Actor and comedian Jason Alexander made a spectacular transition from Bigot of the Week nominee to HWA winner. The former Seinfeld star appeared on Craig Ferguson’s The Late Late Show on CBS last week. During a conversation about British and American sports, Alexander made a number of disparaging comments about the sport of cricket. The bulk of his jokes had to do with cricket being “gay” and “queer” with an emphasis on things he found effeminate.
After many in the gay community took offense at his comments, Alexander resisted making a knee-jerk response, instead taking the time to consider what he had said and why he said it.
…a few of my Twitter followers made me aware that they were both gay and offended by the joke. And truthfully, I could not understand why. I do know that humor always points to the peccadillos or absurdities or glaring generalities of some kind of group or another – short, fat, bald, blonde, ethnic, smart, dumb, rich, poor, etc. It is hard to tell any kind of joke that couldn’t be seen as offensive to someone. But I truly did not understand why a gay person would be particularly offended by this routine. However, troubled by the reaction of some, I asked a few of my gay friends about it…As we explored it, we began to realize what was implied under the humor.
Based on this reflection, Alexander offered a sincere, complex, and thoughtful apology via Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAAD). The entire apology is worth reading, but two parts are especially powerful.
It is not that we can’t laugh at and with each other. It is not a question of oversensitivity. The problem is that today, as I write this, young men and women whose behaviors, choices or attitudes are not deemed “man enough” or “normal” are being subjected to all kinds of abuse from verbal to physical to societal. They are being demeaned and threatened because they don’t fit the group’s idea of what a “real man” or a “real woman” are supposed to look like, act like and feel like. For these people, my building a joke upon the premise I did added to the pejorative stereotype that they are forced to deal with everyday. It is at the very heart of this whole ugly world of bullying that has been getting rightful and overdue attention in the media. And with my well-intentioned comedy bit, I played right into those hurtful assumptions and diminishments.
So, I would like to say – I now get it. And to the extent that these jokes made anyone feel even more isolated or misunderstood or just plain hurt – please know that was not my intention, at all or ever. I hope we will someday live in a society where we are so accepting of each other that we can all laugh at jokes like these and know that there is no malice or diminishment intended. But we are not there yet. So, I can only apologize and I do. In comedy, timing is everything. And when a group of people are still fighting so hard for understanding, acceptance, dignity and essential rights – the time for some kinds of laughs has not yet come.
Given how many celebrity missteps go viral, it is heartening to see Alexander acknowledge that he should have known better from the outset. Even more significantly, he refuses to rely on the standard non-apologies offered by many (like Tracy Morgan) that consist of a feeble “I’m sorry you were offended.” Instead, he took the time to reflect on his words and actions, realize his mistake, and offer a sincere apology. Let’s hope both the realization and the apology can serve as models for other celebrities.
Honorable mention this week goes to Democrats in Wisconsin. Although they lost the effort to recall their loathsome governor, Scott Walker, their efforts should be applauded. Despite spending barely 10% of what Walker did, they managed to come close to victory. Given how many voters indicated that they oppose recalls on principle, this is impressive. Even more impressive was the turnout, with Madison having 119% of registered voters appear at the polls. (Wisconsin allows same-day registration.) The loss is bitter, but the effort was valiant.