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July 8, 2014: Funny or Insensitive?

July 9, 2014

There’s been some brouhaha about a recent episode of “America’s Got Talent,” where a guy sang a “funny” song he wrote about discovering that a girl he’s dating has a penis. It was a hit on the show, but it drew some negative attention from people decried the song and the response from the audience as insensitive.

First, here’s the clip from the show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHt4F3KWjws&feature=kp.

And here is a commentary via the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brynn-tannehill/to-those-who-laughed_b_5555954.html.

And a petition via Change.org: https://www.change.org/petitions/nbc-renounce-and-remove-the-performance-from-the-contestant-ray-jessel-insulting-transgender-people-and-at-least-apologize.

Sure, it’s an awkward situation to find out that the person you are in a relationship with isn’t who you thought they were and you aren’t attracted to the person they turn out to be. And the element of surprise — whatever that surprise might be — can be funny. In stand-up comedy, it’s a type of joke called a turn, where you lead the audience down a certain path and then suddenly take them in another direction. (An old example: “Take my wife…please!”)

But it’s no joke to be wrong-bodied, and I suspect that many people were laughing for that reason. So I get what the commentator and the petition organizer are saying. And I agree with the petition organizer that NBC should be more sensitive. Mara and I recently attended an awards ceremony at the L.A. LGBT Center to see Mara’s former mentee and other transpeople, as well as gays and lesbians, receive scholarships from various donors, including NBC-Universal, which has a strong diversity policy. And the company spokesperson who handed out its scholarships extolled its diversity virtues.

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