Homophobia's still going strong in 21st-century comedy
Homophobia in popular culture began to fade in the '70s, and for the most part was dead and gone by the '90s. With music, it began with disco and was stomped to death by riot grrrl. In film it was exposed with Boys in the Band, and deemed passé with My Own Private Idaho. Art and fashion have been gay since Michelangelo's hyper-homo "David," and even sports have begun to come out of the closet in recent years.
But for whatever reason, large swaths of standup comedy remain as vigorously anti-gay as a Michelle Bachman speech at Liberty University. The most recent evidence of this was the 26 "you're gay!" jabs directed at James Franco during his Comedy Central Roast last week. This was excessive even for the characteristic locker-room, juvenile behavior of most roasts, and even though there's been a strong progressive streak in standup since the "smart comedy" revival of the '90s, the medium remains a haven for bro-down butt-smackers who still think the greatest insult a man can receive is the accusation of being light in the loafers.
Typically, I agree with the Morgan Freeman tweet in hating " the word homophobia. It's not a phobia. You are not scared. You are an asshole." The issue of sexual regression is much too complex to merely designate as a fear. But in this one instance, the phrase actually reaches its zenith.
Despite being around 95 percent heterosexual, my high school years were chockful of abuse for being gay. Hardly a day went by that I wasn't railroaded in the hallways, shoved into a recycling bin or (paradoxically) de-pants in front of my peers while someone derisively shouted, "Fuck you, fag!" This became such a frequent occurrence that I often considered finding a boy to hook up with if only so I could justify the abuse.
But I wasn't gay, and I think most of these assholes knew it. They only used the accusation because it was, in their minds, the most potent insult you could hurl at someone.There's a lot of history and psychology behind this that I won't get into here, but suffice it to say that there are certain emotionally insecure males who would rather be thought of as a rapist than someone who takes a stiffy up their tush.
And emotional insecurity is what standup comedy is all about. Every other interview I do with a comedian at some point drifts toward insecurity and being overly sensitive. "That's why we're fucking comedians," said Marc Maron, the comedic prince of self-loathing, in a recent interview I did with him. "Being a comedian is a way to preemptively control that sensitivity; it's a way to frame things so they don't hurt you. Sensitivity is important if you're going to be a good comic."
Obviously this doesn't always lead to being homophobic. At least half the working comics today are self-aware enough to know how antiquated a "hey cocksucker!" joke is going to come off -- but not enough to extinguish this thriving wave of anti-gay ammunition bouncing around comedy clubs throughout the country.