Today, comedian Corinne Grant posted an article entitled ‘Should gay men make sexist jokes?‘ on the website Daily Life. Essentially, it asks whether audiences give gay male comedians carte blanche to tell sexist jokes, thereby reinforcing misogynist attitudes.
Corinne approached me a little while ago via email for comment in regards to the issue and, with my permission, has quoted me in her piece.
As an opinionated gay male comedian (WHO JUST SO HAPPENS TO HAVE TICKETS ON SALE NOW), I just want to make my position clear on this stuff and to take issue with one or two things Corinne has argued.
A few points at the outset:
- I like Corinne Grant. I think she’s funny and nice. I genuinely admire the no-bullshit-taking kind of attitude she and other great female comics (like Felicity Ward, Sarah Kendall and Judith Lucy) apply to issues surrounding feminism and sexism through their comedy.
- I think there is a clear and obvious issue of gay male misogyny. Obviously not all gay men are misogynist, and even those who are aren’t misogynist all the time, but I reckon there’s definitely an argument to be made that some gay men hold dismissive or sexist attitudes when it comes to women. This issue gets a bit complicated if we admit that gay men hold a very different social relationship to women than straight men (which I think they clearly do and I think that’s a relevant and important difference when it comes to talking about jokes and defining what is and isn’t “appropriate” humour), but that’s all proper actual psychology/sociology stuff that I’m definitely not qualified to get into. Nevertheless, I fully support anything that contributes to an honest conversation around those ideas.
- I’m not opposed to political correctness in principle, unlike some of my colleagues in the comedy fraternity. I think there are plenty of instances that compel us to think about the impact of our words and question, “Who is the victim of this joke?”, “Am I relying on a stereotype here?”, etc. But I value truth even more than that, and sometimes PC is bullshit and should be sidestepped for the sake of good comedy.
I think my issue with Corinne’s article is that it tars all gay male comics with the same brush. It doesn’t name names, it just refers to some general examples that Corinne presumes constitute generally-agreed-upon evidence of misogyny, without a real acknowledgement of comedy’s role in breaking taboos, exploring uncomfortable truths and challenging the status quo.
To me, the article seems to suggest that gay male comedians who do jokes about any negative feelings they honestly hold towards the opposite sex are committing sexism.
Here’s where Corinne takes issue with my view:
[Author of The Changing World of Gay Men] Dr. Peter Robinson believes that “men who came of age during the height of feminism are sensitive to issues of sexism. But younger cohorts don’t have the benefit of women’s liberation to help them unpick their ideas. I know that’s a bit controversial, because feminism still exists, but maybe that’s a contributing factor.”
When I asked Tom Ballard his thoughts on why gay male comics can get away with misogyny (for example, doing jokes about how revolting they find vaginas) he replied, “…I wouldn’t say that someone saying that they’re disgusted by vaginas is necessarily misogynist; it could just be them being brutally honest.”
I know Tom and I know he cares about women; his routines often point out the hypocrisy of discrimination against them. However, this may be an example of what Peter is talking about—it’s not deliberate sexism, it’s simply not always recognising it for what it is.
Honesty does not cancel out misogyny. Finding vaginas revolting is hating something that is exclusively female. We would be horrified by a straight man saying such a thing and yet we exempt gay males from the same scrutiny. That doesn’t do either us or gay men any favours and it excludes them from the mainstream debate.
To me, comedy is about exposing truth, regardless of how uncomfortable that truth may be. So if a gay male comedian happens to find vaginas disgusting (I don’t, for the record, but please don’t send me any pics), I can’t see why that uncomfortable and politically incorrect truth should be off-limits for comedy. One doesn’t choose to find something disgusting; one just does. And to find a certain part of the human body objectionable aesthetically is hardly equal to a hatred or dismissal of the rest of the person attached to that body part, or of everyone and anyone who owns such a part.
I’ve heard comedians do material about how disgusting they find human feet, but I don’t think they could be charged with despising all feet-bearers. And there’s certainly a long proud history of mocking male genitalia – by men and women, gay and straight – so why the double standard when it comes to vaginas? Should all genitalia be taken off the table? Will lesbian comedians have to drop all their “penises are gross” material?
I certainly hope not, as a lot of that is damn good gear (please see the work of the brilliant Hannah Gadsby).
A comedian isn’t required to be a bastion of moral goodness onstage. Comedians expose the dark, sticky truths that infest our consciences. People like Louis CK and Patrice O’Neal and Fiona O’Loughlin make us laugh gutturally, with recognition, because they show us how, in some respects, we’re shitty people. They don’t necessarily endorse the views they’re exploring; they just say what they think and the ultimate judgement rests with the audience.
I’ve seen plenty of routines by straight male comics about how disgusting they find the notion of gay sex. I’m not offended by these routines and I wouldn’t class them as homophobic; they just strike me as an honest exploration of how that comedian feels, deep down. Being disgusted by gay sex doesn’t mean one can’t support civil liberties and the idea of minding one’s own business and privacy and notions of equality; similarly, being disgusted by the physical appearance and machinations of a vagina does not mean that one hates women as people.
To be frank, I’d love to see a straight male comic do material on things he doesn’t like about vaginas. What a fascinating dilemma that would be!
Furthermore, Corinne’s piece feels somewhat undercooked without an acknowledgement of the obvious, positive relationship between gay male comedians and female comics. In a world where some douchebags still seem to cling to the bizarre notion that “women aren’t funny”, gay men have to be some of the most passionate supporters of women in comedy, and many of those gay men are comedians themselves. Joel Creasey wanted to become a comic because of Fiona O’Loughlin. He is directing her 2012 festival show. My friend Rhys Nicholson loves Maria Bamford more than life itself. Kathy Griffin, Margaret Cho, Joan Rivers, Denise Scott, Judith Lucy, Wanda Sykes, Ellen DeGeneres – all these extremely successful stand-ups regularly perform empowering material on sexism and misogyny and they all have significant gay male fan bases.
Please, Corinne, don’t patronize me; though I didn’t live through the 70s and 80s, I still love and respect women, I understand the legacy and importance of feminism and I put a lot of thought into my jokes and my opinions on what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to comedy.
Of course gay men shouldn’t make sexist jokes; no one should. But I’m troubled by your definition of sexism, particularly as it relates to the subtleties of comedy, and I feel that your article gives an inaccurate picture of the work of myself and many of my friends.
Right – back to writing my jokes. JOKES WHICH WILL APPEAR IN MY SHOW WHICH JUST SO HAPPENS TO BE ON SALE NOW.