Editor’s Pick
MAY 14, 2009 6:36PM

Late night's new gay obsession: Is it funny?

Rate: 17 Flag

If you watch Jimmy Kimmel on a regular basis (I guess somebody must), or pay close attention to viral web comedy, you may have already seen the following video. On last night’s program, “Lost’s” Matthew Fox was one of Kimmel’s guests, and after some friendly banter, they decided to explain the mysterious sling on Fox's arm. Cue the gay-themed comedy skit:

Even on repeat viewing it’s hard to know what exactly to make of the video. Is it funny? Yes. Is it homophobic? Sort of. But it’s also hard to get terribly offended about it, partly because Matthew Fox is so darn likeable, and partly because it’s so mild in its objectionableness. Sure, the shower scene is meant to be funny because it plays on the fear of gay male rape –- which is awful, yes -- but, for some reason, given the absurd and homoerotic context of the video, I have a hard time getting terribly worked up about.

In fact, this latest Kimmel offering seems part of a broader return – on TV skit shows and at the multiplex– of gay panic as a source of comedy, albeit in a strangely gentle form. Kimmel made use of it last year with another one of his viral hits, “I’m Fucking Ben Affleck”

But the most frequent practitioner of gentle-gay-panic comedy is Andy Samberg, the talented SNL comedian and former Dan Savage crush-object. Take, for example, his naked-painting skit with Paul Rudd that aired late last year.

 And the strange garage-set skit he performed with Seth Rogen a few weeks ago:

And while “I Love you, man” (in which Samberg played a gay gym trainer) stayed, for the most part, pretty far away from any homophobic humor, it wasn’t above using a jilted gay character (seen kissing Paul Rudd's character in the movie trailer, below) as the butt of several jokes.

So what do we make of this latest trend? On one hand, it could mark a return to a kind of retrograde masculinity that beer companies have used to appeal to male customers in their advertising for decades (The folks at Commercial Closet have an excellent archive of gay-panic advertising that’s worth a look). In times of recession, when male breadwinners are under threat, male culture has a tendency to do some weird often very conservative things.

But it’s also possible that comedians like Kimmel and Samberg think they’re able to get away with more un-PC humor now that gay visibility has made some progress – and that its culture has become more mainstream. One of the hallmarks of a movement’s success, after all, is its ability to have a sense of humor about itself. Which, in fact, given the lack of uproar about it, may actually be true -- I know I'm not exactly burning up over it -- or maybe, just maybe, we've decided that it's worth our energy focusing on other things that have been in the news lately.

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As I was reading this I was already preparing to respond with exactly what you said in your last graph. It would really be something if being gay became so mainstream and acceptable it moved off the PC radar altogether.
I'm sorry. I am very interested in the subject, and I'm sure you spent a lot of time putting this together and that I would get a lot out of it, but I just can't take all the time I would need to load and watch all those videos and read your links.

I don't watch late night TV so I haven't seen the phenomenon, but I am interested. With any luck, I 'll be able to get to at least a couple of them. Interesting topic, though! Wish I had time to get into it!
Jokes can be a way of showing affection, of understanding, of sharing our common humanity. I see these skits as a means by which intense feelings between persons of the same gender, something we all experience in many forms and guises, is examined and defused of fear - through humor, much of which is subtly directed at the homophobic reaction. Certainly, material like the above samples can do more to expand understanding, tolerance and appreciation of the same-sex connection than some of the spectacles one sees enacted in a Gay Pride Parade.
Who knew soap on a rope was created by a homophobe?
Another example of this has to be the recent South Park "Gay Fish" episode, where the boys make up a really inane gay joke: Do you like fish sticks? Yes, then you must be a gay fish!...(say fish sticks fast and it sound like....) This lands them on all the late night shows. But for some reason Kanye West just doesn't get the joke, which eventually leads him to conclude he must in fact be a gay fish. So he ends up leaving show business to return to the ocean and join the creatures he wants to make sweet love to.

Can't seem to find the video. So this'll have to do:

I'm not gay, but I certainly don't see anything homophobic about these skits.

Why would the "I'm fucking Ben Afleck" skit be bad when the "I'm fucking Matt Damon" one isn't mentioned? Is it okay for a woman to sing a corny song about having sex with a guy, but not okay for a guy to sing a likewise corny song about having sex with a guy?

I doubt very many gays are angry about these skits, but they probably just think it's stupid in a not-quite amusing way that straight people find these things funny.

Also, I would suggest that as homosexuality becomes more widely accepted in our society and gay marriage proliferates, these skits provide a psychological tool of sorts for folks to get more comfortable with the idea - enough so that they can laugh at it. Eventually there won't be a need for that and these skits will go away.
Most of these skits / jokes stopped being funny long ago. It was funny when gay was on the peripheral. Now gay seems pretty regualr and is no longer funny. Gays can handle this stuff weather it hits the funny bone or not. Actually for me it is a positive thing to have all this fun gay stuff. Gay is no longer funny, just boring.
I know this has nothing to do with the issue under discussion, but I only just realised now how gorgeous Matthew Fox is.
May I suggest this--gay panic skits are easy and formulaic. All you need are a couple of actors willing to have less than 12 inches between them, double entendre intended. It's not funny, it's a lazy comedy that questions nothing and gives us nothing in the way of new insight. The issue isn't PC or not PC. Compare your typical SNL gay panic skit with any routine George Carlin ever performed and it's clear that there is no comparison.
What Msr. Chariot said.

As a gay man I can't say that I am offended and I laughed at parts of these clips. I think humor is a good way to experiment with acceptance. One trap of liberalism is that we make feeling uncomfortable around the 'other' as bad as doing or being a proponent to things we don't yet understand. This prevents us from moving out of the uncomfortable stage to one where gays are familiar. I think this kind of humor lets straight men think about why they are uncomfortable around the idea of homosexuality and that they are laughing more at their own reaction than at the sexuality.

I'm glad you all ran after the obvious sex symbol and left Paul Rudd for me. He's my kind of cute.

I would love to know what you all think would be funny and still pc and gay.

How many straight men can you fit on a bar stool?
Three if you promise not to tell their wives.

Does anyone else think that Samberg will come out before it is all said and done?
I've been pondering this point for awhile after being forced to sit through a screening of "I now pronunce you Chuck and Larry". At its best it wasn't funny and at its worst it was mildly offensive.

Its one thing for a movement to make fun of itself but an entirely different beast for it to be poked at by the powers that be. There's a reason Chris Rock and Jeff Foxworthy don't share material and the reason is that humour by nature is contextual. If Jeff Foxworthy did a "black people walk like this" bit or said the N word he'd never work again.

Actually, if you really think about it, its amazing Jimmy Kimmel works at all!:D

Thanks for the great post.
you have some good points. i found the fucking ben affleck skit really funny, as i did the sarah silverman fucking matt damon one. we're going through a transition now with gay marriage being made legal a bit at a time. when things are shaken up, then there is always some kind of backlash. shit, i'm for the gentle kinds myself.

i'm with nat. matthew fox is adorable in person. just hate his crabby character on Lost. love love love
Why is that first video homophobic? I don't think it is.
You know, I think we're missing something. The humor of the Kimmel-Fox piece and the hilarious Kimmel-Afleck video are far more radical or even anarchic than we're giving them credit for. These comedic bits aren't about gay men at all; obviously, they're about straight heterosexual men considering--and doing--gay things. A much different and more daring notion drives these pieces; the suggestion is that straight men might--just might--consider gay acts, yet remain straight. I think it's no accident that the two Kimmel tapes made earlier center on two handsome straight men who themselves have been targets of rumors. Nor is it insignificant that the archetype of heterosexuality, Brad Pitt, has a role in the Afleck film.

Some college men, and even high school boys, are these days playing a kissing game to entertain their girlfriends; they time how long each can kiss one of his straight male friends as the girls laugh and urge them on.

The times, they might be changin', folks.
I just thought it was movie funny. Singing while circling around...reminded me of a certain genre of movies........from Bollywood. I forgot to notice anything else.

My question is what really happens to someone down a man-hole?
Got to say I totally agree with Mssr. and Doc. When you consider that about 30% of all STRAIGHT men have had sex to orgasm with another man then you realize that every third straight guy watching is either pissing his pants or popping a woody remembering their own experience.
If you have sex with another man then you're not straight "Madame Zesty." Those are the rules.

Jimmy Kimmel is simply not very funny, regardless of subject matter. Though he does keep trying.

I have been madly in love with Paul Rudd ever since he played the gay man of my dreams in "The Object of My Affection." But Andy Samberg is starting to creep up on him.

"I Love You Man" shows this entire subject is in flux. Yes there was a minor gay character used for laughs -- but he gets to kiss Paul Rudd. (Bonus points.) The most important gay character in the film was played by Andy Samberg who is shown in the story to be far more popular with his father than the uptight, straight played by Paul Rudd. (I know this is all getting very confusing, but when you have a screen full of gorgeous men, who cares?)

As for where this is all going there's a new clip out with Jack Black and Michael Cera (don't they NEVER sleep?) in which they proudly declare themseleves to be Andy Samberg's parents.

It makes perfect sense.
Interesting to read everyone's take on the "gay" (or "anti-gay") humor showing up, especially in comedy sketches between men or in "buddy" movies. I've been trying to figure out whether the writers are poking fun at gays or poking fun at the male fear about being gay. If it's the latter, great but it could be a tad less subtle. Most of us know the song "Short People" wasn't really bashing short people but making fun of our prejudices. Still, Randy Newman had to include a bridge in the song in which he explained it - and people STILL didn't get it. I hope we've "evolved" enough to examine male confusion about and fear of various forms of sexuality, but as I said, I'm not sure I'm getting the joke...
I, too, agree with doc, and with most of what msr. chariot said. But this:

"Certainly, material like the above samples can do more to expand understanding, tolerance and appreciation of the same-sex connection than some of the spectacles one sees enacted in a Gay Pride Parade."

Maybe, sure, but Pride Parades are not about winning people over. They're celebrations, and sometimes they are demands for rights or justice. So the spectacle makes sense, and should be celebrated, in that context.
Thanks for an interesting conversation. There is a long tradition of homophobic humor. I just wached the (now outdated but still worthwhile) documentary "Celluloid Closet." I agree with Alene -- It's easy humor, a formula. These examples are probably not that bad but I do hope we're moving beyond that.
Every group is open to parody. Period. I have heard that forever from people on here. Gay people aren't exempt. Yes, I thought it was very funny. And people watch Jimmy Kimmel because his show is funny.
How can this bit be even "sort of" homophobic? You need to loosen your thong underwear. Now THAT's homophobic!

I agree - it's all about the homoerotic subtext we've seen in literature and film forEVER. It addresses it and teases out its meaning, while not so subtly taking our fathers and their fathers to task for being so hypocritical.

And... it's Funny!
I'm with Incandescent on this one. Not offended but not necessarily amused.

Well, maybe a little bit of offense here.

I'm curious why its so hilarious to see two men hot for one another. Is it there way of saying "I'm just a manly man, so you KNOW I'd never be caught DEAD in these situations, hence the humor!"

So there is something collegiate about it.

Moreso, they "doth protest too much." In other words, it seems like a cover-up for their own sexual proclivities perhaps. The more they can distance themselves, via humor, the less real it is. Hence why frat boys are known for this kind of ribbing - it's a great way to deny and degrade their own true feelings.

Funny, I semi-enjoyed Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's take on it - they seemed the most comfortable with the play of it. It wasn't so "ha ha" to them. In skits like this, perhaps you can see some true colors, some sexual comfortability...I don't know.

In addition, I did like some of Monsieur's points. I think he's on to something there.
And thank you for taking the time to gather the clips and talk about this. It's ultimately a complex topic (sexuality, homophobia, societal norms, what's considered "funny" and why) and it's nice to see examples and talk about it.
The Paul Rudd/Andy Samberg "Everyone's a Critic" skit actually TARGETS homophobes. Sure, the painting scenes are cheesy, but it was all set up for the outrageous, over-the-top reaction of the critics. And who other than Ben Affleck could Kimmel have used to get back at Silverman for the f*cking Matt Damon thing?