Ever since I was hired last summer to write Outs pop culture blog, Ive 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. Theres no formal training for this kind of responsibility, so when the cold hard truth sunk inI 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
Dont get me wrongI 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 ofstraight 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 didnt, contrary to your average gay history class textbook, actually invent comedy! We certainly dont 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 theyre 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 Americas so-called culture wars, especially our million-year war with the fundamentalist right, is on Comedy Central. Its 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 Keyeswho publicly dissed his lesbian daughter in his hopeless quest to be elected presidentactually 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 its 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 Ferrells flick), Cohen plays the archenemy race car driver, who is as vilified for being French as he is for having a husband whose hand hes constantly holding. He offers to forfeit a race to Ricky Bobby in exchange for one good kiss. Ferrells character declines, declaring, This is America! But after a good mano a mano climax, its Ferrell who lays a long wet one on Cohen in front of a track full of NASCAR fanssimply 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.
In writer-director Judd Apatows The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen perform the oldest straight-guy ritual in the world (trying to kill each other in a video game) while improvising a long riff on an essential question: You know how I know youre gay? Like in a crude 21st-century Whos On First? they go around and around in circles, from cultural checkpoints (You like Coldplay) to practical (You just told me youre not sleeping with women anymore)but theres no question these dudes love each other unconditionally.
So. What does it matter whos telling the joke as long as being the punch line doesnt require letting haters off the hook? As the past few years have proved, its these same flicks that are topping the box office chartsand the gay story lines are now moving from supporting roles to center stage.
Take Blades of Glory, starring Ferrell and Napoleon Dynamites Jon Heder as straight male figure skaters who team up to become the first same-sex pair in competition. Its one long joke about the discomfort your average man feels when asked to dance with another guy. (You want me to put my hands where?) Its a gag that works well on-screen to expose the lengths to which people who are not exactly homophobicI like to call them homoqueasywill go to avoid the appearance of being gay. Because no one in the movies world seems to take issue with a gay teamexcept those competitors who argue it provides an unfair advantage in strengththe audience is asked to swallow its objections too.
It doesnt really matter whether you think these movies are funny or even whether you go to see themtheyre marketed primarily to a straight audience and consistently rake in hundreds of millions of dollars. There will be more where they came from, because there is no demographic more desired by the power brokers in Hollywood than 14-year-old boys.
Thats one way to explain this summers I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, in which Adam Sandler literally plays gay. He and Kevin James (TVs King of Queens) star as two New York firefighters who stage a same-sex wedding across the Canadian border in hopes of securing benefits for Jamess kids. Its Some Like It Hot meets Green Card, so of course they have to cohabitate, pretend to be madly in love, and, in Sandlers case, try (unsuccessfully, of course) to deny the attraction he feels to hottie attorney Jessica Biel.
In between the domestic drama, Sandler and company draw a clear line in the sand. Everybody who calls them fags gets a quick pow right in the kisser, accompanied by a pointed lesson in semantics: The preferred vernacular is gay!
This movie says theres nothing wrong with being gay, Sandler told Newsweek. But of course that wasnt the punch line. He added, Theres just something wrong with being gay for Kevin James.
Spoken like one of us!