Bob Smith, the first openly gay comedian to score an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, has died at age 59 after a long struggle with ALS. His partner, Michael Zam, confirmed the death via a Facebook post.
Smith also was the first openly gay man to star in his own HBO Comedy half-hour, which bowed in 1994, and he made numerous other TV appearances. His collection of essays, Openly Bob, won the Lambda Literary Award for humor. His second collection,Way To Go, Smith! was also nominated for a Lambda Literary Award and was followed by his first novel, Selfish and Perverse.
His other TV appearances include Politically Incorrect, The Late, Late Show, and Entertainment Tonight. He wrote for The MTV Video Awards, Dennis Miller, Roseanne and MAD-TV, and recently appeared in the HBO documentary All Aboard: Rosie’s Family Cruise.
Smith was also a regular contributor to Out magazine and the Advocate, and his essays appeared in the anthologies America’s Best Contemporary Humorists, 101 Damnations, and When I Knew.
Smith’s Remembrance of Things I Forgot was voted an Amazon “Best Book of the Year” and prompted reviewer Edmund White to note, “If H. G. Wells had been funny and Oscar Wilde obsessed with time travel, they might have mated and produced Bob Smith, who has written the funniest and wildest ride imaginable through the recent past and near future.”
Born in Buffalo on Christmas Eve, Smith joked about the fact in his act: “This gift is for your birthday and Christmas” and his mother giving him a pack of batteries on his birthday, adding “You’ll need these tomorrow.”
Smith entered the New York/Greenwich Village comedy scene in the early 80s, but found his first success when he teamed with fellow out gay comedians Danny McWilliams and Jaffe Cohen. They called themselves “Funny Gay Males” and performed all over the world, including at Australia’s Gay Pride Mardi Gras, and performed in front of hundreds of thousands of people at the March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights in 1993.
At the event, Smith reportedly received the biggest laugh of the day when he demanded that from now on the National Anthem would have “a 12-inch dance mix.” The three also broke ground as the first openly gay comedians to appear on national television when they were guests on Joan Rivers’s daytime talk show.
Survivors include his partner, Michael Zam (the co-creator of FX’s Feud: Bette and Joan); his children, Madeline and Xander; his mother, Sue Smith; and his brothers, James and Gregory.