The boundaries of queer-minded comedy come up once again this fine Friday, thanks to a gay punch line and some politically-minded video editing.
We’ve addressed this topic in the past, specifically with regard to Sarah Silverman and the dearth of gay funny bones.
Today we turn our attention to a Canadian comedian named Harland Williams. (And, no, that’s not the wrong clip.)
Williams, whom you may remember from Half Baked and Big Money Hustla$, appeared on Conan O’Brien this week and delivered a fairly recognizable joke: Brits call cigarettes “fags” and it’s confusing for North Americans. Here’s the transcript:
Harland: You know what they call cigarettes?
Harland: The British — they call them fags.
Conan: Right. That’s what they — yeah, that’s the term for cigarettes.
Harland: Yes. A guy in my class comes up and he goes, “Look mate, you think I can bum a fag?”
Conan: Right… (laughing)
Harland: I said, “I don’t know. Can you?”
Conan: All right… (laughing)
Harland: He’s like, “No mate! I’d like to smoke a fag.” And I said, “Yeah, I’d like to boil a couple of lesbians myself!”
We don’t recommend boiling the lesbians. They’re much, much better fried. Maybe broiled, but never, ever boiled.
We jest, of course, but the Good As You gays are “annoyed:” “…He positioned the punch in the affirmative voice, rather than as a glib question that puts a negative spin on the horror of “smoking fags” (‘What’s next, buddy — you gonna boil some lesbians?!’)” Everyone’s a critic!
It seems to us that the joke’s apex is more inflammatory in this video’s particular context: Ellen’s comments on Lawrence King’s death. The question thus shifts. It isn’t whether or not Williams qualifies as funny, but whether or not such jokes can be blamed for anti-gay violence. And we say “nay.”
A little adds up to a lot, yes, but a simple joke on late night television does far less damage than having politicians like Sally Kern running around. Or, even worse, Stacey Campfield, who attempted to prohibit “gay speak” in elementary schools. Williams’ comments on Conan are nothing more than a new take on an old joke. And, to be honest, we found it kind of funny.
Had Williams said, “I like to boil lesbians” or “I think you, the viewer, should go boil some lesbians,” that wouldn’t be funny. It would just be crazy!