For some reason I haven't been following the whole controversy about Tracy Morgan that's been happening over the past few days after Morgan went into what's been called a "disgusting homophobic rant" at a stand-up gig. When I finally decided to look into it, I found the thing that upset me most is that there's such a crusade going on when there doesn't appear to be any recording or transcript of what Morgan actually said. People are reacting to what one audience member wrote about the stand-up appearance on Facebook.
The fact that Morgan himself has not only apologised but apparently shed tears over what he said doesn't really go towards making believe his rant was sincerely homophobic. Being sorry for hurting people he says he has nothing against doesn't mean he meant to hurt them to begin with. Knowing Morgan's usual shtick, it's easy to imagine how he could have really pissed off a lot of people. Artie Lange said talking to Morgan is like "talking to a guy from 1882". The guy had put bling on his alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet--Morgan's shtick is to personify a parody of black stereotypes. He brags about his large penis, his pimped out lamborghini. The premise of his humour is to take preconceptions and take them to a further extreme. That fits with what I see on the only site I've found that has apparent quotes from his performance, TMZ;
"Gays need to quit being p**sies and not be whining about something as insignificant as bullying."
He actually seems like he's holding back on the usual persona to me--if he were playing off black stereotypes, he'd be on the side of the bullies. Instead he's saying to gay people, "Toughen up." Which of course is lowbrow and silly--that's the point of the joke, that Morgan's persona is so caught up in this testosterone one-upmanship that the solution he sees isn't to stop the bullies but to get the gay kids to be tougher.
What he seems to be saying about homosexuality being a choice rather than something one is born with isn't defensible, but at the same time it's possible to think, in context, "Gay is something that kids learn from the media and programming," might be a statement fitting in with the earlier premise, as would what he said about how he'd react if his son was gay, that the child, "better talk to me like a man and not in a gay voice or I'll pull out a knife and stab that little n**ger to death." He's not actually saying he'd kill his son for being gay, he's saying he'd kill his son for acting in a manner he associates with being gay. Which, no, isn't good, but I can very easily see how it might not have been meant to be "good".
I certainly don't think it warrants a response like this blog entry which calls not only for Morgan to be fired from 30 Rock, but also seems to point to his rant as evidence of a wider conspiracy;
Tracy Morgan's violent tirade unfortunately raises wider questions about the whole Lorne Michaels production machine. Why there has never been an 'out' SNL actor? Is there is some kind of odd sanction of gay bashing within the ranks of that outfit?
I kind of feel like it's the lack of hard data on Morgan's rant that's fuelling the uproar--now it can be whatever people imagine.
Anyway, the fact that homophobia is a real problem in modern society does tend to make jokes about gays less funny to me--I don't think there should be restrictions on who or what people can tell jokes about, but the fact that homosexuality is subject to so much inequitable treatment tends to makes jokes about gays just seem needlessly mean. Howard Stern expressed a similar reasoning behind why he wasn't entirely comfortable with insult comic Lisa Lampanelli's copious use of the word "fag" on his show a couple months ago, yet it was Lampanelli who decided to donate 1,000 dollars to the charity organisation Gay Men's Health Crises for every member of Westboro Baptist Church who protested her show. It's possible Tracy Morgan really is a homophobe, but I'd say it's hazardous to presume it from shtick.