The Gay Comedians Who Showed the Way Even if They Weren’t Exactly Out

“That was his defense, and that’s what he did for the rest of his life,” Fortney, 77, told me.

The Diverting Tinkerbell: It’s a time-tested survival strategy that gay men like Taylor learn quickly and use generously as needed. Butch he was not. Then again, nobody showed me you could be gay and masculine. On “Letterman,” Taylor’s flamboyance is a shocking contrast to all those hooting audience members in Ray-Bans, the same kind of man who laughed at his jokes when he was a boy — his best and most immediate way of avoiding their blows.

Fortney said that when people assumed Taylor was gay, he bristled at the perception, even as he emceed AIDS benefits and, in 2005, served as the grand marshal of the Pride parade in Washington, D.C., Taylor’s hometown.

Take what happened at a coffee shop when a young fan thanked Taylor for being out.

“He said, ‘You’ve made things so much easier,’” Fortney recalled. “All Rip gave him was a smile and a nod like, fine, now you can leave. He would not accept what an influence he was.”

Lynde’s story is more tragic. Joe Florenski, who with Steve Wilson wrote the Lynde biography “Center Square,” said the comic was an overweight boy who struggled with being made fun of until he found a solution.

“He could get laughs for being funny, not for being the chubby kid,” Florenski told me.

Lynde never officially said he was gay, although he was out to close friends. His arrests for public intoxication made the news, as did a 1965 accident in which James Davidson, a 24-year-old actor friend, fell to his death from a ledge outside Lynde’s San Francisco hotel room.

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