It’s nice to have someone not deranged to talk to.”

“For sure.”

A story, Al thought, as he drove home. He had found someone relatable.

“How were your friends?” his mom asked him as he put the keys back in the bowl.

He mumbled something about them being fine as he went upstairs.

“Sounds fantastic!” his mom yelled after him.

Al never texted, no reason in particular why. Too busy keeping track of Josh, maybe. A few days after they met, Al saw the guy started following him on Instagram, and the guy sent a DM, but Al never read it. He would eventually, he supposed, when the time was right—too much pressure to do it now. Al did check out the guy’s account, and the most recent post was a selfie among wildflowers where the guy had the same look that he had when staring out the window, but here it was staring back at Al. He went back to his feed without liking the post and the first thing he saw was a new video from Josh.

“I fucking love my life you guys, and I’m starting to get a lot of hate for it. But guess what, if anyone doesn’t love you, fuck them. I’m sure people are watching this to hate me and that’s so lame. Everyone who’s here to support, I love you, and everyone who’s here to hate, get something better to do with your lives. Go learn a foreign language, go hug a friend, go call your mother, go get a job that helps other people in the world because what you’re doing right now is really, really sad.”

Over the following weeks, Josh won more and more. His videos got more polished, and were now often sponsored by water companies and mid-level fashion labels. He was featured in a Variety article on the next generation of queer influencers “breaking all the rules.” There was a New York Magazine Thirty Under Thirty list with Josh grinning, his arms flexed as his hands cupped the back of his head. He tweeted about “finding success late in life,” eliciting adulating responses from gay TV writers, drag queens, and podcasts hosts (“we love you king”); there were videos of his new house, new car, new life in L.A. He interviewed his new tastemaking friends on YouTube, raved about their books, celebrated his own success, grateful, confident, defiantly proud (“I’m just telling the story of my happiness. If that bothers you, goodbye!”)

In other words, Josh was evil.

Al stopped tweeting. Most days he took melatonin to sleep as much as he could. His mother asked him how the job hunt was going, and he tried to form full-sentence responses.

“You can’t stay here forever, you know,” she told him over dinner.

Al didn’t say anything back.

“You can’t waste away out here, okay? Al, are you listening to me?”

“I’m working on it.”

“I hope so.” She passed him steamed corn. “You can’t give up on yourself, and there’s nothing for you out here. It’s bad enough for old bats like me, but you need to be somewhere more exciting while you’re young.” Cal nodded along. “I saw on Facebook that some poor boy killed himself out here the other day.”

Al swallowed his corn.

“He was staying with his grandmother in Roselle. I used to work with her before she retired. So sad. How someone could do that, I don’t know. I just don’t get it.”

Al watched his mother eat for a second, not really seeing her so much as seeing little bright bits of yellow disappear forever.

“What?” she wiped her cheek. “Why are you staring at me? Is there something on my face?”

He picked up his plate and took it to the sink.

“You’re done already?” his mom asked. “Wait, honey, I wanted to show you something.” She pulled out her phone. “You’re gonna laugh.” She walked up to him next to the sink. “Look at this,” she said, putting her phone in his face. “My friend sent me this guy’s video, and he’s pretty funny.”

Al brushed past her.

“C’mon, Al, it’ll cheer you up,” she said. “If he can do it, so can you.”

Al slammed his hand on the doorframe.

“That’s true!” he shouted. “That’s so true! He can do it, I should be able to, too! Why can’t I? I must be some kind of failure, huh?”

“You don’t have to take it like that, Al. That’s not what I meant.”

“You never say one good thing about me or what I do.”

His mother put down her phone. “Here we go,” she said. “Well, what do you do, Al? I give you a house, I cook and clean, and you’re always on your phone.”

“It’s my work, mom.”

“That must be nice—scrolling through Facebook for work? That’s your job?”

“You know if you pretended to care for even a second, maybe you could understand what I’m trying to do. You never care about me.”

He felt his eyes getting wet.

“Oh…” his mom turned away from him, “suck my dick, Al. Who are you trying to be?”

“You’re unbelievable,” he said, storming upstairs. “Truly.”

He took a shower, and when he got out, he didn’t get dressed, just lay on his bed in his underwear. What an asshole, he thought. What a fucking prick. It was dark outside, and his windows were open, the sounds of crickets and frogs courting each other filled up the silence between the wails of trucks passing by on the interstate in the distance on their way to Hoboken, Maine, Canada, maybe the arctic, who knows, who the fuck cares.

He grabbed his phone and checked the Instagram DM.

Hey thanks for coming by. Would be nice to see you again. You’re funny.

Then another one, more recent:

I liked you a lot.

He deleted them. He didn’t cry.

The world inside went miniscule, everything squeezed out of it.

What an asshole what an asshole what a huge fucking asshole.

He slammed his phone on the floor, and before his mother finished yelling from downstairs, he had picked it up and lay back on his bed. His screen was cracked. It didn’t matter. He was scrolling, scrolling, scrolling.

Jack Balderrama Morley

(they/he) is a queer, Xicanx-Anglo writer who enjoys pop music and long walks on the beach. Jack’s fiction has appeared in Issue Sixteen of No Contact and Issue 35 of Gertrude. Jack is represented by Danielle Bukowski at Sterling LordLiteristic. Jack’s Twitter and Instagram handles are @jackbaldmo and website is (Headshot by Erin Kim.)

All contributions from Jack Balderrama Morley

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