In Nashville last summer, Tracy Morgan told an audience attending his standup comedy show that should his son make a choice to be gay and one day bring another man home, Morgan would stab him in the throat. He would later apologize in a very public manner and the story eventually fizzled away. On this past Thursday’s episode of 30 Rock, “Idiots are People Two!,” the unprovoked creative team decided to address the real-life controversy with a satirical version of the event, which is not out of the ordinary for the show. However, the semi-autobiographical Morgan character, Tracy Jordan, found himself having to apologize for simply saying, “Being gay is stupid. If you want to see a penis, take off your pants! If I were turned into a gay, I’d sit around all day and look at my own junk.” Liz Lemon points out the offensiveness of the notion that a person could be transformed into “a gay,” which is accurate, but the Jordan punchline fails to draw a true comparison between the two scenarios, making their attempt at lightheartedness ring distasteful.
When controversies such as this one erupt, people become offended for two reasons: 1) the content of the comment is insensitive to the liberties of the those who have been targeted and 2) the statement just isn’t funny. Liz indirectly highlights this in the episode by saying to Tracy Jordan that it’s a bad idea to offend gay rights groups “because they are the most organized” of them all, making “the Chinese look like the Greeks.” Jordan asks how his comment could be deemed offensive, but not hers, to which Liz ironically replies, “Because nobody heard me say it.” Plenty of people heard her say it, and it was funny. So, Morgan and anyone else who strives to be edgy in their works of comedy simply need to make sure that their statements are appealing to the mass’ sense of humor as opposed to genuinely concerning themselves with the level of offensiveness in their writing.
Perhaps another reason for this public displeasure with Morgan was that on any given night, a comic might not mesh with their audience, failing to win them over. Having been raised on the streets of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, Morgan’s life path, like anyone else’s, helped shape his raw comedy stylings. Nashville could be the type of town where his act just didn’t translate well, giving patroners a reason to publicize anything remotely contentious after not receiving a satisfying level of entertainment for their spent money.
With that stated, Tracy Morgan spoke of committing a murder of his own child. Most certainly, this was an overzealous attempt at humor, a right that Morgan should not find himself begrudged of. But 30 Rock mimicked Morgan’s act with jokes that did not feature any suggestion of physical harm being done to another human being at all. The result is that the consequential satire that turns up throughout the rest of the episode falls short of having a direct correlation to the real events, which completely takes away from the idea that there could be humor in what was an unfortunate incident. This also creates a delayed watered-down effect on Morgan’s initial apology to GLAAD and the gay community. GLAAD says they thought the episode was “hilarious,” namely the moment where Jordan calls the Glad trash bag company to say he was sorry for offending gays, but if 30 Rock finds the whole situation so funny, then how honest and genuine could Morgan’s real apology have been? The truth is there was no humor in what happened last summer, hence the controversy; therefore a successful parody is impossible and only serves as an uncomfortable reminder of what went on.