That’s So Gay

Is it ever funny to use the G word?

Vince Vaughn has himself in a hot water dilemma over “The Dilemma,” a film in which the comedic actor calls electric cars “gay, not homosexual gay, but my-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay.” The scene, which circulated widely in a trailer that was seen both in theaters and on television, irked CNN newsman Anderson Cooper enough for him to mention it on the Ellen show, saying that jokes like that only contribute to anti-gay bullying, and can lead to suicides among LGBT youth.

But is there ever a good time to use “gay” in a joke? And is Vaughn mostly just reaching into a big bag of junior high humor to get a quick and dirty laugh?

Some of the more popular comedians among LGBT audiences – Kathy Griffin, Margaret Cho, Sarah Silverman and Lisa Lampanelli – have all tapped into gay humor at one time or another, whether mocking their own sexuality (Cho), outing supposedly “straight” celebrities (Griffin), needling nerdy neighbors (Silverman) or roasting someone explicitly on Comedy Central (Lampanelli). But there seems to be a difference when these wide-cracking funny girls take the G word plunge as opposed to someone like Vaughn who often comes across as an overgrown frat boy. The women tend to push the boundaries of what’s allowable for the sake of gay activism rather than simply using it as a punch line. And the audiences tend to see the difference vividly.

In a statement to GLAAD recently, Vaughn defended the gay slur, saying, “Comedy and joking about differences breaks tension and brings us together.”

GLAAD rebuffed on its website, responding,”Vince is right. Comedy does bring us together, unless one of us is the punch line. Then it pushes us apart.”

In some ways, the controversy has worked for the film. Even people whose tastes tend to veer far from middle American comedies like “The Dilemma” have been talking about it. Celebrities have also been weighing in. Elton John threw his support behind Cooper, saying the joke was filled with “sexual hatred.” But it makes one wonder if that’s the whole point. Is that who the character is? Is Vaughn playing a guy who would use a word like gay to describe something dorky or silly or childish? Is there room for an Archie Bunker anymore?

Or is it just a matter of wrong place, wrong time? And have dumb gay jokes become outdated and just plain unfunny? If not for the spate of teen suicides this month or the frank, sometimes heated discussions about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and gay marriage rights on a national level, would a politically incorrect joke (and a lame one at that) simply pass by without so much as a chuckle? Or have audiences wised up and figured out these low blows are, well, lazy and more like the antithesis of Archie Bunker rather than an homage to him?

Case in point: On NBC’s “The Office” recently, head buffoon Michael Scott (Steve Carell) suspects his herpes outbreak (on his lip) could be caused by kissing the resident gay character Oscar (Oscar Nunez) during a presentation about destroying the sigma about gay kissing. It barely ruffled a feather thanks, in part, to Michael’s ongoing nimrodery.

The issue may be less about gay jokes than when and how they are delivered – and by whom.

What can be just as frustrating as the lamest of gay jokes are all the usual (and usually insincere) apologies that come soon after. Vaughn’s been issuing statements left and right to appease gay groups, while trying not to lose his hetero fan base (ka-ching!). But do the statements really ever tame the beastly impact words can and do have?

This summer, when Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Todd Herremans took to Twitter to share his thoughts about the newest season of “True Blood,” which featured its fair share of homosexuality on HBO, it wasn’t long before the footballer was paraded in front of the microphones to apologize for his “insensitivity.”

The apologies, while business-like, never really right the wrong or reverse the course. They can, at times, even make the situation much worse by simply trying to sweep it under the rug – or back into the closet. Why not talk about it – about when using “gay” is derogatory or not – rather than tip toeing around issues that are being tested each and every day, well outside the movie theaters, football fields and Twitter page?

When a kid is called the “f” word in school or when someone is denied rights simply because of who he or she sleeps with, that’s when silly jokes and dismissive policies are felt the hardest, no matter how seemingly outdated or lazy in their execution.

If popular culture really is a reflection of what’s happening in real life, then in real life, it shouldn’t be so bad to be called “gay” at all.