In light of my insensitive comments about Lou Ferrigno‘s disabilities, I’ve decided to run this article which shows how my opinions (and sense of humor) have changed.
Tracy Morgan is a professional comedian. He’s one of the stars of NBC’s “30 Rock,” and did eight seasons on Saturday Night Live. He says funny things, and, like any professional comic, sometimes he offends people with his humor.
But did Tracy Morgan go too far last month when he targeted homosexuals during his act at a comedy club in Nashville?
I don’t know, because I haven’t seen or heard Tracy Morgan’s act, nor have I read a transcript.
And neither have you.
No recording of Morgan’s act exists. The outrage over his act is based on one gay blogger, Kevin Rogers, who wrote about Morgan’s act on his Facebook page, and the story spread from there. Since Morgan issued a quick apology, you assume he’s guilty as charged.
“Say you’re really, really, really sorry!”
But Morgan’s apology wasn’t good enough. His fellow co-stars, Tina Fey and Chris Rock tossed him under the homophobic bus, and now Tracy Morgan has become a poster boy for homosexual tolerance. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has taken Tracy Morgan hostage, and now he’s on an “apology tour,” meeting with leaders of the gay/lesbian/transgendered community for more public mea culpas and photo ops.
[Speaking of which, is it off limits to poke fun at the transgendered community, too? Better outlaw all those classic comedy clips of men in drag, everyone from Milton Berle to Benny Hill to Eddie Murphy.]
The trouble here is one of sincerity. Tracy Morgan doesn’t sound sincerely sorry. I’m sure Tracy Morgan doesn’t actually endorse violence against homosexuals, and he’s sorry for implying so. But I think his bigger concern is losing his “30 Rock” paycheck. He’s a comedian telling jokes on a comedy club stage…he shouldn’t have to worry about offending anyone.
I question the sincerity of GLAAD, too. I don’t know how much the leaders of the organization are genuinely upset by Morgan’s comments (which, again, were actually heard by very few people) and how much GLAAD chose to seize this opportunity as a “teaching moment,” making Morgan an ersatz spokesman for homosexual tolerance and understanding. It’s a noble cause, but I’m not sure making Tracy Morgan walk the plank over a dumb joke is the right way to promote it.
Comedy 101 — Somebody’s Gonna Get Hurt
The first rule of comedy — of life, really — is keep your sense of humor, and don’t take yourself too seriously. If you’re going to laugh at others, you’d better learn to laugh at yourself first. All jokes are funny, until they hit close to home. If gay humor doesn’t offend you, surely another joke will: ethnic humor, jokes about the elderly, or maybe a gag about a “dumb blonde”.
As the father of an autistic son, I no longer find humor in goofing on developmentally disabled individuals (“Timmy!”). I cringe every time I hear someone describe a frustrating or ridiculous situation as “retarded.” (Probably the same way a homosexual feels when they hear something wimpy or ineffectual described as “gay.”) If the person you’re joking with doesn’t have the mental capacity to understand your humor, then you’re not being funny. You’re being cruel.
And, as a guy who has struggled with “weight issues” since childhood, enough already with the fat jokes! We’re not all lazy slobs! Some of us are well-groomed and hard workers! Look at Governor Chris Christie! We’re big boned! We have slow metabolisms!
Ah, it’s a losing battle, and maybe that’s for the best in the long run. Comedy demands basic building blocks, seeds sown early in life, and when I see my kids enjoying the rotund hero of Kung Fu Panda or dumb-but-lovable Patrick on Spongebob Squarepants, I accept that jokes about the obese and the addle-brained will survive another generation.
The homosexual community has made great strides toward equality – just last week the New York State legislature legalized gay marriage.
But gay jokes will still be around, too…for better or for worse.
Originally published in Wayne TODAY, July 2011.