By Jason Stuart
All I ever wanted to do was act and do stand up comedy. Since I discovered that being gay was an issue to most folks one way or another, I feel compelled to take a stand when I see a group of my fellow human beings attacked. I was never the kind of man who could sit at a family dinner when a racist comment was made about any group. So if a racist joke were made, I would simply say, that’s not ok with me. They would reply but you’re not black. Well, it’s still not cool or funny.
So I was saddened and offended at the crudeness, the lewdness, the brazen racism expressed by Michael Richards unloading his rage. Surely most comics have the skills to handle hecklers or distractions from a large group of friends gathered for a surprise party at a comedy club where alcohol is routinely served. This should come as no surprise to any comic, and our tactics should be playful, to engage, and win over the noisy fuckers. It’s part of our job.
To demean, an audience member with a vile, hateful diatribe, simply has no place in comedy. It’s not even the word. It’s who says it on our cultural landscape, in what context it is said, and most importantly the intent behind it. Nonetheless, I side with Oprah and think the word has too much meaning to be used in a public setting.
It is time for us all to stand up for an internal audit. What are we capable of? How many Mel Gibson and Michael Richards’ moments have we witnessed in ourselves, both in and out of a comedy clubs?
As the New York Times stated on December 3, “For some, the most important lesson, one which may show some progress toward racial tolerance, is that it is the man who first hurled the racial insult who appears more damaged this time, not the target of his epithet. Mr. [Dick] Gregory said his son told him a joke the other day: “What is worse than a white man calling a black man a nigger?” Mr. Gregory said, quoting his son. “Calling a white man Michael Richards.” My hope is that Mr. Richards is able to turn this negative situation around and make it a positive by supporting the community with his celebrity. My hope is that then, he’ll no longer be the target of jokes, and all of us may be changed by the discussion his behavior ignited.
I found myself in the lobby of the Laugh Factory after the news conference on November 27 and was asked to be of support to the owner, Jamie Masada, who has had me work at his clubs for over 20 years as a headliner and always as an equal. After the press conference a New York Times reporter asked me some questions. But the Times misquoted my words. So I wanted to set the record straight.
What I said was that “about 25 percent of black comics have anti-gay material in their act and just as many or more white comedians do the same. What are we doing about that?” Nothing…. I spoke with Najee Ali, a civil-rights activist and he responded by stating that he has been on the front lines to support all folks from prejudice.
So I turn to you, my community to start an enlarging dialogue on the social acceptability of gay-bashing. I ask the question, Where do we draw the line? The current all-important discourse on racist speech is vital. How can we as gay folks add to the crucial discourse centered now on racism? At a time when LGBTQ folks are scorned, do we not have to address the hate radiating from the Religious Right, and to all comics making us the “butt” of their homophobic fixations? We must ignite among Americans a desire to dig deeper and address the hate. Most Americans have soul-searching to do in their comedy choices, on street corners, and middle school hallways, that are often not very funny either but painful to others.
I learned when I was 12 the word fag scraped on my locker with a nail. I saw it every day for three years in junior high school. I never said a word to a soul. It shredded my sense of who I was for almost 20 years, until I started speaking on college campuses on the power of being out in the workplace.
It is time for change, and I for one intend to continue to be a part of it in my work and my life.
Jason Stuart, the actor and comic, is currently featured in the film Coffee Date and has appeared in many films and television programs, which included the Damon Wayans sitcom My Wife & Kids, in which Stuart portrayed a gay family therapist. Recently he has appeared on The George Lopez Show and House.