Did You Hear The One About a Straight Man Telling a Gay Joke? It Was Funny!

7.18.2007

By Shana Naomi Krochmal

Ever since I was hired last summer to write Out's pop culture blog, I've slowly been forced to admit that my entire life is now ruled by the endless search for a better punch line. Every day, I pore over current events to find something funny or outrageous or important or just plain weird. Then I match the item with the gayest photo I can find and slap on a snazzy closing comment. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Basically, I write gay jokes. There's no formal training for this kind of responsibility, so when the cold hard truth sunk in'I write gay jokes! For a living! What the fuck?'I looked around to see who actually knew what the hell they were doing so I could steal their moves.

I started with a short and obvious list of all the people who are allowed by the Gay Establishment to make jokes at the expense of our people:

1. Margaret Cho
2. Kathy Griffin
3. Sandra Bernhard (sometimes)
4. Bruce Vilanch
5. Nathan Lane

Don't get me wrong'I appreciate Life On the D-List as much as the next gay. Margaret Cho once literally made me pee my pants when I attended one of her shows. But the more I searched, the more it seemed the funniest fag jokes around were coming from the mouths of'straight men.

So I sucked it up, learned to repress my gross-out movie gag reflex and watched everything I could find made by the following certified heterosexuals:

1. Will Ferrell
2. Adam Sandler
3. Judd Apatow
(with or without Paul Rudd)
4. Sacha Baron Cohen

My syllabus yielded a perhaps predictable conclusion: We didn't, contrary to your average gay history class textbook, actually invent comedy! We certainly don't have the only available license for it. For years gay audiences have taken refuge in the jokes of our own kind or those who pass an invisible but seemingly unending series of tests we erect to ensure they're really on our side.

But as the erudite gay humor exemplified by Broadway adaptations and highbrow sitcoms continues to fall out of favor, new guys are stepping up with their own brand of brash comedy. The smartest, funniest commentary on America's so-called culture wars, especially our million-year war with the fundamentalist right, is on Comedy Central. It's being translated into blockbuster comedies that sell out at suburban multiplexes and rule conversations at the cafeteria, not the water cooler. Conveniently enough, those fabled mainstream viewers are exactly the people we need if we ever hope to be considered more than second-class citizens.

Take Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, which contains a scene that can still make me weep with laughter. Alan Keyes'who publicly dissed his lesbian daughter in his hopeless quest to be elected president'actually explains to Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) that, well, yes, if the nice men he met at the parade took him back to his hotel room and put things in his anus, they were probably homosexuals. But it's the constant and cruel-spirited criticism Borat faces for his habit of kissing men hello that illuminates whose behavior is really out of whack.

In Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (rightfully Will Ferrell's flick), Cohen plays the archenemy race car driver, who is as vilified for being French as he is for having a husband whose hand he's constantly holding. He offers to forfeit a race to Ricky Bobby in exchange for one good kiss. Ferrell's character declines, declaring, 'This is America!' But after a good mano a mano climax, it's Ferrell who lays a long wet one on Cohen in front of a track full of NASCAR fans'simply out of gratitude for making him want to be a better man. The duo even celebrated their MTV Movie Awards win for Best Kiss with a triumphant make-out session.

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