Deconstructing the "Sassy Gay Friend"
David Levy, writing for JewishBoston.com, recently challenged us at JWA to comment on the gender/sexuality dynamic of the Second City's new video series, "Sassy Gay Friend." He wrote:
There's a long tradition in Judaism of imagining different versions of our favorite stories, from rabbinic midrash to contemporary novels. Comedy troupe The Second City has thrown their hat into the ring this week with a new Youtube video in their "Sassy Gay Friend" series.
In case you aren't familiar with the series, it started several months ago as a goof on the tragic fate of so many of Shakespeare's heroines. Perhaps, the videos suggested, Ophelia, Juliet, Desdemona and the rest would have had happier endings if they only had a BFF to steer them away from trouble. (We'll leave it to JWA for the inevitable deconstruction of what these videos say about gender and sexuality.)
If that's a challenge, I accept. In the videos, Ophelia, Juliet, Desdemona and Eve are each about to do something stupid when their "sassy gay friend" steps in, talks some sense into them, and saves the day. In the video below, the sassy gay friend stops Eve from eating the apple.
My, my. Where to begin. "Sassy Gay Friend" very obviously plays on stereotypes -- the stereotype that gay men exist in order to be women's "sassy gay friends" and the stereotype that women are, as it is repeatedly stated in the videos, "stupid bitches."
The first problem here is the assumption that what each of the women do is stupid. Like, being murdered by your husband, killing oneself, or eating the apple. Let's not forget that these women have in some way been abused, used, tormented, or tricked, and calling their actions "stupid" seems a bit like blaming the victim.
The second problem is the the assumption that gay men are the experts at being women. They're better at it because, well, they're not women. They are able to see these situations more clearly because they don't have "brains made out of rib." They are also able to see these situations clearly because they aren't straight men and therefore distracted by sexual attraction to women. Since they occupy neither space, they exist to teach women (and men on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy) how to be "better" straight people. This is obviously demeaning to straight men and women, but also to gay men. In this stereotype, gay men exist only to help straight people, and are therefore reduced to a supporting role and often desexualized so as not to be threatening (think Stanford on Sex and the City).
Finally, I hate the phrase "stupid bitch." The sassy gay friend uses this to refer to Juliet and Ophelia, and then turns it on himself in the clips about Eve and Desdemona. The phrase "stupid bitch" is vile because it invalidates women as real people with legitimate desires, concerns, mental health issues, or opinions. He's saying that women don't have valid reasons for acting the way they do, they just act crazy because they are "stupid bitches." By calling Juliet and Ophelia "stupid bitches," their so-called sassy gay friend dismisses the depression and heartbreak (not to mention the misogynistic and paternalistic forces oppressing the young women) behind each of their suicides as well, silly. By doing this, he is not only insulting women, but anyone who has ever struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide.
All that being said, I actually enjoyed these videos a lot. Incredibly offensive yes, but pretty funny too. That's the thing about comedy -- it plays on horrible stereotypes, is often pretty offensive, and we love it. Just look at Joan Rivers, Sarah Silverman, and any number of other comedians who have made us laugh with highly innapropriate humor.
The best segment, in my opinion, is the one about Juliet. Enjoy!
How to cite this page
Berkenwald, Leah. "Deconstructing the "Sassy Gay Friend"." 28 June 2010. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 4, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/deconstructing-the-sassy-gay-friend>.
Thanks Anonymous for keeping the conversation alive. I especially appreciate your comment "It's only offensive if you make it offensive." You're our modern day Bard: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
I know I'm a little late on this but:
REALLY PEOPLE?! It's a joke. It's meant for humor. I have non-sassy gay friends and sassy gay friends, and they all find it funny! The guy who plays Sassy Gay Friend IS gay. It's a complete joke! This is not suggesting that all gay males are sassy or that women are "stupid bitches" who need a sassy gay friend. I'm sorry people, but if you can't take a joke, GET OFF THE INTERNET! It's only offensive if you make it offensive, and it may not be funny to you, but you need to understand that these videos are in NO WAY serious.
I'm glad someone else pointed this out. As a "non-sassy" gay male I'll admit I do have a tendency to take myself seriously, but the gay stereotypes aren't really what bother me here. There are indeed "sassy" gay males out there and I think the adjective "sassy" is sufficient enough of a qualifier to clarify that this dude isn't a representative of the entire gay male community.
My problem is that the "friends" he is helping are always female. I found Sassy Gay Friend to be very funny the first time I was introduced to it. I continued to find it funny when I saw the other Shakespeare references. I even liked when they also stepped into other genres of literature (from religious texts to children's books) for inspiration. Now, however, the chauvinist, "women are too irrational to solve their own problems" message is becoming a little too glaring. Surely, there are plenty of irrational male characters in popular fiction who could use the help of Sassy Gay Friend, no?
If you see the word "deconstructing" in the title of the post, you can assume that the author is going to analyze something. If you don't like things being analyzed, it is not the author's fault you don't like the post. Watch some reaction videos.
Well argued. I appreciate your ability to see the dangers of stereotypes while you allow yourself the guilty pleasure of enjoying their skillful manipulation. I think those who admonish you to laugh and enjoy miss the point. Your sophisticated level of enjoyment includes serious analysis. The two are not mutually exclusive. This kind of humor DOES have a slippery slope, and it IS good to recognize the fact. That said, it is hilarious, and "No way." "Yahweh" is one of the best exchanges in my memory! Kudos for a succinct and trenchant analysis!
It's a Youtube comedy skit. You're way overanalyzing it. Sit back and laugh at it, then move on. We laugh at stereotypes because we know they're not true: the exaggeration and complete absurdity of stereotypical portrayals is what makes us laugh. Yes, there are some things that cross the line, but I don't think this is one of them.
agreed. that line is awesome and worth suffering through whatever you might not like in the rest of the video
I think you're taking it too seriously. You do realize that no one behind that video (and the people who enjoy it) really feel that way, right? To portray these videos as harmful or offensive just perpetuates the American outrage machine that ignores reasonable intent. You said you enjoy it. Just laugh at it. That's why it was made.
I don't know... In the words of Sigmund Freud, "Sometimes a cigar is just a smoke."
I like the 'no way' 'yah weh' part (on the Eve video) - that was pretty clever.
Thanks, Leah. You hit on exactly why the videos make me squirm through my laughter (or am I laughing through my squirming?).