Chances are, Todd Glass is the only person who's told his parents he's gay at the Nissan dealership in Devon.
It was an awkward scene, and nerve-racking, but relatively painless compared to some teenagers' coming-out stories. His folks were supportive and all that.
"At one point while they were waiting for the dealer I was like, 'Look, there's something I want to tell you,'" he remembers with a laugh.
Coming out to the rest of the world was a lot more stressful.
Even though he's been in a relationship with the same guy for years and has been telling personal stories — more or less true, save for the pronouns — every night on stage at comedy clubs for even longer, he'd still kept his sexuality under wraps. He'd tipped off a few close friends, but that was it. Hiding that part of his life was a strain, but he was comfortable with the way things were. He was a gay comedian playing a straight man, so to speak, and so long as the bits were funny, what was the harm, right?
That started to change a few months ago when he heard yet another news story about a gay teen committing suicide. He's not even sure which one pushed him over the edge, but it led him to YouTube, where he found similar stories of gay kids bullied and ostracized. He started wondering how many more tragedies were going untold. Was it hundreds? Thousands?
Suddenly he wasn't so comfortable anymore. "I just thought, if I'm hiding it, I'm giving validity to the [notion] that it's something worth hiding," he recalls.
Glass has his own podcast — the increasingly well-regarded Todd Glass Show — but chose to come out to the world on another, Marc Maron's wildly popular WTF. A veteran comic like Glass, Maron has become something of a neurotic, foul-mouthed Barbara Walters to the comedy world, spending an hour or more each episode prying into the inner workings of his guest. It's a funny show sometimes but, more importantly, it's become the de facto place for comedians to go to get serious and personal.
"I cannot listen to stories about kids killing themselves any longer without thinking [to myself], 'When are you going to have a little blood on your shirt for not being honest about who you are?'" he told Maron on the Jan. 16 episode of WTF.
His message was as much one of positivity for the gay youths in the audience as it was a stern scolding for the homophobic adults and bullies who make their lives unbearable.
"If you are homophobic, you better be positive you're right. Because isn't it going to blow [that] all these kids are killing themselves, and ... in 20 years you get to write a book about how wrong you were. They're dead. So why don't you have a soul-searching moment now? Go into your house, shut the door and make sure you're positive that you're [not just] making kids feel like crap for no good goddamn reason."
"Yes, I feel lighter," Glass says now. "I don't have to go through the rest of my life being honest in increments here and there. I could go through my life being honest. I'm not going to die going, 'What did I do while I was here?'"
Raised in Paoli, Glass (now in his mid-40s) remembers driving into Philly with his high school buddies to catch shows by then-rising stars like Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Roseanne Barr and Eddie Murphy at the late, lamented Comedy Works. Glass first took the stage at an open-mic night at age 16.
"Thirty acts would go up, maybe. I went on at like 1 in the morning to do five minutes, and I don't know when I thought, 'I'm gonna do this the rest of my life,' but I knew I loved it right away. Not only did I love doing standup, I loved hanging out with standups," he says. "They tend to be the opposite of bullies."
When he broke it to his parents about his chosen career path, they were again very supportive. "They were thrilled I was doing comedy. Because they found out I could do something. I was really bad in school. I had really bad dyslexia.
"Looking back, my parents were probably like, 'What's this kid going to do his whole life?' I was flunking everything. I flunked second grade. The only reason I kept getting advanced was I think my teachers liked me. They pushed me forward because they felt bad."
When faced with the comedian's dilemma of moving to New York or Los Angeles to further his career, Glass settled on L.A. — mostly because he already had an ally out there in Steve Young, the owner of the Comedy Works in Philly. That was 1990. Since then, Glass has taken to calling both Philly and L.A. his hometown.
The repercussions of his dyslexia still pop up in his daily life. He can't think of a book he's read all the way through. He never writes anything down. If something funny occurs to him, he records it into his phone to be transcribed by an assistant.
It might also have influenced his unique approach to comedy, which is short on wordplay and slick punch lines. Instead, his stories often unspool in a series of tangents, until you suddenly realize he's self-interrupted his way into several layers of asides. And while the audience is still laughing at a bit, he's already commenting on whether or not it worked. It's smart, and funny as hell — just not linear.
Being an out comedian, meanwhile, hasn't changed things much yet.
"My act is pretty much 100 percent the same. You know, I'll stop referencing girlfriends. But all my jokes about girlfriends were true stories, I just changed the sex. Which, by the way, if that doesn't prove how much same-sex marriages are the same as regular marriages. ... Not once in my life did I tell a relationship joke and have an audience not relate."
"I'm sure that I'll get to a point when I talk about it [onstage]. That'll happen. It hasn't happened yet. But I'm not going up on stage and lying, I'm just not tapping in to certain things. ... I want it to be funny and I want it to be organic."
"By the way, I thought of a new word for 'gay.' I thought instead of 'gay,' I could change it to 'great.' That's so much easier to say. You could just go, 'Look, there's something I want to tell you: I'm great. I've been a great for a long time. I thought it might weird you out if I told you how great I was. ... I've known I'm great since I was 12.'"
When Glass's well-meaning friends tell him it's a "shame" we live in a society where he'd feel obligated to declare his sexuality, he tells them he gets it but he doesn't agree. "I always say to them, 'No, no, no. You're trying to be open-minded, and you are, but I say I publicly hid it, so I had to publicly come out.'"
He balks at being called a public figure. He knows he's not a household name — though you might recognize his face from a number of comedy specials, not to mention appearances on everything from Last Comic Standing to Home Improvement to The Sarah Silverman Program — but he's very aware that the podcasting audience skews young. He figured he owed it to them.