Friday, June 10, 2011

Say It Ain't So?

I am upset and annoyed and fundamentally frustrated about the news that the comedian Tracey Morgan made crudely homophobic jokes/statements on June 3rd at a Nashville stand-up gig. Why am I so upset, annoyed and fundamentally frustrated? Because the news didn't come out until late Friday afternoon! That's the one time in the week I don't blog! It's when I get to sit back and, like a grown-up Huckleberry Finn with a straw in his mouth and his toes dangling in the Mississippi, I muse. I reminisce over the past week, hearkening back to some of the highlights. Hotness Delusion Syndrome. Berlusconi. Weiner. Smurfs. Cabbies. (There's got to be a theme there, right?) But no, my free time has been disrupted by essential privatemattersandpublicthings material.

So, Tracey Morgan "apologizes for a homophobic rant".

Here's the apology.

Friday morning, Morgan did issue an apology. The actor and comedian said in a statement to CNN, “I want to apologize to my fans and the gay & lesbian community for my choice of words at my recent stand-up act in Nashville. I’m not a hateful person and don’t condone any kind of violence against others. While I am an equal opportunity jokester, and my friends know what is in my heart, even in a comedy club this clearly went too far and was not funny in any context.”

Some of this sound familiar? Do you remember the Republican Party official who said she wasn't being racist because the racist intent wasn't in her heart? Jimmy Carr contrasting his personal life to his role as comedian in his apology? I can't remember whether I've written about the "equal opportunity" excuse on this blog or on some bathroom wall somewhere, but I know I've written about it before. Morgan's comment is basically post-joke apology boilerplate, but there are three odd little things about it. First, one can't help but notice that he seems to imply that his fans and the gay and lesbian community are two distinct entities. The second thing one can't help but notice is that he does not construct his "equal opportunity" and "you know what's in my heart" excuses as complete statements, but as caveats to the concession itself. They become part of the confession, as an appeal for mitigation rather than exculpation. It's an interesting little twist, because those two excuses are usually meant to deny responsibility for the joke; he is taking responsibility for what he said. The third thing one notices is that he is not using the comic context as an excuse; he even doubles-down, evoking not only the comic context but also the comedy club, and saying that in neither the metaphysical space nor the physical space were his comments funny.

So, what else do we know?

Apparently, Morgan has a history of being homophobic? (Doesn't history have a history of being homophobic?) According to Margaret Hartman, he's been saying being gay is a choice for years, which, I don't know? Is that echoed in his own apology when he talks about his "choice of words"? Truth Wins Out, an excellent organisation, has posted a demand that Morgan respond to allegations of an anti-Gay tirade and, in a move that will somehow definitely be included in an as-yet-unwritten 30 Rock episode, demands that Tina Fey also respond to these allegations. And will I go to hell for saying the entire Truth Wins Out press release sounds like it was written by one of the finickier characters in a Tony Kushner play?

Oh dear. Greetings from Hell! Anyway, so what did Morgan say? I don't know! What is described by Truth Wins Out is very unappealing, but general descriptions of a great many comic routines would be very unappealing. One of the interesting things is this:
Eyewitness Kevin Rogers, who attended with his partner and a friend, gives a firsthand account which describes how Morgan’s entire demeanor changed as he allegedly claimed that being gay is a choice, that homosexuality is something that kids learn from the media, and that gay youth victims of bullying are simply “whining.” Furthermore, he allegedly said that if his son was gay and “whined” about being a bullying victim, he would kill him, using words that will not be repeated here. Morgan is also said to have called upon President Obama to “man up” and stop speaking out for LGBT kids

Did you notice the line about his demeanour? We're being told something here. You know what it is, right? Comic performances are all about voice, characterisation, and tone: they steer us into a division, a split between the person on stage and the persona on stage, introducing an ambiguity that can itself be subsequently crafted and directed and steered with all the genius and invention of Picasso holding a paintbrush or Joyce squinting at his typewriter. The implication here is that Morgan's demeanour changed because the two became one, the persona became the person, like someone who was in a trance awakening back into his own body; and so what he subsequently said was not part of a persona, but Morgan's own opinions.

And as for the things he said? It doesn't sound pleasant (although some part of me definitely thinks there is ample comic potential in telling Obama to "man up" and stop speaking out for LGBT kids - it could be ironic; it could be parodic; it could be misguided; it could, in fact, be the type of complete perversion of thought that we so love in Tracey Jordan, Tracey Morgan's 30 Rock alter-ego). There's one thing we can be fairly sure of: if Grizz and Dot-Com were there, they'd have been shaking their heads sadly.


Daniel F said...

It's of no pertinence here, but I just re-watched the episode where Jack says:

"Lemon, let me explain something to you that you could have no way of knowing: emotionally unstable women are fantastic in the sack and their self-loathing translates into... never mind."

As Ezra Pound said, poetry is news that stays news.

Jeff Strabone said...

I read a similar account of Morgan's homophobic sermon. As you point out, the accounts suggest that the formal elements of comedic delivery—'voice, characterisation, and tone'—disappeared, hence a sermon. His apology for his 'choice of words' cannot cover his content if we believe his content and his intent were identical.

As for me, I have bought the first four seasons of 30 Rock on dvd but will probably refrain from buying season five. The best outcome would be if Tina Fey wrote the incident into the show the way Larry David did in episode 70 of Curb Your Enthusiasm with Michael Richard's racist taunts to his audience. If either Tracy Morgan or Tracy Jordan (is there really a diffrence?) comes on the television to say something supremely pro-gay, perhaps I will relent.

sw said...

There is currently quite a lot of press on this Tracy Morgan issue. I've not seen anybody defending him, but remain unable to find what he actually said. Regardless, Tina Fey scolds him in a very appropriate manner:

Fey echoed that when she said in her statement that "I hope for his sake that Tracy's apology will be accepted as sincere by his gay and lesbian coworkers at "30 Rock", without whom Tracy would not have lines to say, clothes to wear, sets to stand on, scene partners to act with, or a printed-out paycheck from accounting to put in his pocket. The other producers and I pride ourselves on '30 Rock' being a diverse, safe, and fair workplace."

I think there's something really touching when she includes the accountants, neatly undercutting a bigoted assumption about the types of jobs a gay person would have at 30 Rock.

As you say, it will be worked out in 30 Rock. Thank you for pointed out the Michael Richards episode in CYE - I will relentlessly pursue that episode down. What happened to Michael Richards was an extraordinary implosion of comedy. We see comedy fail all the time (this blog stands as a tribute to the falling of comedy), but rarely do we get this sort of atomic eruption.

Jeff Strabone said...

I asked last night that Tracy Morgan/Jordan come out, so to speak, as pro-gay, and he seems to be prepared to do so. Here is the latest.

I don't know what motivated his anti-gay rants in the past, but this is a decent outcome.

sw said...

I think the outcome here will be good.

Steven said...

Is 30 Rock actually funny?a

More importantly, will you assure loyal readers of this blog that there will very soon be a post on the treatment of LGBT issues in The Hangover Part II?

sw said...

Yes . . . and YES!

Steven said...

Oh, it is, is it? Good! I have only watched the first two episodes so far. Perhaps I should skip ahead to when it starts getting funny? When is that?

sw said...

Episode 3.

Jeff Strabone said...

I am surprised to hear that anyone does not find 30 Rock funny. Is that a hoax?