In Allan Loeb’s screenplay, dated a year ago, Vaughn’s character goes on to say “Not homosexual gay … but soft gay, unmanly gay, quiet and small gay” (in the trailer, the line was “my-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay”) and that “if you’re a real man … you don’t want an electronic car,” which tries to swerve [around accusations of] homophobia while still taking the word as a slur, and at no point is he reprimanded for his stance by any other character.
Since last week, when Universal bowed to pressure from Anderson Cooper and cut a gay joke from its trailer for The Dilemma, there’s been a lot of talk about where the line is when it comes to gay jokes in comedy. As far as The Dilemma goes, its case wasn’t made any stronger by the revelation that the joke as written in the script is much worse:If the joke in the trailer is borderline and possibly defensible, that is definitely more clearly offensive.
But is even mentioning homosexuality taboo in comedy? I don’t think so. Context is clearly important, and there’s a way to joke about it without alienating people and reinforcing stereotypes. The poker scene from Louie is probably the smartest take on the whole argument that’s been made recently, but just today, Michael Ian Black responded to a fan who took umbrage with a joke he made that contained the word “faggot.”
I was laughing hysterically and enjoying every moment of it until you made a joke about the night before your daughter started her first day of kindergarten. I was still laughing as you said, “You should be afraid,” and was giggling until I heard you say: “Have you heard of bullying? She said no, so I called her a ‘faggot’ and punched her in the face.”Although I know this was all in good fun, that joke deeply offended me and I was really disappointed in you. I don’t know if you watch the news, but there’s been a recent rise in suicides amongst gay youth the last month, culminating with a college student at Johnson and Wales University in Providence taking his life.And here’s part of his response:
Yes, I used the word “faggot” in a joke, a joke specifically about bullying. Because that’s the word that bullies use. I know this because I have been on the receiving end of that word many, many times.Words by themselves do not have any power. Their power is entirely derived by the value we give them. Using a word is not inherently offensive. You need context for that.That’s why black people can say “nigger” but white people have a much harder time. (Notice I did not say white people cannot use the word. I just did. I also used to have a joke whose punchline was “Jesus is my nigger.”) Context.
Here’s part of her message to Black:So, what do you think? I’d say I side with Black on this one, that the context makes it acceptable, but when I took umbrage with a similar joke in The Hangover, does that make me a hypocrite? Where’s the line? Is it that the guys in The Hangover are shown in a context of jovial boys-will-be-boys horsing around that seems realistic and more prone to being aped by teenaged boys? Does the fact that Black is doing standup and telling a much more absurd joke make it acceptable? Or are both instances OK because they’re making fun of the person using the word? I don’t think there’s any subject so delicate or offensive that comedy has no place touching it, but I do think that the further you go into that territory the more aware you need to be of what you’re doing.
There’s obviously no cut-and-dry answer. It’s a blurry line between a funny and edgy joke and an offensive joke, and there always has been. But just the fact that people are thinking about this and talking about it is a good thing.