Toronto
3 min

A Dynasty for 2002

Watching QAF is gayer than the show itself

MONDAY NIGHT CAMP. Are Queer as Folk fans' weekly gatherings phenomenon? Or marketing? Credit: Xtra files

In the 1980s, gay men used to gather at Bar 101 to watch the very campy television show Dynasty. Now they gather to watch Queer As Folk.



So I went to Woody’s (467 Church St) one Monday night, but nothing quite prepared me for the experience. The whole thing sort of reminded me of those midnight screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the early ’80s, even more so because everyone in attendance was dressed exactly the same as the characters on screen. There must have been nearly 200 guys, silently staring up at one of the 22 monitors that hang from above.



Now, I have seen human performers and drag queens, get up on that little Woody’s stage and holler and bellow into a microphone until the veins in their necks pop, and the crowd usually just keeps right on chatting. But no one spoke throughout the entirety of this episode of QAF.



In fact, they barely spoke during the commercial breaks.



It makes sense that Woody’s would host this event. It’s the bar seen most often in the exterior shots of Liberty Avenue in the show’s version of Pittsburgh. But it’s not the only bar hosting this mini-phenomenon. Slack Alice (562 Church St) and Zipperz (72 Carlton St) also have QAF nights, as do several bars all across Canada. It’s a manufactured phenomenon, all laid out on the show’s official website.



The crowd over at Slack Alice’s is smaller, with people actually sitting around a big screen on the wall. Everyone orders drinks in hushed tones, and during commercial breaks I noticed several people explaining the plot to their first-time friends. The Slack crowd, like the Woody’s crowd, seemed genuinely caught up in the show.



However, the same could not be said of the gang over at Zipperz. Those few unfortunate patrons who were interested in the broadcast were forced to read along with closed captioning, as the piano man in the corner was still on a roll.



In the episode I caught, Debbie, played by former Cagney And Lacey star Sharon Gless, is determined to hunt down the identity of a gay boy she found dead in the dumpster behind her greasy spoon. She recognizes him as a former customer, and can’t help getting emotionally involved. When the investigating detective refers to the corpse as “a Jane Doe,” it sets Debbie off on a rant. Meanwhile, she only knew the deceased as “Spanish omelet,” as though that’s any less degrading.



So Cagney – sorry, Debbie – heads down to a local bathhouse, the Liberty Spa, with a sketch of the deceased. She doesn’t pay admission and heads directly to a closed door, which she opens to reveal two guys fucking. Without batting an eyelash, she holds out the sketch and asks them if they’ve ever seen the kid on the poster.



The crowd at Woody’s laughed uproariously. They’re willing to overlook the preposterousness of this scene – as it could only ring true for someone who’s never been to the baths before. (And honey, I’m sure most of this crowd has been to the baths.)



Debbie’s persistence pays off, as she eventually does track down the deceased’s identity.



“I even found out where he lived,” she croaks, “Vaseline Tower. That’s where every young gay boy goes when he first moves to town.”



This line brings the house down, a moment made all the more special as I could actually see Vaseline Tower out Woody’s front window.



A little while later, there’s an uncomfortable but somewhat erotic scene in which Brian finally comes on to Michael by grabbing his package. The crowd stiffened, for various reasons. But Michael decides to pass on the opportunity and throws Brian out.



I don’t know about you, but if someone I always wanted made a move on me, I’d do him first, ask rhetorical questions later. The characters on QAF are way more moral than their real-life counterparts could ever be.



Some people complain that QAF is not realistic. But what’s the alternative? A TV show about a group of men standing around in a gay bar watching a gay soap opera on TV?



Entertainment seldom presents reality, and gay people have got to stop asking for it. We need our genre crap as much as anyone, and QAF has finally given us what we need. Okay, it’s not as campy as Dynasty was, but it still works.



QAF was developed for American TV by Ron Cowan and Daniel Lipman, playwrights whose previous credits include An Early Frost, Sisters, and a clever new series called Leap Years, which depicts the lives of several pretty New Yorkers in the years 1993, 2001 and 2008. I would love to leap into the year 2008 to find out if QAF is still on the air. Maybe by then, QAF Night at Woody’s will have become as legendary as Sperm Mondays were at Remington’s five years ago – though hopefully not for the same reasons.



* Queer As Folk is broadcast Mondays at 10pm on Showcase.