Rick Perry’s Gridiron Club appearance this past Saturday got uniformly good reviews. The Governor’s roast-style routine took frequent aim at his own foibles and failings, as well as political rivals from Barack Obama and Ron Paul to Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney.
But the speech also included as many gay jokes as an Andrew “Dice” Clay album, and not everyone was laughing.
“I like Mitt Romney,” Perry said. “I mean, I like Mitt Romney as much as one really good looking man can like a really good looking man—and not break Texas law.”
And: “I used to have SO much fun needling Rick [Santorum]. I’d say, ‘Now, Rick, tell me again, which one of the Village People are you? You’re the policeman? Or you’re the Indian?’”
Perry also said, regarding his college major at Texas A&M, “Animal husbandry. That sounds like what Rick Santorum thinks gay marriage leads to.”
“It’s a lot of gay jokes!,” said Austin comic Matt Bearden. “I’ll tell you, I go to a lot of open mics, I see a lot of comics when they first start, and for some reason, white guys love to tell bad gay jokes.”
Choire Sicha of the Awl was especially offended by the Romney joke, writing:
Have you ever been innocently reading a news article on the Internet and had the experience where your vision slowly becomes obscured, as if a red velvet curtain is being lowered in front of your eyes, and little black sparkles with white outlines dance in the foreground, and every muscle in your body suddenly contracts, and then a bit later you come to, slumped in your chair, blood mixed with drool running down your chin, your socks soaked with sweat, covered in gooseflesh head to toe? That is a rage blackout, and that is what Rick Perry did to me by saying this. I hope that he is leisurely eaten alive by a pack of rabid gay kittens.
Bearden thought the gags were pretty good, however.
“Let me think about how to put this,” he said. “I’m actually surprised at just how funny his writers are. Nevertheless, I give him an A-plus on the execution, and if there’s one thing Rick Perry knows, it’s execution.” Zing.
But stand-up comic Chip Pope, a Panhandle native and former Austin resident, was underwhelmed by Perry’s work.
“It reminded me of that kind of Jay Leno-type material that they write on a Thursday when they have to do two shows and they want to go home for the weekend,” said Pope, who has himself written for the Ellen and Rosie O’Donnell shows. “Like, passable, but not necessarily really clever.”
Pope found the Village People joke, in which Perry—presumably because of nationally syndicated sex advice columnist Dan Savage’s “Santorum” campaign—is basically saying Santorum is gay, to be particularly vexing.
“I don’t mind if it’s a good joke, but it’s just kind of a weird joke,” he said. “It makes you wonder who came up the the joke. Obviously Rick Perry didn’t, so who pitches that?…It’s just shocking how far we haven’t come as far as things like that—we’re like the last minority that you can make fun of and get away with it.”
David Taffet, who wrote about the speech for the Dallas Voice, Dallas’s LGBT newspaper, didn’t have a problem with it.
“The jokes weren’t offensive at all,” Taffet said. “It’s Perry that we find offensive.”
Which is exactly why the routine played so big—the humor came from Perry’s willingness to satirize his anti-gay political positions. To rework the old comedy cliche, “it’s funny, because he wants to take away your rights.”
Austin stand-up comic Ralphie Hardesty, who recently wrote a piece for Culture Map about Todd Glass and other gay comedians, thought it was actually pretty subversive for Perry to suggest he was attracted to Mitt Romney, but also a bit insulting. “Like, that’s for us. You can’t really make that joke!”
But that joke’s also on Rick Perry, as the only thing that Texas law does not allow between one really good looking man and another good looking man is marriage. That’s been so since the 2003 United States Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas invalidated the state’s anti-sodomy laws.
It is a case Perry apparently dislikes so much he sometimes blocks it out of memory: as Morgan Smith of the Texas Tribune reported in December, he criticized it in his 2010 book Fed Up!, but did not recognize it by name when he was out on the presidential campaign trail in Iowa in December.
Perry’s selective amnesia provided an irresistible opening for Glen Maxey, the openly gay former Texas state legislator who recently published an e-book on rumors about the Governor’s private life.
“Since the U.S. Supreme Court took a look-see at the Texas law, you can love another good looking man in a pretty intimate way,” said Maxey. “I’m glad to see Ricky at last owning up to his true self.”