Let’s be very clear: There’s nothing wrong with a little man-on-man bump and grind, nor any other heaping helping of queer affection.
If only Jimmy Kimmel would finally get the picture. The late night host, who recently amped up the volume in his critiques of the current cultural climate, has emerged as an unlikely voice of reason in today’s America. But his recent Twitter war with Fox News host Sean Hannity reveals a glaring lack of creativity when it comes to humor about same-sex relationships. He simply won’t stop falling back on tropes that stigmatize queer sex and women’s experiences, an offense he repeated (yet again) this week while sparring with Hannity.
Sadly, this isn’t anything new. Kimmel has produced comedy that punches down at women, queer folks, and trans people for several years. He built his career at the expense of marginalized communities, reinforcing negative stereotypes “just for laughs” to win popularity with an audience of stereotypical bros.
Here is Jimmy Kimmel being a hammerhead
Guess what is in my pants? pic.twitter.com/X9r0EctsEB
— Mike (@Fuctupmind) March 5, 2018
The recent Twitter spat all started over Kimmel’s insensitive jokes about the first lady’s Slovenian accent, deadpanning a video of her reading books to children during the White House Easter Egg Roll. After Hannity used his platform to call Kimmel an “ass clown,” setting off an extended exchange of insulting tweets, the Fox News host paused to remind everyone of Kimmel’s history of misogynist humor. One segment from Comedy Central’s The Man Show was so terrible, Hannity dubbed Kimmel “Harvey Weinstein Jr.”
Hannity is no angel either, but that tea has been soaking the streets for years.
In the offending sketch (alarmingly titled “Guess What’s In My Pants?”), Kimmel asks womensome as young as 18to put their hands or mouths on his crotch and tell him what they think is inside his rocket pocket. When one woman seemed to probe a little longer for a good guess, Kimmel says, “You’re going to make a fine wife!”
The object in Kimmel’s pants, as he reveals, is a zucchini with rubber bands layered near the tip of the phallic vegetable.
But when confronted with his past behavior on Twitter, Kimmel refused to be fully accountable; in his response to Hannity, he doubled down on his penchant for femmephobic and anti-queer humor. After a few wisecracks about Hannity dropping in the network cable news ratings, Kimmel said: “Don’t worryjust keep tweetingyou’ll get back on top! (or does Trump prefer you on bottom?).”
Kimmel’s jab at Hannity is a classic example of bottom-shaming. While slamming Hannity for his supposed deference the president, Kimmel plays on old tropes about bottoms and bottoming, often gendered as a “feminine” act that is “weaker” compared to tops, be they heterosexual or queer.
At the root, it reflects a mindset that the man and “masc4masc” types are supreme to women, femmes, and people who enjoy bottoming.
I’m all for a good joke about queerness and sexuality. No one’s saying we can’t have a laugh when we see ourselves reflected in a humorous sketch, regardless of whether or not the comics are LGBTQ themselves. But as a veteran TV host who’s hired countless show staff writers over the years, Kimmel has had every opportunity available to elevate the quality and tone of his jokes about queer and femme people. He’s been challenged by the community for more than a decade and has even declined interviews addressing his crude humor.
Stop making shitty fucking gay jokes. Hire me to write you better gay jokes. Hire any queer person to write you literally any other jokes.
— Ryan Houlihan (@RyanHoulihan) April 6, 2018
Unfortunately, Kimmel has a longstanding pattern of toxic masculinity, dating back to his days on Comedy Central (which is also home of repeat offenders like Tosh.O). Among Kimmel’s not-so-greatest hits, the series premiere of The Man Show included a sketch titled “End Women’s Suffrage,” a callous jab at first-wave feminism. As Kimmel and co-host Adam Carolla joked, activists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were “pioneers in the field of bitching, moaning and complaining.”
The two men canvassed the streets, preaching that the 19th Amendment is unjust. They urged to “stop the suffrage” of women, playing on some passersby mistaking the word “suffering” with voting rights. As two young Girl Scouts signed the petition, Kimmel said, “Maybe one day you won’t be pimping those cookies all day.” Adding insult to injury, some women of color were pulled into their shenanigans, despite the fact that they’re targeted by historically racialized attempts at suppressing non-white votes.
Even though “End Women’s Suffrage” originally aired in 2003, it was cringe-worthy thenand it’s still cringe-worthy now.
Kimmel’s penchant for anti-queer, anti-femme humor didn’t stop with The Man Show’s demise in 2004which coincided with Kimmel graduating from Comedy Central to late-night TV.
During the early days of Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC, Kimmel (then boyfriend of famed comedian Sarah Silverman) sparred with his ex in a pair of viral videos which stemmed from one Silverman’s signature sketches: “I’m F**king Matt Damon.” In the segment, both Damon and Silverman taunt Kimmelpretending to romp on the bed, on the floor, by the door, in the car, and up against the minibar.
But then came Kimmel’s wholly expected response, courtesy of Damon’s longtime best buddy and frequent collaborator: “I’m F**cking Ben Affleck.” As they sing along to a rocking guitar track, Affleck and Kimmel paint each other’s toenails and style their hair. Kimmel wears a leopard-print ascot shirtless while Affleck prances in a form-fitting, glossy turquoise tee.
Toward the end of the video, the duo stops just short of kissing as they are interrupted by a star-studded roster of entertainers. Macy Gray, Josh Groban, Cameron Diaz, and Don Cheadle all come forward to take part in a “We Are the World” parody. Adding to the star-power, Perry Farrell of Jane Addiction sings: “Jimmy’s the one who’s f**cking Ben like they’re in prison.” Survival sex and sexual assault among inmate populations is hardly a laughing matter.
After more than 15 years on the airwavesthe longest of any ABC talk show hostKimmel finally gained a foothold in late night when he rebranded to become an advocate last year. In a heartfelt speech which went viral in May 2017, the comedian opened up about his son’s heart disease, using the diagnosis to make a plea to address America’s healthcare crisis. The segment struck a chord not just because Kimmel was speaking from his heart; it’s because he was the last person from whom we expected to hear such a touching, incisive monologue.
These days Kimmel seems eager to help create change. But he clearly needs to change how he tells jokes about queer people, women, and femmes.
Luckily, there’s an abundance of stellar comedic material that celebrates and uplifts the community to give him some pointers. Take for example Kate McKinnon’s recurring character FitzWilliam during her pre-SNL stint on The Big Gay Sketch Show. FitzWilliam, a teenager assigned male at birth, loves enchanted magical unicorns and obsessively proclaims his desire to one day have a “magical vagina.” In each situation, the teen’s supportive dad (Jonny McGovern) insists that FitzWilliam will get his wish when he’s old enough for it.
Unlike Kimmel’s track record of anti-trans barbs, the FitzWilliam sketches deftly addresses gender identity development and how parents reactwithout implying that trans and non-binary young people are inherently flawed.
Although Kimmel has issued an apology, saying he didn’t intend to “belittle” or harm gay people while insulting Hannity, he stopped short of acknowledging his career track record. Kimmel has yet to take responsibility for how he’s contributed to the struggles of women and LGBTQ people.
If Kimmel wants to help the marginalized and oppressed during this pivotal moment in American life, he should consider having a long overdue conversation with the man in the mirror.