A Response To Corinne Grant

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

Cheers,

Tom    

 

16 thoughts on “A Response To Corinne Grant

  1. I found Corrine’s piece interesting but I have to agree with you. I not gay or male, but I am not particularly enamoured of the vagina (except for mine, which I’m very fond of). My friends and I often talk about we could be waist-up lesbians, but nothing – NOTHING – below the belt, because vaginas are so sexually unappealing. This doesn’t make me a misogynist. It just makes me really straight. And really fond of penises. (Not ALL penises, just… oh, forget it).
    Good luck with the show.

  2. Very interesting rebuttal. I thought the original article raised some good and/or thought-provoking points and your fleshed it out further in a way that it needed and deserved. I do wonder though at the slight dig (possibly unintended or misinterpreted by me) in which you remind female comedians to recognise the invaluable quality of their gay male fanbases. Obviously it’s ridiculous to deliberately disregard or alienate ANY subsection of your audience, but that paragraph felt a little confused to me. Were you saying that women should know that gay comedians aren’t misogynist because female comics have gay male fans: “See, our kind loves your kind!”? The issue was with gay comics’ comments about women in general in the context of their comedy routines, not how gay men feel about female comedians. Were you saying that female comics should be careful about what they say about any gay men/comics for fear of losing the success they owe to their gay male fanbases? I loved this article but that point stood out to me.

  3. Hi Tom, I’m a fan of you, and Corrine, and a comedy fan generally (as well as an occasional comedy critic!). But I have to say I thought you actually came off well in her article and I think the above is a little unfair. I know the type of comedians she’s talking about (I could name names too, but like Corrine, I don’t want to get done for defamation, here). But nor do I want to assume that someone I’ve seen in the past hasn’t changed their ways (the local male comedian I’m thinking of particularly did this material and was literally being hateful, however I suspect he was trying to play with the idea of being offensive rather than literally expressing his opinion) And the negative reaction he received in the room makes me think he may have rethought his strategy since. Sadly, though, I have seen successive gay male comedians do this, which is why I think her raising of the issue is important. Perhaps if the person I was thinking about had read something like her piece before he took the stage, he wouldn’t have needed the waste a gig to find out that the audience don’t dig that shit.

    I have ultimate respect for comedians because a) I don’t have the balls to do what they do(metaphoric or otherwise) and b) because it’s such a difficult tightrope they walk. To me the most masterful and offensive (but also crafted) Australian comedian is Brendon Burns- someone who made me cry with laughter and shout abuse at him all in the one show (and it’s something he does knowingly, but also with painstaking care to get the balance right). His motto is that he can say what he likes about who he likes as long as he comes off as the ultimate idiot (sorry to paraphrase Brendon- please don’t hunt me down!). But it is what makes you side with him in the end- the hate is thrown everywhere- it’s not a superiority that leaves the comedian in a place of judgement over everyone else (and certainly not with hate directed at someone other than him without its own cost to him personally). At the end of Brendon’s show lots of people are called hateful things, but mostly Brendon to himself (which is, it’s got to be say, thoroughly enjoyable).

    As for Hannah, I agree that she does do the ‘dicks bit’ (so to speak), but I think her piece about the bits of the other sex are, as Corrine asked for, a more nuanced approach. Her suggestion that she’s even nervous about standing in front of a mic because it’s a bit too phallic is a case in point- hilarious without being personal- and the joke lands on her rather than those stupid people who have penises full time (and who she happens to not want to sleep with). Hers is the issue, not the revoltingness that is penises generally. (And no, please don’t hunt me down, for the record, although I’m a feminist, I’m also quite a penis fan…)

    Love your work, and Corrine’s, but I’d re-read her original again if I were you. To me you came away as someone who seemed ‘real’ but not complacent- yours seemed to be an acknowledgement that things weren’t black and white but grey- and I would be proud of that.

    Liz

  4. content aside (and incidentally, i think you make some excellent points), i would really, truly like to congratulate you on the fine product placement of links to bookings for your show. from one self-promoter to another (with no mockery intended), i enjoy the shameless awesomeness of “Right – back to writing my jokes. JOKES WHICH WILL APPEAR IN MY SHOW WHICH JUST SO HAPPENS TO BE ON SALE NOW. “

  5. For me the difference lies between jokes about vaginas being awful where the teller sees it as something about himself (assuing a gay male comedian) and where the teller sees it as being something about the woman. For example: “I really don’t get the attraction to vaginas, but then I’m a gay man” is fine whereas “I really don’t get the attraction to vaginas, those things are disgusting” is not. Making fun of yourself is one thing, belittling another person is just lazy.

  6. Couldn’t we use the same justifications for racism or discrimination of those with physical disabilities though? If a racist hates one’s skin colour is it just the colour and not the person?
    Comedians are people first and therefore should be held to the same standards as the rest of us non comedians.
    After all what barriers are we breaking down by commenting on the physical appearance of a vagina or bag of testes?
    I do take issue with the statement that one who makes misogynist comments is not always a misogynist. It sounds just like I’m not a misogynist but…

    Ultimately I am so pleased with the discussion.
    And interestingly I have always preferred Tom to Corrinne.
    Ooh! In a comedic sense of course!!

  7. I am amazed that Corinne has decided to target gay comics as somehow being offensive without going into details about just who is is referring to. How about we treat people as people. She would no doubt be outraged if someone wrote a “all female comics do is talk about their periods.” Without specifics it’s pointless. I think I know who she is referring to and I assume it’s the same person who allowed her to borrow their jokes when hosting raw comedy years ago because she didn’t have enough of her own. She should write some jokes herself, actually take the mic off the stand during a gig and leave the criticism for the critics. Such a bullshit half arsed attack on you Tom. Surely she has a reality tv show to do a voice over for rather than write this garbage.

  8. 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

    Well, I would call it homophobic. I hate the gay male attitude of “ewww vaginas” as much as I hate the straight male attitude of “ewww gay sex”. No one is suggesting they have to indulge in something they find unappealing, but when it’s used as the basis for humour, they are perpetuating the idea that it’s okay to hate on people for their body parts or their sexuality. So I think it’s important to question these things – rather than suggesting it’s okay for the haters to hate, as long as they are comedians making jokes about it.

  9. You do a joke, if it works, keep it, if it doesn’t move on. Simple. If you’re making people laugh, you are making a difference. People need to loosen up.

  10. I tend to agree with Tom’s perspective here.

    I think Corinne’s article falls into the common trap, so often repeated these days, of applying labels like “sexist”, “racist”, “misogynist” etc to comments that really do not meet the criteria. Given the serious nature of such accusations people really need to think a bit more about whether their accusation really meets the description.

    In my opinion, none of the examples given by Corinne of allegedly misogynist/sexist jokes measures up to that label. For example: “Every time I even think the word ‘vagina’, I want to gag” is really a personal comment about oneself rather than on women in general. Even if the person was putting forward the dubious view that objectively, vaginas were disgusting, that does not equate to true misogyny (hatred of women). That’s like saying someone who does not like (say) train stations must hate all cities with train stations. It does not follow that if you don’t like one aspect of a class of things, even an integral aspect of a class of things, that you hate that whole class of things. One can consistently say, for instance, that “I really love Christmas even though I find wrapping presents a drag.”

    An aspect of Corinne’s article that I do agree with is that generally, no group can stake a claim to being able to get away with behaviour that another group can’t. If it’s unacceptable for one class of people it should generally be unacceptable for all. Straight comedians shouldn’t be misogynist; gay comedians shouldn’t be misogynist. However, be very careful before throwing around false accusations of misogyny and sexism. Just because someone makes a joke that has something to do with women, doesn’t make it sexist or misogynist.

  11. How much of an individual’s personality must be tied up with a specific body part before the perceived insult is the problem of the offended rather than the, so called, offender. In the example cited replace the word ‘Vagina’ with any other physical attribute – Ear Hair, Elbow Skin,the prostate – and see whether the same joke still seeks to denegrate an entire demographic. Ie is it really mean spirited and or just uncomfortable?
    Experience suggests that offence is taken far more often than it is ever given .

  12. Oh, and one more thing to clarify my last point:

    The title of Corinne’s article is “Should gay men make sexist jokes?”. Remove the ‘gay men’ from the article – the broader issue is really “what, if anything, should be ‘off limits’ in comedy?”. Many comedians deliberately aim to push the boundaries of what is offensive and what is acceptable. Wil Anderson has made the point – “You have a right to be offended; but you don’t have the right NOT to be offended.” That is, when a comedian makes a joke that offends someone, they can convey their offence, but the mere fact that someone is offended by something doesn’t mean the comedian must steer clear of that material.

    Whilst true gratuitous misogyny and sexism is not something I respond to, I think it’s a big step to say that comedians shouldn’t push and prod the boundaries. Some of the best and most thought-provoking humour comes from causing offence, then making us question just why we find that offensive, and examine our own value systems in the process.

  13. Pingback: Australian Tumbleweeds » Queer eye for the misogynist line

  14. Pingback: » Vagina Dialogues Social Justice League

  15. Sometimes it’s hard to be a comedian and walk that fine line between funny and offensive. Outrageous statements can both make people laugh and also think about issues they maybe wouldn’t normally or aren’t socially acceptable. The problem with calling vaginas disgusting and gay sex disgusting (as opposed to penises) is that some people use their opinions (i.e. “disgusting”) as the basis for discrimination and abuse. It hurts to be gay and told “you are disgusting” and “what do you is disgusting.” Because of comments like that, I don’t think I could ever find a joke in a similar vein humorous. It’s fine if you (the general “you”) think vaginas are disgusting. That doesn’t necessarily make you sexist, but since half the world’s population has them, why do you feel the need to make jokes about it? Surely if you (again, in general) are a great comedian, you can make a joke without the possibility of offending people who are put down every day just because of one anatomical part.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *