Why does the best-friend character get all the laughs in the new gay sitcoms? 

Second Banana, Big Laughs

Why does the best friend get all the funny lines?

Because it's a New Gay Sitcom.

Think about it. Who gets all the good lines on "Will & Grace"? Jack, that's who. The best friend. The only one in the cast who looks and acts gay. (If, that is, you believe the gay stereotype bears a resemblance to what real gay people look and act like. But that's another rant entirely.)

The premise holds true, now that we have another gay-themed sitcom on one of the Big Three networks, "Some of My Best Friends" on CBS-TV.

Why is that, do you suppose? If a sitcom centers on a gay character, does that mean he automatically has to be butch, so the queeny, funny lines go to the best friend by default? Are the networks and producers trying to avoid offending the majority straight audience — meaning the star has to butch it up while the best friend gets to flame like a forest fire? After all, it's easier to take a chance with the second banana rather than the top banana.

Or is it that the writers, some of whom are gay themselves, find it easier to put zinger lines into the mouths of the "gayer" characters? Or that the best-friend roles often go to actual gay people, while the central gay characters are played by straights?

Or is it that the networks and producers are right after all? Is America not yet ready for a butterfly in heat to be the lead character in a TV series?

Is today's audience really ready to laugh with, instead of laughing at?

Good questions, all, but the answers are elusive.

On "Some of My Best Friends Are," the best-friend character, Vern — played with flawless, zestful flamboyance by Alec Mapa — got the first real laugh in the first act of the show's first episode. And he did it the hard way: with one word, a comic leer and a raised eyebrow.

"Some of My Best Friends" takes the plot of the 1997 film "Kiss Me, Guido" and reworks it into series format. The premise: through a couple of misunderstandings, a gay man and a straight man wind up sharing an apartment. Jason Bateman butches it up as Warren, the gay roomie, and Danny Nucci plays Frankie, the straight roomie who often wears nothing but a towel, the better to show off his sculpted pecs. That leaves all the campy lines to best-friend Vern.

For example, as Warren is trying to figure out whether Frankie is straight or gay, Vern jumps in: "Frankie, finish this sentence. 'Clang, clang, clang went the __________.'"

"Firetruck," says Frankie.

"He's a breeder," Vern declares.

This is not to say that it's only Vern who gets laughs on "Best Friends." Although the pilot got off to a slow start before Vern exploded onto the scene, it's a funny show, and situations and one-liners alike get their share of laughter.

Can "Best Friends" sustain an auspicious start? Will it fare as well as "Will & Grace," and thus spawn more and more of its ilk?

More importantly, will Mapa continue to get all the good

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