This Week's Guest: Caleb Nelson
To what lengths are you willing to go to prove yourself? My guest this week is Caleb Nelson, who's had a lifelong fascination with game shows as a way to prove mastery and skill. As he got older, he discovered that despite always working hard to prove himself to others, he faced a far greater challenge when it came to believing in himself.
This Week's Recommendation: Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly
For my recommendation this week, I want you to do a YouTube search for two names: Charles Nelson Reilly and Paul Lynde. Both were fixtures of various gameshows throughout the 70s, a time when audiences were happy to watch fancy men lounging around playing leisurely games. Charles and Paul were the gay princes of this genre, always ready with a witty retort and a florid outfit.
Watching what clips of them exist on YouTube is like taking a peek into a time portal, when you could be as extravagantly gay as you wanted as long as you never said the word gay. It's a fascinating queer tightrope walk -- Paul makes jokes about fairies and foreplay, Charles jokes about streaking -- and throughout it all they trace a delicate path around homosexuality, queering every quip and costume but never, under any circumstances, confirming what Lord Alfred Douglas called "the love that dare not speak its name."
Charles and Paul and TV personalities like them managed to slip a gay performance under the closet door. And its subversive, creative naughtiness is at times queerer than anything you can see in the media today. I'd never suggest that things were better back then, that I'm nostalgic for the closet. But the ingenuity, the inventiveness, is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
It just goes to show -- even when closeted, silenced, and rendered invisible, it would be a terrible mistake to underestimate a man with a pink bowtie and extra-wide paisley lapels.