Gay Icon Nominee: Julie Bowen

Here’s a bitchy theory that I might believe in: Straight men usually aren’t very socially intuitive thinkers, so they rarely relate to comic performers who don’t, to a certain degree, resemble them. I notice in standup and on Twitter that a majority of straight male comics build their fanbase by specifically proving they relate to their fans, who are largely also straight and male. This, I feel, is the opposite tactic of the comics who are more often adored by gay men and straight women. We tend to like standout performers who represent themselves first and seem to say, “F*ck you if you don’t relate to me.” We value independence over like-mindedness, and that’s why defiant personalities like Madonna, Kathy Griffin, and Bette Davis can be catnip to many of us. (I certainly subscribe to all three of those dames.)

In our new feature “Gay Icon Nominee,” we’ll select a modern-day pop culture figure who hasn’t yet ascended to, say, Oscar Wilde/Barbra Streisand’s ranks of idolatry and suggest why he/she might be next in line. This honor doesn’t imply that a celeb is only interesting to homos or not interesting to heteros; it simply acknowledges that a celeb exhibits a certain independence, self-ownership, talent, and flair, those qualites that perenially impress and inspire LGBTers. I’ll start with the kickass Julie Bowen, who won an Emmy last year and is again nominated for her work on Modern Family. Feel free to vote for or against my picks (and nominate your own, too), because I believe we should have a say in which celebrities Wikipedia will label as “gay icons.” Let’s take control.

1. She’s the most realistic and hilarious character on Modern Family.

It’s nice that Bowen won an Emmy for her work on Modern Family, because her character Claire Dunphy is both a thoroughly real-seeming matriarch and a straightforward forum for the show’s best jokes. Remember when she told Phil, “Oh, honey. Don’t take this the wrong way… but I have almost no faith in you”? Riotous. She’s also the most realistic character, which would seem like a thankless achievement alongside the silliness of Phil Dunphy or the theatrical flair of Gloria and Cam. Bowen is simply doing the hard work of delivering raw laughs and making it look easy. She’s got the knockaround flair of Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the knack for damning punchlines like Cynthia Nixon. A perfect combo.

2. Her Twitter is totally funny.

Twitter is the most efficient way to see if the funny people on TV are remotely humorous — or even tolerable — in real life. Bowen makes good on her potential.

3. She is a killer talk show guest.

She lit up Conan O’Brien’s first week on TBS with her sputtering candor, relaying a tale of how one of her children threw another into the dryer. She’s been a delight on Jimmy Fallon’s show. And in this George Lopez appearance, Julie Bowen turns a breastfeeding photo into high art and practically scat-sings hilarious jokes. It’s so rare that we have fine talk show guests anymore. Actors don’t value wit. Or sincerity. Here, we get huge helpings of both.

4. She’s spent the past 20 years resembling a young Jane Fonda.

Just the truth. More like They Shoot Knowing Glances, Don’t They?

5. She majored in the Italian Renaissance for some reason.

I love a smart, funny woman! Bowen attended Brown University and majored in Italian Renaissance studies, which is cool and baffling. She even got to take a trip to Italy, and when asked on Inside the Actor’s Studio what that experience was like, she said, “I was 20, I had blonde hair to my ass, and I was in Italy. James, you tell me.”

6. She routinely mocks and impersonates Sofia Vergara.

…albeit lovingly. I hate when TV actors are cagey when discussing their costars. Bowen manages to be both nice and dead-on when impersonating Sofia Vergara, her vivacious, heavily accented Modern Family costar. Here on Conan, she nails her woozy patois.

7. She has worked really hard.

You have to give props when an actress who’s busked and worked like Julie Bowen wins a role that fits her perfectly, gives her the attention she deserves, and propels her out of relative obscurity. Like Jane Krakowski (who I’ll probably write up in this very column sometime), she’s been great on multiple series like Ed, Boston Legal, and Weeds, and she’s single-handedly elevated the material in awful movies like Joe Somebody, Crazy on the Outside (yes, that’s two Tim Allen movies), and An American Werewolf in Paris.

8. She is fully endorsed by her gay costar.

During his acceptance speech for Modern Family’s win at the GLAAD Awards (in the category of “Outstanding Comedy Series”), Jesse Tyler Ferguson told a pretty funny and gay-cred-validating anecdote about Bowen, as she stood by his side. “Me and Julie were actually at a movie theater the other night because that’s how we roll. We can’t stay away from each other, even on our hiatus. It’s really sad. This guy comes up to us and he’s like, ’I have to tell you guys that I love the show so much. Me and my partner watch it all the time!’ And Julie’s [says to Jesse], ’Ugh, you get the cool, hip, gay guys as your fans. I get the harried moms with three kids hanging off them in the milk aisle at Ralph’s, who are like, ’You are so me! You are so me!'” Exquisite.

Any reasons to add, guys? I fully nominate her.