Sunday, January 29, 2006


I was thinking about "gay humor" the other day--what got me started was a New Yorker article that I thought was really funny, but Danielle didn't really get it, and then she said, "oh, is it that they are supposed to be gay?" and that made me consciously realize that the humor depended on thinking that the way gay men act--that is, the stereotype of the way flamboyantly gay men act--is inherently funny. And I thought, why does that seem wrong, because gay men themselves are the ones who created this genre of humor. It's gay humor.

Then I thought of minstrel shows. And Spike Lee's fabulous and underrated movie, Bamboozled, which is so brilliant I can't really sum it up, except to say that it explored the subject of the minstrel show in a very original way. And my thoughts on minstrel shows were, not only were they funny, but black people thought they were funny, and in fact, black people themselves invented the genre, it was "black" entertainment. And today it is pretty much universally accepted that minstrel shows are offensive and degrading to blacks.

Then I thought about Stepin Fetchit, and I was interested to find my brain compartmentalized to this extent: I know that the character is offensive and racist, but if I am honest, he is also very funny. And I realized with a start that I have said "There's nobody in here but us chickens!" within the past week, and people recognize the line and it is still funny, after more than 50 years and all the water under the bridge.

So back to gay humor. I am afraid that all the self-deprecation and stereotype exaggeration is a version of the minstrel show, especially when it is copied by people who are not gay (are white people in blackface more offensive than Stepin Fetchit?) and I think that in the future when gay people are finally accepted into society in an equal way, the face of humor will change.

But I need to think about this some more. And I will take this opportunity to recommend Bamboozled, with this caveat: watch it with an open mind. I honestly don't think Spike Lee is trying to offend anybody, although I guess he thinks if you are offended, it's your problem, not his.

1 comment:

yellojkt said...

Sean Hayes won a Screen Actor Guild award for Jack on "Will and Grace" and he gave a very funny speech thanking Ang Lee for taking a risk on him.

Whether Jack the flamboyant character will someday be a wince-inducing sign of the times or a classic comic icon is something only time will tell. My take is that incy queens will always be funny because there are mincy queens, even if not representative of the whole gay community.

The Amos and Andy type stereotypes were mean spirited and not as truly rooted in reality. Makes for an interesting debate.