April 28, 2006


A few weeks ago, I posted the (by now) well-known letter from Avenue Q playwright Jeff Whitty to Jay Leno. I didn't necessarily agree with all of it, but as gays were delighted with attaining the rights to roll Easter eggs on the White House lawn while their other rights are being stripped away, it really did strike me that Jay's frequent gay jokes were permitted because we are bona fide second class citizens. I don't think Jay would have the courage to attack blacks or jews or cripples in the same way. I don't watch Leno, but I do have a fairly sick sense of humor which extends to even taboo or un PC subjects and definitely make a lot of gay jokes in my own act. (Or does that fall under the safety net of if you are black or gay or jewish or crippled, you can read your own community?) But Whitty definitely has a point. Gays are getting beat up for being gay. So is Jay sending a message that as objects of humor/derision, this treatment is ok? How frequent are his gay jokes? Here's Whitty's letter and Jackie Beat's contrasting view from her blog. Both are well-written and both are fiery. What do you think???

Dear Mr. Leno,

My name is Jeff Whitty. I live in New York City. I'm a playwright and the author of "Avenue Q", which is a musical currently running on Broadway.

I've been watching your show a bit, and I'd like to make an observation:

When you think of gay people, it's funny. They're funny folks. They wear leather. They like Judy Garland. They like disco music. They're sort of like Stepin Fetchit as channeled by Richard Simmons.

Gay people, to you, are great material.

Mr. Leno, let me share with you my view of gay people:

When I think of gay people, I think of the gay news anchor who took a tire iron to the head several times when he was vacationing in St. Maarten's. I think of my friend who was visiting Hamburger Mary's, a gay restaurant in Las Vegas, when a bigot threw a smoke bomb filled with toxic chemicals into the restaurant, leaving the staff and gay clientele coughing, puking, and running in terror. I think of visiting my gay friends at their house in the country, sitting outside for dinner, and hearing, within hundreds of feet of where we sat, taunting voices yelling "Faggots." I think of hugging my boyfriend goodbye for the day on 8th Avenue in Manhattan, and being mocked and taunted by passing high school students.

When I think of gay people, I think of suicide. I think of a countless list of people who took their own lives because the world was so toxically hostile to them. Because of the deathly climate of the closet, we will never be able to count them. You think gay people are great material. I think of a silent holocaust that continues to this day. I think of a silent holocaust that is perpetuated by people like you, who seek to minimize us and make fun of us and who I suspect really, fundamentally wish we would just go away.

When I think of gay people, I think of a brave group that has made tremendous contributions to society, in arts, letters, science, philosophy, and politics. I think of some of the most hilarious people I know. I think of a group that has served as a cultural guardian for an ungrateful and ignorant America.

I think of a group of people who have undergone a brave act of inventing themselves. Every single out-of-the-closet gay person has had to say, "I am not part of mainstream society." Mr. Leno, that takes bigger balls than stepping out in front of TV-watching America every night. I daresay I suspect it takes bigger balls to come out of the closet than any thing you have ever done in your life.

I know you know gay people, Mr. Leno. Are they just jokes to you, to be snickered at behind their backs? Despite the angry tenor of my letter, I suspect you're a better man than that. I don't bother writing letters to the "God Hates Fags" people, or Donald Wildmon, or the Pope. But I think you can do better. I know it's "The Tonight Show," not a White House press conference, but you reach a lot of people.

I caught your show when you had a tired mockery of "Brokeback Mountain," involving something about a horse done up in what you consider a "gay" way. Man, that's dated. I turned the television off and felt pretty fucking depressed. And now I understand your gay-baiting jokes have continued.

Mr. Leno, I have a sense of humor. It's my livelihood. And being gay has many hilarious aspects to it -- none of which, I suspect, you understand. I'm tired of people like you. When I think of gay people, I think of centuries of suffering. I think of really, really good people who've been gravely mistreated for a long time now.

You've got to cut it out, Jay.


Jeff Whitty
New York, NY


Dear Mr. Whitty,

Anyone who thinks that Jay Leno or The Tonight Show is in any way responsible for violence against gay people is just plain reaching.

Homophobes are looking for any reason to express their ignorance and hatred. Should the film “Brokeback Mountain” not have been released simply because it’s very existence could possibly inflame more anger or incite more violence?

Gay people have fought to be accepted and I for one am happy that we are so mainstream now that we’re “fair game” when it comes to comedy. Jay Leno is personally responsible for the fact that millions of people now welcome a young gay man into their living rooms on a regular basis. Does that man talk about gay rights and gay marriage and his personal life? No. He’s too busy doing his job — making people laugh — WITH him, not AT him. And to those few who may indeed be laughing AT him, nothing is going to change their closed minds. Not all the assimilation and butching-it-up and “See?-We’re-just-like-you!” in the world. When you attend Gay Pride are you embarrassed by the drag queens and the leather daddies because they are somehow fanning the flames of homophobia? “If they would only tone it down and stop making it so hard for the rest of us.”

You claim that when Mr. Leno thinks of gay people, it’s funny. Could that possibly be because he is a comedian? When Mr. Leno (or more accurately, his writers) thinks of anyone or anything, it’s funny. Images of people being brutalized have no place within a comedic monologue. That, unfortunately, would undermine the comedy. Mr. Leno also thinks that Women, Blacks, Teenagers, Asians, Celebrities, Latinos, Stupid Criminals, Old White Politicians, Lousy Proofreaders and even Our President, are funny. He does not feel the need to include serious commentary on sex discrimination, abortion, spousal abuse, hate crimes, slavery, racism, classism, etc. Since he does not balance his comedy with the complex reality of social issues, does that mean gay people are completely off-limits to him?

Why is it okay for gay people to cash in on stereotypes (Queer Eye’s fab five sashaying into some clueless breeder’s tacky apartment and giving it a gay makeover), but the moment someone we assume to be straight does it, we start crying homophobia? Would it be different if Jay Leno was gay? Bisexual? Experimented in college? Where is that line, exactly?

Black comedians do impersonations of boring white guys who can’t dance with nerdy newscaster voices. Women and gay stand-ups make fun of straight men all the time. Does Jay Leno write them letters? Nope. And I won’t even get into the fact that Christian bashing (of which I admit I’m guilty, they make it so easy, the jokes just write themselves!) is prevalent and unchecked among most left-wing comedians. It’s okay to make fun of them because they’re stupid and wrong, right?

Be honest, are you totally comfortable with everything that comes out of Margaret Cho’s mouth? Is comedy about being comfortable or about pushing the envelope? Why is Ms. Cho’s material not only acceptable, but lauded, while the similarly foul-mouthed shock comic Andrew “Dice” Clay was practically burned at the stake? Perhaps it is because Clay did not make it crystal clear that he was a character who was playing devil’s advocate. Margaret Cho is NOT a gay man, but I can laugh at her gay jokes, impersonations of drag queens and even when she says that England is where white people go to begin the whitening process. Or something like that — I was laughing too hard to get every word.

The truth is, you cannot please everyone. There will always be someone who will be offended. “This is too gay. This is not gay enough. This does not represent me.” When you attempt to please everyone, you please no one. I heard many people complaining that “Transamerica” was not an accurate portrayal of M to F transsexuals. Guess what? It is only ONE story. AND it’s a fictional movie, not a documentary.

Why do people get so up in arms when we have the audacity to actually admit that people are different? News flash: Gay people are different than straight people, AND THANK GOD! That does not mean we are aliens or monsters. It simply means that we are different, just like Blacks and Latinos and Asians and Whites are different from each other. There is a time and a place to celebrate and focus on what makes us all alike and a time and a place to celebrate (yes, celebrate!) what makes us all different.

Several of the new gay networks have approached myself and/or friends of mine to develop Saturday Night Live-style sketch comedy shows. After submitting outlines we have actually been told that they do not like our “tone” — that our style is too edgy and too mean-spirited. Hello? And speaking of SNL, I adore their “Gays In Space” sketch — overflowing with lisping, snapping, mincing, crotch-obsessed queens. To me, the joke is that any genre can easily be “fabulized” and made gay. Personally, I am more offended by GLAAD favorites “Will & Grace” (and it’s supposedly all-straight cast) and “Queer As Folk.” They’re not my cup of pee, but I can stand back and say, “Go on with your bad (writing) self!”

My point is this: Stereotypes and broad strokes have always — and will always — have a place in comedy. In our overly-PC world, we have become so hypersensitive that the arts and especially comedy have become safe and boring. Thank God the pendulum always swings back and we get in-your-face bitches like Lisa Lampanelli and tell-it-like-it-is geniuses like Dave Chappelle. To paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart’s infamous quote regarding obscenity, “I may not know the definition of homophobia, but I know it when I see it!”

Sorry, but I just don’t see it when I watch Jay Leno.

Jackie Beat
Los Angeles, CA


Anonymous John Dean said...

I'm going to have to side with Mr. Whitty on this one. Time and time again while watching the "Tonight Show" I have seen Jay taking cheap shots at gays, and you are correct Bun Bun, I don't see Jay doing it in the same ugly tone when making remarks about Jews, Blacks, etc... nor do I get the same hateful vibe when I see David Letterman crack a gay themed joke. Maybe it's just me, or maybe it's a matter of perception, but for whatever reason, I can't help but sense more than a whiff of homophobia coming from Jay when he targets gays in his humor, just an uncomfortable feeling I get.

12:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow -- there is a fine line here and I can see the points of both. I think I too must lean toward Mr. Whitty regarding Jay Leno. Leno used to be a very edgy comedian who clearly had to tone down his act for a broader 'mainstream' audience. Yet his gay jokes do seem to cross the line in a way that his other jokes do not. When BrokeBack Mountain first hit and he started in with his jokes, I was actually pleased. This is part of the process and would generate more buzz for the film. But even straight freinds have commented that he has worn out the tire. And even his audience tends to groan at some of his borderline anti-gay jokes.

I do agree that we can't be overly sensative and it is a fine line that Margret Cho masterfully (and successfully) plays with. She has an inside understanding of the community that Jay Leno clearly does not (and even seems threatened to discover). I don't equate Leno with Rev. Phelps and his ilk, but Leno's humor and general attitude toward the gay community seems to reflect that of mainstream America-- one very much represented by Red States. Sadly, his jokes could almost be seen as progress, which only show how very bad the climate was even just 10 years ago.

Honestly, I don't think it would hurt Leno's act at all if he were to read Mr. Whitty's letter. In fact, his act is so corny, maybe the letter would inspire him to focus on better humor. Maybe we all should write him a note ...

1:50 PM  
Blogger Tommy said...

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Anonymous L'iL Schack Smackster 9.0 said...

Everybody's right, everybody's wrong, everybody's point of view is the correct one and of cource everyone's point of view is wrrrrrrrrrrong, I'm the smart one I'm the right one I'm the one whose ideas are best cleverest rightest smartest funniest Me I'm right I'm the one God favors and not the rest of you shitty wrong lot

4:53 PM  
Anonymous orgyunhillbillie said...

I wouldn't mind if Jay made gay jokes, it just bothers me that with that big chin he looks so......retarded!

1:26 AM  
Anonymous Bea Gass said...

as my grammy used to say, "opinions are like assholes, everyone has one".....BUT, if i HAD to choose? Ms Beat strikes a chord for me.

4:45 PM  
Blogger Trididos said...

I feel that both letters hit a chord on the same topic: tone. One reason Cho's comedy is lauded by many gay men and women is because she tells the jokes from a decidedly insider point of view. Her point of view is that she understands what she is making fun of. In this case alone, Leno's jokes are from an outsider's point of view. A lot of people pick up on that. The same joke can be told by many different people on the same day, but usually only one person can deliver it correctly, and that's the person who understands it.

The outsiders get the jokes from Leno -- they know when to laugh. I know many intelligent, progressive, open people who don't get Cho's comments -- they're quiet and unmoving when I am rolling on the floor. They're not stupid, they just don't get it.

I believe it's important to step to the other side of the room to hear the jokes as they're intended.

If I used the second letter as a litmus I could conclude that it would be ok for Leno to refer to Condi Rice as just a house nigger with a 401(k). Afterall it's just a joke. But when Bruce Daniels says it, it's funny.

2:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know what you're going through! As a shiteater, I'm constantly the butt of jokes. Why should I be discriminated against just because I like to smear dogshit all over myself naked? I was born this way, and I'm proud. I don't make fun of people because of who they are, because I am C-I-V-I-L-I-Z-E-D. It's just not fair to be the target of racist jokes simply because of a genetic predisposition to love to roll around in, and eat, dog shit. --Peace

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