Paging Vince Vaughn: If you worked at 'The Office,' you could tell all the gay jokes you want
There's just no making sense of what causes controversy and what doesn't in today's hyper-caffeinated media culture. As you may recall, Universal Pictures and filmmaker Ron Howard were recently embroiled in a huge flap over a joke Vince Vaughn made in the trailer for "The Dilemma," in which Vaughn, addressing a boardroom full of salespeople, referred to an electric car as "gay." After CNN's Anderson Cooper publicly complained about the joke, Universal was pilloried as being insensitive by gay activist groups such as GLAAD and pulled the trailer from theaters.
However, as Fox News.com's Holly McKay reports, the Oct. 14 episode of NBC's "The Office" has a scene that's crammed with a host of similar jokes. In the episode, Michael (played by Steve Carell) discovers that he has contracted herpes. He orders Oscar (Oscar Nunez), an openly gay character on the show, into his office. Since they had "once sucked face as part of an office presentation to destroy the stigma about gay kissing," Michael believes he may have contracted a sexually transmitted disease from the act. Joined by Dwight (Rainn Wilson) they confront Oscar:
Dwight: "I'm going to need a list of every man you've ever had sex with; I'm talking train stations, men's rooms."
Michael: "Flower shops, fireworks celebrations."
Dwight: "Fence with a hole in it...The woods behind the liquor store, the swamp behind the old folks' home."
Michael: "Electric car dealerships."
Wow! Holy Stereotypes, Batman! Apparently, every comedy writer in America thinks electric cars are, well, gay. There is oh-so-much to deconstruct here, since I'm sure that many "Office" fans would say that the humor is clearly intended to make fun of Oscar's clueless bosses, especially Michael, who is often hopelessly inappropriate when it comes to Oscar's homosexuality. But you could argue that the joke isn't entirely on Michael and Dwight, since Oscar doesn't get an opportunity to ridicule his boss' lame usage of stereotyping about gay sexual promiscuity.
And of course, the larger issue still looms: Why did everyone pile on "The Dilemma" and give "The Office" a free pass? McKay says that when she tried to contact Cooper, he declined to comment. Ditto for GLAAD. McKay did talk to TheFrisky.com editor in chief Amelia McDonell-Parry, who, while having criticized "The Dilemma's" gay joke, took a different view of the gay humor on "The Office." She argued that Carell's character was the real butt of the joke. She added: "Couple that with the fact that all of the so-called 'gay jokes' on 'The Office' are far better written than the one cheap shot, [whose] sole message is that 'gay equals lame,' in 'The Dilemma' and you have a clear-cut case of not the same at all."
Well, maybe it's a clear-cut case for her. But I'd argue that it's a pretty steep slippery slope to start arguing that one gay joke is OK and another one isn't just because you think that one is better written than the other. Wouldn't that mean that Tina Fey can tell a gay joke, but Adam Sandler can't? I mean, that's more about what's cool than what's right, which is hardly any kind of ethical judgment call. It just goes to show -- when it comes to humor, you had better be sure that a joke is out of bounds, no matter what the setting or who delivers the punchline. If you start drawing all sorts of complicated aesthetic lines about what's acceptable and what's offensive, you're probably going to end up being the butt of the joke yourself.
Photo: Steve Carell at the New Yorker Festival Party in New York City. Credit: Amy Sussman / Getty Images