Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

“It Hurts Only When I Laugh”

(*The title is borrowed from a Neil Simon play of the same name, made into a 1981 movie featuring the Academy-nominated performances of Marsha Mason, James Coco and Joan Hackett, with Kristy McNichol.)

* * * * * *

I had a very interesting Saturday evening. I was with Migs of MGG, Gibbs, J. and R., having a very lively discussion regarding internalized homophobia among gay men. After more than three hours of blabbing, we moved on to Bar Uno in QC. It was my first time there.

I was treated to the sight of two gay hosts and their third companion and comedic punching bag, a gay dwarf named Vanessa. Funny how just minutes ago we were talking about how negative gay stereotypes reinforce homophobia and now it seems some of these stereotypes were in full view, going full blast. But after a while I realized a major difference. When it’s gay-bashing the intent is malicious, aimed to hurt. In the sing-along-bar context, gays lambasting other gays is a carefully crafted show that’s aimed for maximum laughter. Besides, the “cruel” jokes aren’t malicious simply because the recipient of the cruelty is in on the joke. I also realized that for most parts they weren’t making fun of being homosexuals. The jokes were aimed at wanting a real pussy (not a universal gay desire), the lack of a love life (not exclusively a gay problem), even Vanessa’s physical deformities (there’s something to be said about Vanessa’s double-whammy—not only is he gay, he’s also a dwarf—but that’s for another time).

I recognize that acting fey and hamming it up for laughs is a tried-and-tested way of making the delivery humorous; in the straight stand-up version, it would be the equivalent of posturing like an angry young man with a foul mouth and a huge chip on their shoulder (African-American comics use this a lot). But is acting fey in stand-up comedy, or even in the office, a form of encouraging stereotypes? And more importantly, how sure are they that the audience is laughing with them and not at them?

I was thinking of those questions while driving home from an otherwise enjoyable evening, thanks to J.’s ill-fated attempt at having a take-home for the night. And while I didn’t arrive at any satisfactory answer, I realized that, when it comes to gay stand-up comics and gay stereotypes, there is the other half of the equation to consider: the audience. If the audience is discerning enough to put the whole thing in perspective, that the whole thing is just an act, then well and good. But if someone walks out of Bar Uno thinking, “Well, them faggots are really just noisy, in-your-face folks who don’t deserve my respect” then uh-oh.


Joel said...

Wahahahahahaha! Sayang nga di ako naka-take home nun! Pero OK lang..."there's plenty of fish in the sea" - my never-say-die mantra. whahahahah!!!

Ernesto said...

Most of the time its pretty clear cut when people are laughing at you and not with you. Sometimes its unclear based on one's own perspective. Joking around with my gay friends, we often use certain gay stereotypes for a punchline. In a way, its ok. But if the joke was made by a straight friend/acquaintance...then I would be offended.

john said...

Can we demand to have it both ways? Gay comedians use negative stereotypes and we laugh at it yet we don't want straight people to put us down using the same negative stereotypes.
In my case, I fight my own battles to be taken seriously as an individual. I can't fight for the whole group, and I don't want to.

josh said...

So when r u going back to bar uno? i sure wish i would have been there with you yesterday. ;)

joelmcvie said...

JOHN: You have a point re. individual battles versus group battles.

And then there are those who fight for the group so that individuals such as you and I can eventually be taken seriously in certain matters such as property rights for life-partners, right against discrimination in the workplace, etc.

We all need one and the other, and those in between.

JOSH: After being "insulted" by Vanessa (pangit daw ako for her taste), I don't think I wanna go back to Bar Uno, hahaha!

john said...

Hi joel mcvie,

In my experience the Philippines is the best (biased) or one of the best countries for a gay person to be part of a family, to walk in public, and to get a sexual partner. I admit I am ambivalent about the property and visitation right struggles. I can decide who I want to give my money. I can even give it before I die.

I think both feminine gays and straight-posturing gays in their own way fight for gay rights. Probably the real heroes are the feminine sisters because they push the boundaries that enable me to be safe as the more "normal" acting gay. By no means do I work to be seen as straight-posturing or pretending, just my normal self. I am lucky to work in a profession that needs me more than I need it so I act my normal self. I do see that straight-posturing gays help in showing a diverse side of gayness to the straight world.

leo said...

People, both gay and straight will do almost anything for money nowadays. Gays, people with deformity, the facially challenged, overweight people and everyone else is using their 'not-so-desirable' traits as an instrument for humor.

They sometimes don't care what message their acts send to the audience, for the well-natured and open-minded people, the acts would be accepted as a joke and nothing more. But for most, this somehow gives an idea, a negative one of how certain types of people live. Like gay wanting to have a real pussy, gays being loud and all that. But whatever people do, even if they explain that the acts are mere intruments for humor, some people will still think otherwise.