For years I’ve been vaguely (in a teensy way) bothered by Saturday Night Live’s complete dependence on sketches that make fun of being gay. I don’t know exactly why. I’ve written a little about this before — “enlightened homophobia,” which is probably socially harmless (as is most televsion, really) but nevertheless irritates me. In the 1990s, after her disastrously unproductive season on SNL, Janeane Garofalo was quite free with her gripes about the SNL culture and one of them was that the male writers were obsessed with gay and anal sex jokes. In a 1995 interview with New York magazine she said:
They love the anal sex here [at SNL]. That’s considered incredibly funny.
So. Years and all those Judd Apatow-generation movies later, we are still at that point. The current crop of performers on SNL have made fun of gay in every way possible — all the men on the cast have kissed one another (with tongue!) for sketches. The “Not That There’s Anything WRONG With It” era of accepting gays while making fun of them has evolved: Gay is so okay in our culture now (plus) that it can be mocked constantly and topically (another plus, sorta), but in a way that ultimately makes clear that being gay is bad, by making endless jokes about how ooky and weird and gross and hilarious being gay is, as told and performed by hetero performers and writers. (A net minus.)
For an example of what I consider the nadir of this trend, see Brian Juergen’s breakdown of the horrible Paul Rudd episode from 2008, at Afterelton. It seemed like every skit was gay-related that night, and, being SNL, a lot of them fell flat. It bordered on unhealthy obsession. I resolved to start counting the gay jokes each week in SNL. I usually get up to three or four before “Weekend Update,” and then “Update” usually puts it past half a dozen.
I’m certainly, totally, definitely not the first person to point this out.
So I’m going to start a weekly SNL Homowatch and see if it starts to make any more sense. Why do I care? (Besides the fact that I’m gay and I think about TV and popular culture for a living?) I dunno. Clocking SNL’s gay weirdness feels not only futile, but horribly PC. Two reasons, I guess:
1. Because SNL, after all these years, through all its up and downs, is still considered a social mirror. The show certainly takes credit for its influence on the political and cultural sphere whenever possible.
2. No openly gay performers. The same way they have Fred Armisen playing half-black President Obama and Keenan Thompson playing every single black person (including Mo’nique last night), SNL does “gay” all the time, but without any gays.
So, on to this, the inaugural installment of Hank’s own SNL Homowatch:
Air date: March 6, 2010
Host: Zach Galifianakis
Musical guest: Vampire Weekend.
Homo jokes: 3. Miraculousy, given Galifianakis’s cohort and past work, I only caught three moments of enlightened homophobia in this week’s episode:
1. The Inappropriate Family: SNL has done this skit a lot before, which is basically about a family (dad: Fred Armisen; mom: Kristen Wiig, sons: Bill Hader, Brian Moynihan, others, and host Galifianakis, playing their inappropriate Orthodox priest) who show inappropriate amounts of affection. It starts with a lot of kissing and ultimately ends up with the men giving one another deep long kisses while the audience SCREAMS in disgust. (You’d think the performers were eating Hormel chili out of a toilet bowl or something, from the decibel level of reaction.) Question: Is the disgust about the incest or the homosexuality? (Or, at the end, homo necrophilia?)
2. “Weekend Update”: Remember, I watch this show half-awake, but I only heard one gay joke from Seth Meyers, to the effect of: “It was announced that the cast of Glee will be going on a seven-city concert tour [pause] said your teenage son who never quite mastered a spiral throw.” (Haha. Sissies can’t play football.)
3. Beauty pageant gay guy skit in the show’s final minutes, spoof of a talk show (80 percent of SNL’s skits are spoofs of talk shows: WHY) hosted by a super-lispy gay man with a frosted pompadour hairdo (Galifianakis) who is a beauty pageant consultant. As far as I’m concerned you can make fun of that all you want. Galifianakis wasn’t too far off most of the “pageant queens” I met while covering Miss America many years ago, and the makeup people did a neat job of turning Galifianakis’s beard into a double chin. And speaking of beards, they made it (barely) funny by having Wiig play his chain-smoking wife. And brought on Bill Hader as another gay man who was the show’s guest. Both Galifianakis and Hader really played up the lisps and effeminacy. It goes nowhere, but it satisfies one of SNL’s core missions: Make fun of gay people whenever possible.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Hank, sometimes this stuff is really funny, so just lighten up, wouldja. I agree. They can and do get it right. Would you like to see something I think is really, really funny? Check this out. Please note — it stars a woman and an openly gay man, both doing a sort of drag. It’s so much funnier with Neil Patrick Harris than it would be with, say, Paul Rudd. Why? Because Harris is working with something innate, something more intelligent, nuanced, subtle. He knows.