Bob Smith, groundbreaking gay comedian, dies at 59

Comedian Bob Smith is perhaps best known for being the first openly gay male comedian to star in his own 30-minute special on HBO and to perform on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.” Both milestones took place in 1994.


The 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. Smith was 59.

“It’s with great sadness, but also a lifetime of happy memories that I’m writing to share that my beloved Bob Smith passed away this morning at age 59 after a remarkable 12-year battle with ALS,” Smith’s partner, Michael Zam, wrote on Facebook.

“He was the funniest and most optimistic person I’ve ever known, as well as the most committed and stubborn (I’m convinced this last trait kept him going so well for so long).”
“Openly Bob,” Smith’s 1997 autobiographical essay collection, won the Lambda Book Award for humor. The celebrated author’s other books include “Way to Go,” “SmithSelfish & Perverse,” and “Remembrance of Things I Forgot.” Smith published his last collection of essays, “Treehab: Tales from my Natural Wild Life,” in 2016.

As a television writer, Smith wrote for ”Roseanne, ”MADtv, and the MTV Video Music Awards.


“Making people laugh has been one of the greatest privileges in my life,” Smith told NewNowNext in a 2016 interview. “I know some people think humor isn’t as important as other things, but it’s a vital component of everything! It allows us to connect with each other, lessen our fears, lighten our work, and bear the unbearable.”

Smith and his partner raised two children together, Madeline and Xander. Zam, co-creator of FX’s “Feud: Bette and Joan, says a memorial for Smith will be held at a comedy club in the near future.

Bob Smith, right, pictured with his partner, Michael Zam, was a pioneering gay comedian. He passed away Saturday at the age of 59. Photo: Michael Zam.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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