At the very moment last night when I was typing about some of the more egregious homophobes on our nation's public platform, Jay Leno apparently was giving them more ammo on "The Tonight Show."
I haven't made a habit of watching the obsequious Leno in years, so I'll let the brilliant Jeff Whitty recap the show (complete with clip). But basically, Leno used an appearance by Ryan Phillippe to spend several minutes teasing him about playing a gay character on a soap opera 12 years ago, at one point asking to turn to a camera and make "his gayest face." Whitty called out Leno a while back about his jaw-droppingly offensive, straight-from-the-70s "Brokeback Mountain" jokes, drawing from dated gay stereotypes.
See, I don't think Leno is homophobic in the least. From all accounts of comedians who know him, he is a genuinely nice guy to all. He does a lot for charity, and unlike a lot of his fellow late-night hosts, he still does comedy shows. It's just that Leno's comedy--as well as that of the tonight show writers--hasn't exactly evolved much in the past 20 years or so.
I saw Leno live in Atlantic City a few years ago. The material, for the most part, was pretty much like a "Tonight Show" monologue: a few chuckles here and there, but mostly easy jokes about easy targets, like Michael Jackson, Robert Blake, Bill Clinton and President Bush. He even had a long bit about the problems his parents have working a VCR. Yes, this was 2004, and he was making VCR jokes, and not even jokes about how hard it was to program a VCR. Just how difficult it was for his parents to use the fast-forward and rewind functions.
So, rewind back to when those sorts of jokes were relevant--this predates even Phillippe's soap appearance, by the way--and "having to play an icky gay guy" jokes are, well, no less offensive, but a little less anachronistic. Remember, that was a time when gay representation on television was mostly the old friend with AIDS who showed up to visit the Sugarbakers or that guy planning Dorothy Zbornak's wedding.
In other words, I don't think Leno was being purposefully hateful like those folks I linked to yesterday. Just lazy and predictable. Who knows? Perhaps he thought showing that old Phillippe jeans ad was his penance to the gays. I think I'll thank him just as Whitty did -- by showing MY gayest face.
Anyone care to join me?