Last week, Jay Leno spoofed GoDaddy's Super Bowl commercial on the Tonight Show by attempting to recreate the kissing scene with supermodel Bar Refaeli. Once Jay closed his eyes in the skit, Bar pulled in her male partner from that same commercial and had him complete the kiss, leaving the audience with a visual of the late night talk show host engaged in a lip lock with an overweight, nerdy-looking guy. A few days later, Gay Voices posted a video from a singer named Hailey Rowe called "My Boyfriend is Gay." The song and video are meant to be a tongue-in-cheek look at stereotypical gay behavior that apparently heterosexual females are sometimes oblivious to. I cringed as I viewed it -- and I didn't laugh once.
The examples I shared above were obviously meant to be taken as jokes, but the more I examine these gay-oriented skits I can't help but wonder about the entertainment industry's usage of "gay." In its efforts to elicit laughter from a captive audience, is it relying on corny clichés? We always seem to giggle whenever a character sashays around with over-the-top flamboyant tendencies. No doubt about it, effeminate men translate to funny in film and television much in the same way masculine women dressed as lumberjacks do. These are the go-to stereotypes that have been heavily used in comedy, yet no one ever seems to question why we are still laughing at them.
Think about this: in a time when gay rights and marriage equality seem to be part of everyday news coverage, what is really so funny about seeing two men engaged in a lip lock? I don't feel the need to hysterically chuckle after I kiss a man, so why should something I consider a symbol of affection be used to make others laugh? Is it because SNL has been recycling the "two guys kissing in a skit" routine for what seems like forever? Let's be honest -- in SNL's defense, I expect canned humor from a show that is stale and hasn't been funny for quite some time.
I remember watching Three's Company as a kid. The sitcom's storylines were built around the theme of a straight man pretending to be gay just so that the building's landlord would allow him to share an apartment with two girls. The premise of the show now seems archaic and not particularly funny, yet every time Jack Tripper fluttered his eyelashes flirtatiously at Mr. Roper or acted out some effeminate mannerism, the laugh track played on cue. This was television's way of pushing the envelope when it came to comedy back when the show was conceptualized in the late 1970's. Several decades and multiple Gay Pride parades later, the entertainment industry still relies on variations of this type of gay humor. The laugh tracks are still playing, and people are still giggling. Are we laughing because our funny bones are genuinely being tickled, or are we just mechanically reacting to a comedic formula without even questioning if it's legitimately hilarious?
Don't get me wrong. I consider myself to have a pretty good sense of humor. In fact, I'm part of that dying breed of people who still laugh at politically incorrect jokes. I'm simply reflecting upon society's views of the humor they find in homosexuality; wondering if this serves as an indicator of an acceptance of gays and lesbians, or if we are the butt of jokes that mask a level of uncomfortability with our growing equality. I suppose it's the job of every one who works in comedy to find the humor in stereotypes. If they can crack jokes about every group under the sun, then surely the gays shouldn't have immunity. The only problem is that there is also a stigma that's attached to these homosexual stereotypes. I'll go so far as to speculate that it might also feed a small percentage of intolerant people's homophobia, as if the generalized humor of our lifestyle is the only way they can deal with the LGBT community.
Perhaps most importantly, I'm finally realizing that the cackles and giggles that come from same-sex comedy have hindered my own growth in the past. During my 20s, I was painfully embarrassed to introduce any guy I dated to my friends and family who even showed the slightest amount of effeminacy. I was fearful that a lisp or an extended pinky while holding a beverage would generate snickers amongst my inner circle. As I look back, I see that these were ridiculous things to get worked up about, but remember, these were the gay hilarities that I was introduced to as a child. So while I was enjoying episodes of Three's Company, I was also subconsciously learning to hold onto fears about other people's perceptions of what is deemed as acceptable (and non-laughable) gay behavior. Every chuckle cultivated and fed my own internalized homophobia. Thankfully, I've been able to deprogram myself and move past this type of thinking. Part of it can be attributed to enlightenment; the other part is I'm just too old to care what other people think of me and the guys I date anymore.
So are people laughing with us or at us? I guess it depends on whom you ask. I honestly don't have a cut-and-dry answer. It's certainly something that could be debated about at great length, and I'm sure some people will read this entry and think, "Lighten up sour puss." I know one thing: I'm certainly going to be more mindful of the things I find funny. I always enjoy a good joke, but knee-jerk laughter for outdated humor is just lame.