What’s In A Punchline -- Humor or Homophobia?
How many fags does it take to screw in a light bulb? Why did the butch dyke cross the road? Did you hear the one about the tranny who walks into a bar with a parrot on her shoulder?
Are you wondering about the punchlines, or are you simply tittering at the set up to these jokes? If the former, you’re probably gay or gay-friendly. But if it’s the latter, then you might be, to paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, a homophobe.
When is a joke about LGBTs fair game, and when is it homophobic? Did you laugh at the South Park Metrosexual episode a few years back or find it offensive? When does the stereotype of gays as fashion-obsessed, bitchy confidantes (such as in the hit chick flick "He’s Just Not That Into You") cross the line? Or when, in the same film, Kevin Connolly as a straight real estate agents dresses in a tight pink t-shirt to woo gays -- are the filmmakers having fun with or exploiting a stereotype?
It’s called common sense, Mary!
We spoke with a couple fag comics, a legendary dyke stand-up, and an academic egghead to get the skinny on what’s in a word - and how far you have to cross the line in order for a joke to be considered homophobic instead of homofriendly.
Tone, Intent & Reception Theory
Just as everybody has a sense of humor, we all have an internal barometer that tells us when a joke is the stuff of pointed satire, witty observation, or just plain nasty. It’s called common sense, Mary!
But somewhere along the line, hypersensitivity got busy with minority rights and had a bastard child they named "Political Correctness."
Kate Clinton (www.kateclinton.com) has been telling jokes about LGBTs for decades, and says that the thought police need not be alerted every time we disagree on whether a comment is appropriate: "Calling something PC is like saying ’shut up.’ It stops conversation, and I really don’t like that."
The result? Not only have some people gotten "tighter and more sensitive about what they are willing to laugh at," comedians are "censoring themselves from different topics." That’s the conclusion of Jamie Masada, owner of the Laugh Factory (www.laughfactory.com), Masada says that fear of being labeled a racist or a homophobe happens when a comic is hyperconscious of the fact that "Fat people want to be called big people, midgets want to be called little people. It seems like every group is organized and, if you make fun of them, they come after you." Where will that leave comedy, Masada wonders. "Who can we make fun of if we cannot laugh at ourselves"
Upper photo: Drew Barrymore surrounded by her gay colleagues in "He’s Just Not Into You."
Lower photo: LA-based comedian Jamie Masada.