On Monday night’s episode of “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” the popular host attempted a series of jabs at President Donald Trump.
During the monologue, Colbert made a joke that relied on a comedy trope Americans have become all too familiar with over the course of the past year: the idea of a gay love affair between our president and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The only thing your mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin’s cock holster,” Colbert exclaimed towards the end of his segment.
The audience responded with cheers and thunderous applause.
Throughout President Trump’s campaign and into his presidency, we’ve continued to see our culture guffaw and whoop at the idea of Trump and Putin engaging in some kind of gay love affair ― or even at the idea of the two being intimate in any capacity.
This winter, street art depicting Trump and Putin kissing, like this mural which appeared in Lithuania’s capital in last May, began popping up around the world.
This art has also cropped up in the United States, like when the dating app Hater projected an image of a naked Putin fondling a pregnant Trump on the side of buildings throughout New York City on Valentine’s Day.
And now with Colbert continuing to rely on things like the image of Putin’s “cock” in Trump’s mouth for laughs on late night television, it’s worth discussing why exactly this language is so dangerous -- particularly when it's so disappointingly coming from allies like Colbert.
Colbert’s decision to make this kind of joke illustrates a kind of casual homophobia that permeates American culture ― even among supposed liberal allies with massive media platforms. It positions sex between two men as doing something so mockable and inherently emasculating that it’s the ultimate “fuck you” to Donald Trump ― because what could be more embarrassing to a man than having a cock in his mouth? And what could be more offensive that being compared to ― or put in the submissive position of ― a woman?
At the heart of jokes like these is an erroneous belief that men who have sex with other men are the ultimate failure of masculine expectations. The “comedy” within this idea reeks of a bygone era where the power of straight, white men went unchecked and people not meeting their ideals of masculinity ― namely women, gay people, trans people, people of color, minorities in general ― continued to always be the butt of the joke. Especially on late night television.
But we have moved beyond that era and into one where minorities shouldn’t have their lives ― or the ways that they have sex ― be the foundation for laughs when we’re pushing back against authority figures and institutions of power.
Because our lives are not a punchline.
Humor is crucial to making it through trying and difficult times ― but that doesn’t mean our comedy should go unchecked or exist at the expense of minority groups.
We need to do better ― and we need to expect more from our late night comedy shows because words ― even jokes ― can have consequences and shape the way we understand our culture and each other.