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03/14/2008

Video: 'Boiling lesbians' -- a knee slapper or a blood boiler?

by Jeremy Hooper

Tucked in between this clip of Ellen speaking out against gay harassment is a joke that comedian Harland Williams told on last night's episode of "Late Night With Conan O'Brien." What do you think: Is it a mere joke or something more? Have a look:

(Note: The Youtuber edited this video this way, not us)

On one hand, it's simply a punch line to an old joke about the Brits' odd term for cigs. Here at G-A-Y, we've used the setup a few times for our own piss-taking witticisms (albeit in a more sensitive fashion).

On the other hand, you have to do that thing where you change the word "lesbian" to any other sort of minority person and see if Mr. Williams would have felt has free to make the joke. And after thinking about ti for a few minutes, we started to get annoyed with the joke. Especially considering that he positioned the punch in the affirmative voice ("I'd like to boil a couple of lesbians") rather than as a glib question that puts a negative spin on the horror of "smoking fags" ("What next, buddy --you gonna boil some lesbians?!")

Words do matter, even (especially?) in terms of comedy. So what do we think, non-boilable lesbians and non-smokeable gays? Out of line or perfectly fine?

Harland Williams Tells Anti-Gay Joke on "Conan O'Brien" [YouTube]

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Your thoughts

Out of line? Definitely. Stupid? Most definitely. I'm certain the guy didn't even give a moments thought to what he was saying. People are so use to hearing negative things about gays and lesbians, they don't even think it's wrong. For people like Conan and NBC, they need gentle (and constant) reminders about how these comments are wrong. As for the comic, I get no read on him.

I hope that many of these things finally catch up with these people. I hope that part of the reason that Tucker Carlson lost his show was because of his bragging about gay bashing.

Posted by: Mike in the Tndra | Mar 14, 2008 10:38:24 AM

Yea, that's the thing, Mike. It's this casual acceptance of heterosexism that can in many ways harm us as much as blatant anti-gay sentiment. Unfortunately, we are often seen as "ridiculous" or "militant" for resisting it, since it's SO pervasive in culture.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Mar 14, 2008 10:45:01 AM

I may be in the minority, but I put this down in the "pick your battles" category. I agree that it's inapproriate and stupid, but I don't want to be called a memeber of the "thought police" either. It might be that we need to thicken our skin a bit and not look for an offense that wasn't intended. With the Sally Kerns of the world, let's focus on the big fish, and lt things like this slide...IMHO.

Posted by: Tom | Mar 14, 2008 12:48:06 PM

I don't think it's a matter of picking battles, Tom. It's simply a discussion about an incident. It's good to discuss these sorts of things. And we have room to discuss both things like Kern and things like this.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Mar 14, 2008 12:50:26 PM


IMHO that's an ugly, offensive "joke", not to mention contrived and stupid.

db

Posted by: dave b | Mar 14, 2008 1:58:37 PM

I try not to be too politically oversensitive, but Harland's "joke" was in really bad taste. He uses the word "f" word several times in a set-up that has him talking about killings gays and lesbians? Juvenile and disturbing.

If he was talking about "smoking" and "boiling" any other group of people -- and using a slur three times in the set-up -- this wouldn't even be a discussion. Most everyone would agree how horrible it was. But because we're gay, we're supposed to just laugh and not really get worked up over it? We need to start realizing this isn't a laughing matter. Yes, you can make jokes and poke fun, but talking about "boiling" a whole group of people is not funny.

Posted by: Chris | Mar 14, 2008 2:23:49 PM

Tom,

We have to keep a watchful eye on the little fish, we don't want them growing into big fish. It's not the case whether or not the message was intended to be offensive. The entire reason this was sandwiched between Ellen's response to the Lawrence King murder is to provide an example of where people get the idea it's ok to kill gay men and lesbians. The message inspires hate, even if it isn't intended to.

Posted by: Miranda | Mar 14, 2008 3:05:30 PM

I forgot to add that I think the following is an EXCELLENT point made in the "Good As You" blog post at the top:

Especially considering that he positioned the punch in the affirmative voice ("I'd like to boil a couple of lesbians") rather than as a glib question that puts a negative spin on the horror of "smoking fags" ("What next, buddy --you gonna boil some lesbians?!")

If he had used the line that you suggested ("What next, buddy..."), he could have still got his punchline in without actually sounding like he's advocating killing lesbians. And I still have a problem with him using the "f" word.

Posted by: Chris | Mar 14, 2008 3:32:52 PM

Conan has used the gay thing for humor for a long time, often right on the edge of crossing the line to being hateful. Actually, all the late night hosts do it, although I've never quite heard anyone advocate outright murder before.

Posted by: nil | Mar 14, 2008 9:36:13 PM

Very unfunny, not OK.

It's not 'thought-policing' or 'militant' to say, "Hey, [network], this joke was really unfunny and I took offense."

People often talk about political correctness like it's some kind of blight. Political correctness is the reason you can't say the N word on TV anymore. Isn't the world a better place for it?

Posted by: Willie Hewes | Mar 15, 2008 11:53:59 AM

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