Comedy Across Cultures
Class: Queer Humor
Shared Identity, Shared Humor
Comedy is a vehicle for social communications. It demonstrates similar understandings often by provoking a sense of comradery among those that are privy to the intent or the objective of the joke. It can address difficult issues by combining a light-hearted, well-intended manner with societal problems where standard dialogue may prove ineffectual. Comedy can bridge gaps between those of one community with that of another by addressing differences through this medium of common ground.
The gay and lesbian movement has formed a community with a culture that is very much its own. It holds a commonality between persons with experiences and values that provide a cultural background that they all share. Humor in the queer community also moves to speak to the obstacles they face in a way that is accessible to all audiences by combing ideas of both communities to demonstrate a clear understanding of the others’ point of view. Stand–up comics seem approach queer comedy from many of these directions. While there are many kinds of this stylistic humor, there are two, which provide an interesting contrast. There is that which addresses an audience consisting of members of this queer community, an audience that is able to understand a more detailed comedic artist that adopts their specific cultural context. Or, there is the comedic style that moves to bridge the gap between two or more identities within the larger community.
Stand-up comedians, as they aim to address their own demographic, elaborate on jokes and anecdotes that the queer community appears to understand fairly exclusively. They talk about issues and topics that are unique to their experiences. Through highlighting their lack of assimilation to mainstream society, they capture the essence of the qualities of the gay community. A defining characteristic of the LGBT community is one of openness about sexual innuendo and sexual relationships.
Julia Stretch in her stand-up routine discusses willingly her stories of random hook-ups, poking fun at the beneficial qualities of being lesbian. In a story about a one-night-stand that she later finds out to be under legal age, she addresses the situation lackadaisically saying, “whoops, it was almost statutory rape, but it’s not because we’re both lesbians… that’s what I like to call a loop hole.” She is satirical about mainstream ideas, which inspires the humor in her routine. She plays on nuances of sex amongst lesbians to play off this inside joke.
The LGBT comics maintain the sense of community by isolating themselves from conventional society through poking fun at the straight normative. Holly Lorka makes fun of her relationship with men as she describes their positive interactions and many similarities right up until those similarities include sexual relationships with their girlfriends. She poses the possibility of homosexual superiority (satirically) and lesbian abilities that a straight man wouldn’t be capable of. She continues to push the distinctions of her sexuality by deliberately understating the obvious as her point of humor. The only difference between the boyfriend and her “is the little skateboard,” while similarities lie in their looks and the fact that her “penis comes in any size and color [the girlfriend] could ever want.” This again highlights the details of lesbian sexuality that may only be apparent if you are “in” on it. The fact that she doesn’t actually have a penis is obvious, but her reference to the lesbian replacement may be more convoluted for those that do not have that shared experience.
Holly Lorka makes very simplistic comparisons as she tries to explain lesbian sex to straight women. Many of the references I didn’t understand as they, again, focused on details of the shared lesbian experience. Ellen Degenerous is open about this phenomenon. In one of her stand up routines she acts as one of her straight audience members who may now be looking self-consciously around as they think, “do they think we’re gay because we’re here… I knew this would happen, now we’re not going to get any of [these jokes].” She illustrates the accepted uniqueness of queer humor. Thus, amongst audiences that are predominantly members of the queer community, the jokes remain fairly inaccessible to outsiders, fostering an inner circle encouraging queer identity.
Then, there is the aspect of queer humor that is directed at a broader audience, intended to make a social commentary on the many injustices queers face. Wanda Sykes illustrates the absurdity of the coming-out process by aligning the identity of being gay with being black. She equates homosexuality to this social norm when she says, “there were some things I have had to do as gay that I didn’t have to do as black… I didn’t have to come out black.” Through such an over analogy between the two identities, she reveals the ridiculous nature of the current approach required of those that are gay that it cannot help but be hilarious. The humor reveals Sykes’ clever critique of current social norms.
Chris Doucette plays off a similar comparison when he does a bit about a discover card commercial. In advertising this credit card he says, “Discover card, not accepted everywhere, and neither am I.” The comparison illustrates to his diverse crowd that having similarities between his own identity and that of a credit card is ludicrous, making a criticism of the close-mindedness of our society today. The hyperbole of the analogy is comic yes, but also telling of the social standards that need to be readdressed.
Many communities with a common identity often share values and practices. Humor is included in that broad umbrella of commonalities in a group of individuals. Queer comedy is a representation of shared histories, hardships and beliefs, and thus, requires a cultural context to be effective. Queer comics rely on humor to both encourage a united identity within the queer community and make connections with those outside of that. It provokes an understanding of available interdependence amongst queers as well as approaches topics that may not have been breached before, invoking productive thought within the audience. Queer humor is a vital part of supporting the LGBT movement, including fostering a common identity within its community.
YouTube. Dir. Chrisdoucettecomedy. YouTube. YouTube, 07 Mar. 2011. Web. 04 Dec. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mxnzem2GWoI>.
YouTube. Dir. Holly Lorka. YouTube. YouTube, 03 Sept. 2008. Web. 04 Dec. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNbRtV7JEW8>.
YouTube. Dir. JuliaStretch. YouTube. YouTube, 15 Aug. 2007. Web. 04 Dec. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CysdAvfCw2g>.
YouTube. YouTube. YouTube, 01 Feb. 2010. Web. 04 Dec. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_wWJ-_4uSY>.