Last Sunday, Comedy Central taped a roast of actor/comedian/artist James Franco. The roasters include the usual suspects, such as Jeff Ross and Sarah Silverman, as well as some of Franco's buddies in comedy, Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill.
Now, Franco has done a lot of interesting things over the past few years, some more so than others. But a lot of them have had a rather queer bent, including his work on a Sal Mineo bioflick and Interior:Leather Bar. Franco thinks the fact that some of his work has a queer focus is just a question of the material itself being interesting, rather than being queer. He's been quoted as saying that when it comes to gay roles, "part of what I’m interested in is how these people who were living anti-normative lifestyles contended with opposition." But in typical "who cares" fashion, he has also replied, "Or, you know what, maybe I’m just gay.”
But we're not here to talk about Franco's sexuality. But apparently a lot of people wanted to at his roast. BuzzFeed counted 26 gay jokes at Franco's expense.
I'm not offended by the jokes, but I don't think they're all that funny. Look, I'll be the first person to make a joke about my own sexuality. I'll often comment that I am fulfilling my cultural stereotyping if I do something that is commonly perceived as "gay." But I think it's too easy to just make a gay joke about a straight guy, because the inherent idea behind calling someone gay is to make them uncomfortable. But the joke is on the comedian, because the butt of their joke doesn't care.
Do I think any of these comedians who made these jokes are homophobic? No. Do I think the jokes themselves are homophobic? Not necessarily. Do I think what they did was wrong? Not really. Comedy is hard. And it's important that comics can make fun of anything. That doesn't mean it's going to work, or even be funny. I just don't think the jokes were funny, and if anything, I am disappointed in the comedians for failing to find something that isn't just too obvious and easy. Like Franco himself. *drum snare*
See, that wasn't so hard, was it?
As for the nature of a roast, and the importance of being able to say anything, James Hamblin, over at The Atlantic, stated that when it comes to roasts,
[…] you can insult people for an hour, and they know you don't mean it. Like the roasting comedians never even thought of the terrible, outlandish things they're saying about the roastee. [Franco]'s obsessed with himself, he's obsequious, he ignominiously sacrifices his dignity to advance his career, etc. It's just a roast, chill out. That's what makes it fun. You can even call a dude gay, and it's not actually an insult to him, only to gay people.
In the end, I think the best joke of the night wasn't about Franco at all, but those who tried to make fun of him. Aziz Ansari got up onstage and called out his fellow comedians, saying:
"So many gay jokes tonight about Franco. Apparently if you're clean, well dressed and mildly cultured, you're super gay now. Is that why the rest of you guys are so aggressively fat and dirty? You think if you read one book and take a shower dicks are going to just fly into your face."
Take note, straight friends. That is how you make a gay joke.