Bill Burr Said Nothing Offensive About Caitlyn Jenner So Chill Out
Bill Burr has made a career off being an outspoken guy's guy. But if you've watched more than 15 minutes of his stand-up material -- or listened to his popular Monday Morning Podcasts -- you'll notice he has a way of walking back his brash statements toward a very sympathetic, humanistic perspective. He's a sweet guy with a rough exterior, and I think it's a rather ingenious way of compelling hard-headed people into a more nuanced, softer worldview.
Bill Burr is what would happen if Oprah lived inside Archie Bunker's head. We don't blame you if that isn't immediately apparent.
Thursday night on Conan, Burr said some stuff about Caitlyn Jenner's much publicized transition (understatement) from iconic male Olympian to a buxom woman with a reality TV show, and it (predictably) pissed people off.
TRANSGENDER WOMEN FACE MURDER FOR THE IDEAS BILL BURR JOKED ABOUT. MURDER. IT'S NOT FUNNY.
— Prob Not On Hiatus (@KivaBay) August 21, 2015
Here's what he said...
"when bruce became caitlin that was a national news story at a ridiculous level. there's baby seals washing up on the beach because there's no fish left and they're talking -- and this lady, you know, like, oh, bruce, can your olympic back handle a d-cup -- d cup or are you going to go with something a little more perky?
"i'm not being a jerk. i'm not saying that in any bad way. i'm just saying i miss that guy. i miss him already. he should have told us. he should have given us a chance to say goodbye. i watched him on the olympics. i watched him on "chips." i watched him on that horrible show my wife watched where he just walks around in the background. nobody listened to him. it was so sad. i don't know, out of nowhere.
"then you couldn't react -- you couldn't on any level be like, 'oh, my god, what the -f,' on any level. you couldn't say that or you're automatically homophobic. i didn't hear your inner thoughts. i didn't know what you were doing. you shaved your beard off, people are like, 'that's your chin?' wow. this dude came back a woman. he said he was caitlyn. 'so, uh, the housing crisis, the bubble.' god bless him -- god bless her, sorry. they really freak out about the pronouns too. sorry."
It'd be silly for me to argue that Burr was being particularly sensitive about Jenner's side of this transition, but it'd be naive to think that Burr wasn't rolling out the selfish misanthrope-shtick for comedic effect. Making Caitlyn Jenner's sexual reassignment -- an undeniably harrowing and sad and real and amazing thing -- about Bill Burr (the grouchy-uncle-on-the-couch-character) was in and of itself the joke. You're supposed to laugh at his dramatized ignorance -- not Jenner's lifetime of battling with identity and suicidal thoughts. Burr wasn't saying THAT was funny -- he was saying that people who think that THAT is funny are funny (because they're wrong).
It's like how in cartoons the ambulance will pull up to an accident and put the broken car on the stretcher and leave Wiley Coyote there on the pavement all mangled. The joke WAS the lack of sensitivity, not the suffering.
Not everyone seems to have taken it that way (or at least thought it was funny enough to excuse his lack of empathetic language).
I thought it was funny and I feel confident saying that Bruce Jenner -- who's made jokes at his own expense -- would agree that Burr wasn't being mean. It was half commentary on the media's coverage and half self-deprecating commentary on how selfish we all can be in light of someone else's profound changes.
Not everyone agrees with me on this.
Let's take a look at The Mary Sue's Maddy Meyer's take on Burr's controversial appearance on Conan..
This segment is a classic example of a cis person centering themselves and their feelings about the transition of someone they know (or don’t particularly know, in this case). Burr is making Caitlyn Jenner’s transition all about him, as opposed to considering how incredibly difficult the process might have been for her. It’s also worth noting that the reason why Caitlyn Jenner could get various facial surgeries so “suddenly” (according to Bill Burr’s perception) is that she has a lot more disposable income than your average trans person. Many trans people have to take much more time with their transitions than Caitlyn Jenner did for a variety of reasons outside of their control. Again, not something that Burr seemed to understand when making his comments. Also, still not great joke material!
Geez, why don't you tell us how you really feel?
I get the feeling this type of backlash comes from a perspective that expects everyone to openly (and constantly) be as over-the-top supportive as humanly possible -- regardless of how boring or condescending that can seem. From the perspective of Burr's critics, there is no room for anything short of a standing ovation for those of us who face adversity. At the same time, nothing makes you feel more ostracized than everyone having to tip-toe around your personal issues so as to not trigger some sort of horrific PTSD response. There needs to be SOME of this kind of brash talk -- just to keep the conversation honest.
Bill Burr is a smart dude who undoubtedly knows how struggling with one's gender -- one of the most basic tenants of a human's identity -- would be a sad and difficult process, made more difficult by ignorant people who exploit that sadness for a cheap laugh. But because Burr definitely understands more of the complexities of this issue than he lets on, it's on social commentators and bloggers (like Maddy Meyer) to recognize the value of being candid and casual about them. It's not always appropriate to talk about Caitlyn Jenner's giant boobs -- but it has a place. She chose to have giant boobs. That's definitely something worth pointing out.
Burr was channeling a big chunk of Americans who don't have the life experience/grey matter to wrap their heads around gender dysphoria, giving them a reason to listen to a discussion about it without vomiting in protest because it's spoken in hyper-progressive jargon concocted in a dorm room at Oberlin. If you want more people's hearts and minds to change -- especially in regards to unfair perceptions about the transgendered community -- at some point you're going to have to concede that someone will have to engage them using familiar language. Burr was doing that. Give him a break, or just go back to screaming at people who aren't as empathetic and enlightened as yourself. Your choice.
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