ONTD Political

Actor Jason Alexander Apologizes for Jokes Made on CBS' The Late Late Show

10:05 pm - 06/03/2012
On last Friday night’s episode of The Late Late Show on CBS, actor Jason Alexander repeatedly joked with host Craig Ferguson about the game of cricket being a “gay sport” as opposed to a “manly” one. Having had time to more carefully consider the jokes he made though, the Love! Valour! Compassion! and Seinfeld actor released a new statement through his Twitter account, explaining how conversations with his gay friends made him realize the effect that kind of denigrating humor has on the adolescents that so often find themselves the subject of it. You can read the full post below:

A message of amends.

Last week, I made an appearance on the Craig Ferguson show – a wonderfully unstructured, truly spontaneous conversation show. No matter what anecdotes I think will be discussed, I have yet to find that Craig and I ever touch those subjects. Rather we head off onto one unplanned, loony topic after another. It’s great fun trying to keep up with him and I enjoy Craig immensely.

During the last appearance, we somehow wandered onto the topic of offbeat sports and he suddenly mentioned something about soccer and cricket. Now, I am not a stand-up comic. Stand up comics have volumes of time-tested material for every and all occasions. I, unfortunately, do not. However, I’ve done a far amount of public speaking and emceeing over the years so I do have a scattered bit, here and there.

Years ago, I was hosting comics in a touring show in Australia and one of the bits I did was talking about their sports versus American sports. I joked about how their rugby football made our football pale by comparison because it is a brutal, no holds barred sport played virtually without any pads, helmets or protection. And then I followed that with a bit about how, by comparison, their other big sport of cricket seemed so delicate and I used the phrase, “ a bit gay”. Well, it was all a laugh in Australia where it was seen as a joke about how little I understood cricket, which in fact is a very, very athletic sport. The routine was received well but, seeing as their isn’t much talk of cricket here in America, it hasn’t come up in years.

Until last week. When Craig mentioned cricket I thought, “oh, goody – I have a comic bit about cricket I can do. Won’t that be entertaining?”. And so I did a chunk of this old routine and again referred to cricket as kind of “gay” – talking about the all white uniforms that never seem to get soiled; the break they take for tea time with a formal tea cart rolled onto the field, etc. I also did an exaggerated demonstration of the rather unusual way they pitch the cricket ball which is very dance-like with a rather unusual and exaggerated arm gesture. Again, the routine seemed to play very well and I thought it had been a good appearance.

Shortly after that however, 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. And at first, even they couldn’t quite find the offense in the bit. But as we explored it, we began to realize what was implied under the humor. I was basing my use of the word “gay” on the silly generalization that real men don’t do gentile, refined things and that my portrayal of the cricket pitch was pointedly effeminate , thereby suggesting that effeminate and gay were synonymous.

But what we really got down to is quite serious. 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.

And the worst part is – I should know better. My daily life is filled with gay men and women, both socially and professionally. I am profoundly aware of the challenges these friends of mine face and I have openly advocated on their behalf. Plus, in my own small way, I have lived some of their experience. Growing up in the ‘70’s in a town that revered it’s school sports and athletes, I was quite the outsider listening to my musical theater albums, studying voice and dance and spending all my free time on the stage. Many of the same taunts and jeers and attitudes leveled at young gay men and women were thrown at me and on occasion I too was met with violence or the threat of violence.

So one might think that all these years later I might be able to intuit that my little cricket routine could make some person who has already been made to feel alien and outcast feel even worse or add to the conditions that create their alienation. But in this instance, I did not make the connection. I didn’t get it.

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. I hope my realization brings some comfort.



What do we think?
bluelarkspur 4th-Jun-2012 05:45 am (UTC)
Wait, what's so hard to believe about that? Yes, it seems very self-evident when you sit down and think about it, that when you use X as an insult, you're saying that being X is bad. But most people don't think about all the possible ramifications of their words - they absorb what the language they hear, even if they don't take in the attitudes that underline the language. I'm a woman who never held overt anti-feminist ideas, but for years I was using gendered insults. I can point to so many reasons why I should have known better, but it never even entered my mind.

I know plenty of people who are 100% pro-gay rights, don't mind at all seeing gay couples affectionate, who still have said "ugh, so gay", etc. One defense I've heard is "I didn't mean it as gay like in homosexual, I was using the word in a different way." Which obviously doesn't make it right - since that new definition descends from and reflects on the "homosexual" definition - but it's just been sort of ingrained and it sometimes has to be spelled out why that's offensive. (And especially if, as he seems to have been doing, gay is used to refer to a stereotype - plenty of people seem to have a hard time understanding why that is problematic.)

I don't see what's weaselly about that statement, basically. It's awesome that you apparently grew up with a perfect understanding of how words function, but in my experience, most people don't. They take in the insults they hear around them and ape them. Which isn't a good thing, but the world's not a perfect place. Unless it's coming from, I dunno a gender and sexuality professor, I don't think it's unrealistic or disingenuous for a person to say that they just hadn't thought about it too hard before. The real measure IMO is that the person listens to the offended party and doesn't continue to argue that it wasn't offensive.

Edited at 2012-06-04 05:51 am (UTC)
oceandezignz 4th-Jun-2012 06:22 am (UTC)
The real measure IMO is that the person listens to the offended party and doesn't continue to argue that it wasn't offensive.


tiddlywinks103 4th-Jun-2012 06:28 am (UTC)
devour_theflesh 4th-Jun-2012 09:11 pm (UTC)
People who say "I didn't mean 'gay' as in ''homosexual' are so ridiculous. Unless they mean "happy" and they NEVER DO, they mean homosexual and it's astonishing to me that anyone could excuse that.
bluelarkspur 5th-Jun-2012 03:09 am (UTC)
Languages are extremely fluid (as you point out here yourself - the word "gay" has changed plenty over the past century.) The way we understand a term can broaden or narrow, or shift completely to something on the surface unrelated.

People who use that excuse mean "gay" as in "bad" or "weak" or some other general pejorative. Which is obviously the heart of why it's offensive to use "gay" in that manner, but in the context of a widespread societal use, it's not always as simple as everyone going "I think that's bad, so I'll compare it to homosexual people." The word starts out that way, but then becomes more widespread and the original connotation becomes lost to the speaker. "Gay=bad" becomes a separate, distinct word from "gay=homosexual" for them (the same way court as a verb is a completely different word from court as a verb, for example.) Most people don't sit down and think about the words they say, just absorb what they hear. And hearing "that's so gay", without any direct reference to homosexuality, they'll take in just a simple pejorative use.

You seem to find this concept hard to believe, but look at "bastard." The dictionary provides two definitions: "an illegitimate child" or "an offensive or disagreeable person — used as a generalized term of abuse." It's very clear how these words relate, and it's offensive when you connect that. But I can promise you that the guy shouting "bastard!" at the car that cut him off isn't thinking about illegitimacy.

I don't mean this as an excuse, because it is offensive and people should take responsibility for words, and obviously people are allowed to feel whatever they want about a statement, no matter what the intent or apology. And people need to be called out for using "gay", "retard", etc., as insults, because it's not simply the word's evolution - those simultaneously remain terms that identify a group of people. I'm simply addressing your comments about how a grown person not thinking through these issues and using words like this without meaning it, is somehow unbelievable. In a perfect world, yes, but as far as I can tell, I'd presume the opposite - that most people haven't thought this through. Homophobia/sexism/ableism/etc. is just so pervasive in our culture that the language of it seeps in, even with people who don't overtly hold those views (and while it seems like it should be evident the moment you sit down to think about it, some people do have a harder time getting it, and I have no doubt privilege plays a big role in that.) I sincerely would like to go live where you live, if this is so astonishing to you.
devour_theflesh 5th-Jun-2012 10:45 am (UTC)
I absolutely believe that people use "gay" a a perjorative without thinking about it. What I don't believe is that they don't mean it as an insult and that they've created some new meaning of it that isn't related to homosexuality. I think theyre just casually homophobic. I find it more similar to the time when I heard someone call someone else a "lazy Mexican." And maybe if he'd said "I at first didn't understand what I'd said wrong," because he obviously didnt. But for him to say, "my gay friends and I couldn't figure this out," is what is ridiculous and weaselly. The implication is that the insulting part of the language is hard to find but they had a discussion and googled a little and figured it out. No way. Unless these "friends" are on his payroll.
spiffynamehere 5th-Jun-2012 01:17 am (UTC)
It should not take you and several friends forming a think tank to come to the conclusion that "using gay to mean this negative thing = bad".
suzycat 16th-Jun-2012 12:52 am (UTC)
I agree with this comment!
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