Dr Layla McCay
If I were Rory Albanese’s sister (or his sister’s girlfriend), I’d have been furious. On Saturday night I went to see Albanese and his Daily Show co-stalwart Adam Lowitt at their inauguration-themed comedy show at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, D.C., but amid the political wit, not one but both of them used their professed support of equal marriage as a springboard to make jokes about how lesbians are ugly. Lowitt was first up, saying that while lesbians sound hot in theory, when you meet them in real life they’re ugly and look like men; Albanese followed up this gem by telling us his that sister is gay and that his sister’s girlfriend has the same name as his own girlfriend — but that there’s no way he could mix them up, because his sister’s girlfriend looks like a man.
The audience, being encouraged (twice) to laugh at the alleged “ugliness” of lesbians, mainly did so uncomfortably, and I sat amongst them feeling offended — and wondering whether it was appropriate for me to feel offended. Was I being overly touchy? Politically correct? Is being gay such a non-issue now that it’s ripe for this sort of treatment by Emmy-winning comedians? I don’t think so. Last week’s awkward coming out by Jodie Foster underlines that — even as she received a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes, she struggled to deliver the simple and prosaic information that she is attracted to women, and the Internet has bombarded us with editorials and blogs analyzing her words ever since. Actual or perceived sexual identity remains prime bullying and discrimination material. This isn’t the face of a non-issue. Coming out, or being identified as gay, is still far from business as usual.
Furthermore, generalized, derogatory comments about lesbians’ looks are clearly not OK. Last year Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll told reporters that she couldn’t possibly have engaged in homosexual acts because she didn’t look like a lesbian. This ridiculous statement spawned a huge furor and a social media campaign, “This Is What a Lesbian Looks Like,” that saw lesbians posting photos of themselves to demonstrate that, just like anyone else, lesbians come in all shapes, sizes and styles. People were upset because she was pigeonholing a huge group of people and essentially fanning prejudice and stigmatizing lesbians for being different. And that’s what these two men did in their comedy show: They tried to indoctrinate their audiences, through the use of humor, in the idea that lesbians are ugly. And just as it wasn’t OK for Carroll to promote and seek society’s complicity in this sort of judgmental prejudice, it isn’t OK for them.
Perhaps if the comedians and audience had been lesbians poking fun at themselves, I might have felt differently, but these jokes were overtly “laughing at” rather than “laughing with.” And for me, that just feels inappropriate, and not just inappropriate but crass, pathetic, insulting, and damaging to everyone.