Bob Smith, Pioneering Gay Comedian and Writer, Dies at 59

Draper Shreeve
Bob Smith

The comedian is best known for being the first openly gay male comedian to star in his own 30-minute special on HBO.

Bob Smith, a pioneering gay comedian and award-winning writer, died Saturday in his New York City home from complications from ALS, his rep told The Hollywood Reporter. He was 59.

The comedian is best known for being the first openly gay male comedian to star in his own 30-minute special on HBO, which aired in 1994, and to perform on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno

Following Smith's groundbreaking appearance on HBO Comedy Half-Hour, he performed sets on ABC's Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher in 1998, MTV's Wisecrack in 2005 and Regent Entertainment's Hot Gay Comics.

Smith was also a prolific and decorated writer, penning the autobiographical essay collection Openly Bob (1997), which won the LAMBDA Book Award for humor. In 1999, he was nominated for another LAMBDA for his second collection of essays, 1999's Way to Go, Smith. In 2016, Smith published his last collection of essays, Treehab: Tales from my Natural Wild Life, which he wrote in the midst of battling ALS and using his one functional hand on an iPad. Smith also wrote the novels Selfish & Perverse (2007), a finalist for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction; and Remembrance of Things I Forgot (2011), nominated for a LAMBDA for Best Gay Fiction and shortlisted for the Green Carnation Prize. 

As a television writer, Smith wrote for The MTV Video Music Awards, Dennis Miller, Roseanne and MADtv. His sketches for MADtv include "Zapruder Home Movies," a sketch about the 8mm home movie that is "the only known footage of the Kennedy assassination," and "Antiques Roadshow," which spoofed the long-running PBS show by showing the host digging up dark family secrets through antique items such as a flask.

Smith also performed at Montreal's Just for Laughs Festival several times and headlined gay pride parades in the U.S. and in Canada. 

Born in Buffalo, New York, Smith participated in the Greenwich Village comedy scene in New York City in the early 1980s, but first became well-known as a member of the "Funny Gay Males" trio of comics, also including Danny McWilliams and Jaffe Cohen, which toured internationally and at the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation in 1993. "Funny Gay Males" became the first openly gay comedians to appear on national television when they appeared on The Joan Rivers Show

Smith is survived by his mother, Sue; his brothers, James and Gregory; his partner, Michael Zam — the co-creator of FX's Feud: Bette and Joan — and his children, Madeline and Xander.