Andy Samberg Breaks Caricature
By Joshua David Stein
This from a show with only three gay writers out of 21 and no gay cast members. But Samberg poo-poos the episode�s gayness. �It wasn�t on purpose. Sometimes you have a really dirty show. Sometimes you have a really gay show. As much as I�d like to say we made the [painting sketch] in response to Prop. 8, we didn�t.� Furthermore, he says it�s inaccurate to think that the sketches mock gays. The source of the humor, he claims, isn�t in homosexuality itself but in the fraught relationship straight men have with it. �It�s bro-gay,� says Samberg, �which I love just because dudes that are bros and super antigay are the ones who need to get it the worst. They�re the ones we have the most fun fucking with.�
And if you think about it, he�s right. The kissing family is, by all indications, a heteronormative nuclear family. The guys in the car are simply �dudes.� Despite the candles and the soft sex music, Rudd and Samberg are nothing more than painter and painted. The humor is in the notion -- which makes many people very uncomfortable -- that beneath the thin veneer of heterosexuality is a current of homosexuality yearning to breathe free. On SNL, ambiguously gay duality is played for laughs and no one -- at least no one with a working sense of humor -- can deny it�s funny. As Samberg says, �It�s a slippery slope, but sometimes that shit is just funny.�
But to justify the gay jokes as merely an act of provocation is to leave the door open for insidious stereotyping. The mincing foppery of Beyonc�s backup dancers may well be a role-playing game meant to rattle homophobes, but it is an imprecise weapon of indeterminate range. Samberg et al, lisping in unitards and pumps, look a lot like gay stereotyping. This problem could be solved, or at least ameliorated, if Samberg were gay or if SNL�s cast and writers were gayer. But Samberg is too damn good a comedian to make lapsing into vulgar caricature -- be it gay, white, or Mark Wahlberg talking to animals -- a habit.
The best illustration of Samberg�s talent and the embodiment of his agent provocateur philosophy is his impeccably timed, heat-seeking missive to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran. At a speech at Columbia University on September 24, 2007, Ahmadinejad claimed, �In Iran we don�t have homosexuals like in your country.� By that Saturday, the 27th, Samberg and his writing partners had written, recorded, and shot a surprisingly catchy love song to Mr. Ahmadinejad called �Iran So Far.� The joke of the song wasn�t -- or wasn�t merely -- that one man could care so deeply about another as to pen him a ballad; nor was it merely Fred Armisen�s eerily realistic Ahmadinejad that rendered that scary despot cuddly and adorable. The work was in the words. �Talk smooth to me, without a tie,� Samberg raps, �Your pants high-waisted, damn, so fly / We can take a trip to the animal zoo / And laugh at all the funny things that animals do.�
�The rap,� says Samberg, �is the vessel for the jokes we are thinking of.� At one point, Samberg, playing the piano atop a double-decker bus as it rolls through Times Square, raps, �I know you say there�s no gays in Iran / But you�re in New York now, baby / It�s time to stop hiding / And start living.� Like the bus, the line has a number of levels. In two unrhymed couplets, Samberg deflates a bigot, supports a city, condones a way of life, and makes you laugh.
Similarly, says Samberg, �no one is going to look at my character in I Love You, Man and say �It�s funny because you�re a straight guy playing a gay guy.� It�s funny because the character is funny.� That�s one small step for Samberg but one giant leap for comedy.
I Love You, Man opens March 20. Incredibad, the new album from Samberg�s band, the Lonely Islands, is available now.