Oh, Jesus, some comedians screwed up again. It seems every few months some comedian mucks up and I gotta write some explainer article about it. So here we go, another lecture for straight, cisgender comedians on why their homophobic/transphobic jokes are offensive.
Recently, Chelsea Handler and Jimmy Kimmel went off on a Twitter tear, throwing out insults to conservatives that used insinuations that they are gay and are the "bottom" in a way to shame and insult them. This is problematic in a few ways and offensive to a lot of LGBTQ folks. What's extra hurtful with people like Handler and Kimmel making these jokes is that they're usually supportive of our community. So let's get on with this, again.
Just a few years ago, cisgender and straight comedians could have gotten away with yuks that are insulting to the LGBTQ community. Jokes about being the bottom or being an anti-LGBTQ conservative who's in the closet and hooking up in bathrooms were pretty standard fare because they were meant to belittle and humiliate people aggressively attacking us at a time when were fighting for some of our most basic rights; the gay jokes were a "down the road" issue. In other words, the kind of stuff that seems paltry in comparison to being jailed for consensual sex or being denied the right to marry. Now that we have won some of those basic rights, we're coming back to these "DTR" issues.
To say it plainly, comedians using "bottom" as a pejorative is insulting to gay/bi men. We've got a lot of our own internalized homophobia within the community on that issue we're still working through, and more than a few of us still make jokes about sex positions. Actually, to be honest with you, we've got a lot of our own internal issues about tops, bottoms, femmes, butches, the closet, race, age, and income we're working through. You would be surprised how much we fight about this stuff. Like knock-down, drag-out, career-ending fights about this stuff. Honestly, I get how you could make a mistake about these issues without understanding how it can be hurtful to us.
A lot of LGBTQ folks, including me, aren't raging social justice zealots and can see the difference between a joke that's simply coming from ignorance and one from maliciousness. We know that Jimmy and Chelsea weren't trying to hurt gay folks with these jokes. Chelsea has been a vocal supporter of the LGBTQ community and just days before the tweets did an interview with Out, and announced she was going to be doing fundraisers for LGBTQ causes. Jimmy has been kind of sketchy at times (see: The Man Show), but he has come a long way over the years, and after getting called out by the community for his jokes, he sincerely apologized. We know the difference between malicious gags and those that just miss the mark and come from a place of tone-deafness, so we're not out to kill your careers or anything. We just want you guys to be better.
So what can you guys do to be better? Easy. Don't use us as the punch line of the joke. I know that when you make jokes about being the bottom to try to take a dig at some homophobic jackass or some toxically masculine goon, you're trying to emasculate them. Yet there's nothing emasculating about being gay or preferring the "passive" role in sex. Trust me, I know a lot of butch, bad-ass masculine gay men who like being the "bottom" (also, that role is not for the faint of heart). Those kinds of jokes should remain the domain of hateful bigots who don't know any better, not people who actually care about other human beings and support the LGBTQ community.
Bottoming tweets are for those people who can't come up with intelligent and crushing jokes, not professional left-leaning comedians. You're better than that. Bottoming jokes are cheap, easy, and lowbrow, and they end up hurting the wrong people. Trust me, I can spend all day turning these Second Amendment, gun fetishist, couch commandos into screaming loons without insinuating they're secretly homosexual. If I as a nobody comic can do that, I know you guys can.
One of the rules of comedy is that what's acceptable as a punch line is always changing. Yeah, guys can still make fun of women, but if you try to do it like an old Andrew Dice Clay bit, you're gonna get run off the stage. White people can still write jokes about race, but it's a very tricky area, and you sure as hell couldn't pull off an over-the-top Asian voice or do blackface anymore. It's getting to be the same way with LGBTQ folks. Yeah, you can still make fun of us about a lot of things, but what was an acceptable subject just a few years ago isn't anymore.
Comedy is about making fun of the absurdity of society, and society is always changing. The best comedians adapt to what has changed, learn what's acceptable now and what's not, and don't scurry behind free speech or "I have the right to offend" when they cross those lines. All comedians are going to cross the wrong line from time to time; that's just an expected thing. What separates the clever, relevant comedians from the ones who are never going to make it is that they listen to the people they have offended and learn from it. So listen to us when we say that using us to take down a conservative isn't cool anymore.
AMANDA KERRI is an Oklahoma City-based comedian and regular contributor to The Advocate. Follow her on Twitter @amanda_kerri.