What’s So Funny About Being Gay?

Times have changed, but homophobic comedy was always dumb and dangerous.

Jeremy Helligar

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Kevin Hart and Ellen DeGeneres on Ellen (Photo: Telepictures/Warner Bros. Television)

Is this where Kevin Hart got the idea for his old jokes about having a gay son, the ones that ultimately would lead to his giving up his dream gig as host of the 2019 Oscars? Did he watch this and figure that tweeting about beating the gay out of your son is comedy gold?

Those were the questions running through my head about seven minutes and 45 seconds into “Lamont, Is That You?” — the episode of the classic seventies sitcom Sanford and Son that originally aired on October 19, 1973. I stumbled upon it during a recent Sanford and Son marathon on YouTube.

In “Lamont,” Fred G. Sanford, the junkman played by Redd Foxx — a stand-up-turned-sitcom star who influenced future generations of black comedians, including Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx, and Hart — has found out that his son Lamont was spotted going into a bar called The Gay Blade.

The scene that got me wondering was the one in which Sanford consults with the family physician, Dr. Caldwell, to get an official diagnosis that Lamont is gay. When the doctor tells him that no-one has ever died from being homosexual, Sanford makes a punching movement with his fist and says, “Well, he’ll be the first one when I find out.”

Cue laugh track.

Redd Foxx and Davis Roberts in the Sanford and Son episode “Lamont, Is That You?” (Photo: NBC)

Cheap gay humor

The episode is full of this kind of cheap humor followed by raucous laughter from the studio audience. According to IMDb, this was the one that introduced the horizontal hand wave that would go on to become shorthand for “gay” on the series.

During the 25-minute running time, characters brand gay men as “sissies” and as “sisters” instead of “brothers.” Meanwhile, the writers recycle gay stereotype after gay stereotype: They present combing your Afro, changing your style of dress, and taking after your dominant mother who died when you were young as signs that you might be gay.

The set-up itself is fairly simple: Sanford’s buddy Bubba sees Lamont and his friend…

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Jeremy Helligar

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa” https://rb.gy/3mthoj