SNL Homowatch: 5/8 (Betty White!)

[Author’s Note: This is my “SNL Homowatch,” where I count and try to make sense of Saturday Night Live‘s endless obsession with making jokes about gay people and gay sex, without letting gay writers or gay performers have a go at the joke themselves. It’s a cycle I call enlightened homophobia — jokes about gays, frequently made at the expense of gays, and made by people who would never, ever want to appear homophobic. You can read a long explanation here and scroll back for other installments I’ve written since March 2010.]

betty_white_-_empire_buildersAir date: May 8, 2010

Host: Betty White, by demand of Facebook

Musical guest: Jay-Z

Rarely are such high and hopeful pop-culture expectations so fulfilled as they were with Betty White’s successful hosting of “Saturday Night Live” last night. She was fantastic — and was put through harder paces than we’d been lead to believe she would have to do. People who never watch the show are saying it’s the best episode in years. Without getting into that argument, I will say I think my favorite bit was the hardcore version of “Thank You for Being a Friend.” (Couldn’t find an embed; if one turns up, I’ll stick it in. But here’s a link.)

Also, for whatever strange reasons you care to theorize about, the Betty White episode of “SNL” had the most gay jokes of any episode this season, more than I care to fully dissect. Between the end of Betty’s terrific opening monologue and Jay-Z’s first number, every sketch in the first half of the show had a joke about being gay. I really don’t have time today, or the inclination, to elaborate on the social dichotomy of this — is gay funny because our society thinks it’s yucky and wrong, or is gay funny because it actually is funny (and Betty White, beloved among gays who’ve all watch too many Golden Girls reruns, can do no wrong with the gays, etc.)? Nevertheless here’s a quick summary, followed by a brief rant.

After the monologue, there were gay jokes in the “MacGruber” sketch (“How _is_ Barry, by the way?”) and the “Delicious Dish” muffin sketch (this sketch accomplished not only that SNL standby of making fun of gay sex, it also made use of the show’s other latest crutch: vagina jokes); followed immediately by the “Manuel Ortiz” salsa-dancing talk show (Will Forte as the gay lover who wants to come out to his parents). That was immediately followed by a sketch with Amy Poehler as “Gingey,” a 1904 tomboy being hectored by her sisters into attending the big dance with a boy. (“She’s a lesbian!” Betty kept shouting to the impervious gaggle.)

After “Weekend Update” (gay-free, not counting the gay-pleasing return of the Whitney Houston impression by Maya Rudolph, which I imagine went over happily in all the gay bars of America where the throngs watched together), there was that horrible “Scared Straight” routine with Keenan Thompson as the convict who tries to scare juvenile delinquent boys with tales of prison rape. Betty was in that one. Have a look:

I would need several thousand words to dissect why America has always thought prison rape is so hilarious. (Not only hilarious, but acceptable. We are a culture that believes strongly in “don’t drop the soap” jokes as a normal way to taunt criminals; indeed, we seem to hope that our most offensive male criminals will in fact be repeatedly raped by other men in prison; “making” someone your “bitch” is recess playground vernacular now.)

I’m so rarely seated with the prudes, but I can only think of one time where I thought rape was funny, and that was when Sarah Silverman told her version of “The Aristocrats.” What’s not funny about male prison-rape jokes, besides the fact that it is very real and spreads all sorts of misery, not the least of which is HIV/AIDS, is that it’s another way for society to express disgust for a man having sex with another man. Which is different than rape, but the message we send out with prison-rape jokes is that a man being fucked by another man is the worst punishment imaginable. Also it’s screamingly funny. I guess.

I know, I know: Lighten up, Hank, etc.

Alec Baldwin hosts next week. He’s always good for some hardy-har gay jokes. One time he did one that was seriously funny and brilliant because it was sexually weird without announcing itself. Enjoy:


  1. culwin on May 10, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    Bill Hader was the gay guy coming out to his parents; Will Forte was his gay lover.

    • Hank Stuever on May 10, 2010 at 3:07 pm

      Culwin, wrong.
      Will Forte is “Nelson” and he comes out to his parents, played by Brian Moynihan and Betty White. Watch the Hulu clip. I rewatched it to make sure I didn’t have it wrong.

  2. KarenZ on May 12, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    Seriously, our attitudes about prison rape are revolting. I wish your talent for wry observations could help change the attitude and thereby improve prison conditions, but I can’t quite see that happening. If you want your next book to be really different . . . .

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