At just 19, Christopher Paul Colfer of Clovis, Calif., a small town near Fresno, rose to TV stardom playing Glee's Kurt Hummel, at the time, one of the rare, realistic gay characters in prime time… & he can really sing. With no professional training, Colfer so impressed Glee creator Ryan Murphy during initial auditions that the character was written specifically for him.
A graduate of Clovis East High School, Colfer was a 3 time speech & debate champion, president of the writer’s club, & wrote & directed a musical spoof of Sweeney Todd called “Shirley Todd.” His closest friends in school were the lunch room ladies because he preferred to stay home to write than to go out with friends. He also took care of his sister, Hannah, who suffers from epilepsy that has kept her in and out of hospitals all of her life.
Colfer: “I was made fun of a lot in high school because of the way I sound & the way I was. I was a lone duck in a swan filled pond who criticized everyone. So I think everyone might be going, ‘Oh, he’s playing the gay character. Figures.’ Just because that’s how they perceived me.” Between the ages of 9 &14, Colfer performed in local plays 4 nights a week. He landed a Hollywood agent & began traveling the 8 hours round trip to LA for auditions with his mother. He tried out for about 30 roles before he was cast on Glee.
I have remained fan of Glee through the end of the just concluded 3rd season, & I am encouraged by the range of gay characters portrayed on the show. On TV, at last, gays are not drawn in non-stereotypical fashion as strictly victims, tragedies, predators or sissies. We now have characters that embrace who they are & are in loving, fulfilling relationships In this way, Kurt Hummel is bound to become a role model for teens in the midst of discovering who they are & also for adults who have been in Kurt’s shoes.
On Glee this spring, a transgender character named Unique is competing in a sing-off. On Grey’s Anatomy, a show I have never viewed, a lesbian couple is adjusting to married life, having been pronounced “wife & wife” last season.
The cultural battlefield of TV has changed since the 1980s with the very neutered portrayal of Tony Randall’s Sidney Schorr on NBC’s Love, Sidney or in the 1990s, when the Religious Right objected to Ellen coming out & Will & Grace coming on.
Today, there is very little complaining about shows like Modern Family, the #1 sitcom or Post Apocalyptic Bohemia favorite- Smash, which has 5 openly gay characters, or the refreshing sitcom-Happy Endings, which, against stereotype, has a husky & lazy gay male character, possibly based on me. Mitt Romney is known to be a fan of Modern Family.
Next season NBC has a new show from Glee creator- Ryan Murphy that features a gay couple trying to have a child & their surrogate, titled The New Normal.
Vice President Biden stated that Will & Grace: “probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody’s ever done so far.” When that sitcom began on NBC, conservatives claimed that would make homosexuality seem desirable. They were correct.
On Ellen, Ellen DeGeneres, came out on the show & in real life in 1997. DeGeneres threatened to quit a year later when ABC preceded an episode that showed her jokingly kissing a friend with a message that warned: “Due to adult content, parental discretion is advised.” Can you imagine such a notice on Modern Family or Glee?
Smash aired a funny & sweet scene of a pair of men in bed, one a Republican, after an evening of bad sex. Now, that is realism.
Steven Levitan, a co-creator of Modern Family: “We thought that when the show started, the inclusion of Cameron & Mitchell would limit our success a bit, because it will perhaps alienate a certain segment of the population.In fact, it’s turned out to be quite the opposite.”
Media watchdogs like the Parents Television Council, one of the most active conservative media groups, do occasionally speak out against TV programming, & the religious fanatics have not been silent & Glee has been scrutinized. The Media Research Center stated: “Glee merely pretends to be a show for young people while actually serving as an assault on our traditional values.”
Colfer: “I don’t personally feel a responsibility to be a role model, but as the actor, I do.” On one of the most the powerful moments to ever air on TV, Glee’s Kurt Hummel came out to his father, played by the always excellent- Mike O’Malley, in a scene that the show’s creator. Ryan Murphy took verbatim from his life.
Murphy: “The show is about making you feel good in the end. It’s about happy endings & optimism & the power of your personal journey & making you feel that the weird thing about me is the great thing about me. I’ve done other shows with gay characters, & I will say that in many of those cases, the gay characters didn’t have a happy ending, & I thought you know what? Enough.”
Last year Colfer was named to Time Magazine's list of The 100 Most Influential Americans.
This summer, Colfer will star in Struck by Lightning, for which he wrote the screenplay. The plot revolves around a character, who is struck & killed by a bolt of lightning, & looks back on his exploits as he blackmails his fellow senior classmates into contributing to a literary magazine he is publishing.
Colfer turns 22 years old today. Times have really changed, at 22 years old, I would never have dared to be an out & proud actor. Colfer & his creation of the character of Kurt on Glee make him a hero to me.