I've watched The Daily Show With Jon Stewart for many years. I love the show, but I am especially grateful for what it does for oppressed minorities. As a gay guy and a stand-up comedian, I look to The Daily Show to help me laugh about living in a conservative and sometimes terrifying country (and to give me something to fall asleep to after masturbating). The Daily Show is a beacon of hope that uses humor to both inform and remind people what is true: that the world is a ridiculous fucking place, and that we're not crazy; they are. I mean, The Daily Show got me through the Bush years! And they use a brilliant device to examine and poke fun at the nuances of a particular minority group's experience: the Daily Show correspondent.
I've watched and applauded the addition of the "senior black correspondent" and his counterparts representing women, youth, etc. Allowing the various correspondents to comment on and joke about the plight of the groups they represent is truly genius. It allows viewers who are members of that group to identify with their respective correspondents as they mock our persecutors. Viewers get to laugh about the punishing realities of our political standing that are otherwise too depressing to fully consider. The correspondents take things like the attacks on women's reproductive rights or voter ID laws, play them out to their most absurd conclusions, and in doing so take back some dignity. This is the essence of the subversive power of comedy.
Senior Women's Correspondent Kristen Schall: "Single women vote with their vaginas, Jon. And they only care about one issue: the sucking and the fucking." Jessica Williams comically defending the price point of Facebook's billion-dollar purchase of Instagram: "I literally use Instagram a billion times a day, Jon." Larry Wilmore apologizing on behalf of all black people: "Obviously these voter ID laws were meant to suppress the black vote, which has gone about 95-percent for Obama, but ended up hurting innocents like Jim Cramer's father. So sorry, old people; that shit was meant for us, not for you." Or his coining of the term "blanguage" to mock pundits who suggest that Obama has a secret black language he uses to express his disdain for whites.
And people want to hear what these correspondents think and have to say about their own people's predicaments! They want an insider's perspective on what it must be like to be black or young or a woman in an era that's still pretty wonky for those folks. Furthermore, Daily Show viewers want permission to laugh about the ridiculous and often comically misguided ways minority groups respond to and persevere in the face of their unique adversities, insight only a member of a minority can deliver. One of the first things I learned in comedy is that when you belong to a certain subpopulation, you are granted a great deal of latitude in your commentary about that group. That is, you get to make fun of your own people in a way that others cannot. Larry Wilmore in reference to Rev. Jeremiah Wright's viral-video characterization of white people as rhythmless tools: "The race card can take over your life, until you become a cartoonish shell of your former self" -- a sophisticated piece of criticism delivered by the only correspondent qualified to do so. Anyone else would be speaking out of turn, or, at the very least, would look like a rhythmless tool.
But as a gay man, I hate that I still have to turn on The Rachel Maddow Show to feel truly represented. Don't get me wrong: I love Rachel Maddow; she's the hottest guy on MSNBC. (Kidding, but she is smoking hot.) But I'm a comedian; I want to laugh about what's going on in this world that's so oppressive for gays, because otherwise it's too gloomy (and sullies my masturbation routine). So I watch The Daily Show instead of the rerun of Rachel at 11. "Gay Watch" and the other segments addressing all things gay in the world are an important overview of the struggles to which many gay people still pay close attention (the fight for equal rights, the problem of religion-based aggressors, the increasing number of hate crimes and murders of gays, the existence of FOX News, all reminders that it's still awful for a lot of us). But although The Daily Show and its staff amazingly navigate this terrain with great care and delicacy, without proper representation I feel like they undermine their ability to cover these issues with the flair they with which they cover others. There's no one to stand in place for the ignorant characterizations of gays, amplify them to their ludicrous extreme, and strip them of their power in the process. And worse, there's no one to make fun of gays the way we deserve -- because it's always straight people doing the gay segments, and so I ask, why has there never been a "senior gay correspondent"?
Every minority group has its own unique propagandistic branding bestowed upon it by its oppressors. And while it's not just funny but important to joke about these stereotypes and misconceptions, these jokes are best made by the people at whom they have historically been leveled. One of my openers is, "I just want to clear something up: I did not choose to be gay; I specifically asked to be black." Clever as all get-out, sure, but I love that joke because it communicates a lot to an audience: that it's ridiculous to think someone could make such a choice, that I belong to an oppressed minority group that deserves respect regardless of how I "became" gay, and that I don't give a fuck if you like it or not. It gives me dignity to make that joke. But although gay men and their sex lives continue to be a go-to for just about every comic out there, gay people remain largely unseen in comedy and, more importantly, unheard.
As much as I love John Oliver, I would really have loved to see a gay person triumphantly (and phallically) wave around that rainbow flag in celebration of the recent SCOTUS rulings. I'd have loved to hear a gay person reflect on what it means to them. Or, better yet, comically and indignantly skewer Scalia for his dissent: "What a coincidence, Justice Scalia: 'Argle-bargle' is actually my safe word! Mostly 'cause it's so easy to say when you have a dick in your mouth... or did you already know that?" Or perhaps make a stupid joke about finally having the right to gay divorce: "Gays deserve to be gold diggers too!" Or challenge people's reverence for heteronormative conventions: "I don't want to get married. I'm old-school-gay: I just wanna have sex with lotsa strangers and gentrify bad neighborhoods." Or a call for reparations in the form of wedding presents to make up for the years we were denied our rights: "I'm registered at the gayest stores in town: Rainbow Depot and Abercrombie." Where's the gay guy dying to marry his horse in response to the litany of lunatics who frequently suggest that gay marriage will lead to legalized bestiality? Unfortunately, the Daily Show crew and writers are consigned to making safe, dated jokes that rely on cut-off jean shorts and the Castro district instead of an incisive flaying of the whole notion of what gay marriage even means -- jokes they can't really make.
So I've been thinking that if there's any place that can offer gay people a voice and an opportunity to make fun of ourselves instead of everyone else doing it for us, it's The Daily Show. The introduction of a "senior gay correspondent" is not only belated but a perfect way to herald in this seeming Gay Spring. I realize that there are many gays out there, and probably many gays better suited and more accomplished than I to fill the job, and that's fine. It doesn't have to be me. I hear Mario Cantone is wide open.
Photo credit: Branden Poe