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‘Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution’ Review: Beyond the Punchline

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‘Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution’ Review: Beyond the Punchline
‘Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution’ Review: Beyond the Punchline

The director Page Hurwitz examines comedy’s place in the L.G.B.T.Q. movement in the new Netflix documentary “Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution,” creating a rich, century-long timeline full of archival footage, behind-the-scenes glimpses and candid interviews with comedians. A standout subject is the 82-year-old trailblazer Robin Tyler, the first out lesbian on national TV.

Throughout the film, Hurwitz showcases comedy as more than just a source of laughter, but of healing, catharsis and as an agent for queer liberation, particularly during the Stonewall riots in 1969 and, later, the AIDS epidemic.

L.G.B.T.Q. comedians were already on hand for “Outstanding” — in 2022, many of them, including Lily Tomlin, Wanda Sykes and Billy Eichner, performed on the same stage during “Stand Out: An LGBTQ+ Celebration,” a Netflix standup special hosted by Eichner. The backstage footage from that special captured something that feels revolutionary, echoing Margaret Cho’s assertion that “queer comedy was really a solace” when she achieved fame in the 1990s.

Many of the best moments in “Outstanding” occur when it draws connections between idols and admirers. A simple moment between Joel Kim Booster and Cho is made powerful through thoughtful editing: Cho, in a voice-over, describes the joy that queer comedy can evoke as we see Booster experiencing it among his peers.

The film also addresses transphobic jokes by comedians like Dave Chappelle and Bill Maher, and ends with an acknowledgment of the anti-transgender bills being passed nationwide.

“There’s no such thing as just kidding,” Tyler, the pioneering comedian, says. “So if anybody does homophobic jokes, they mean it.” The fight is still no laughing matter.

Outstanding: A Comedy Revolution
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. Watch on Netflix.

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