I’m sure some of you heard about the flap last week between actress Kirstie Alley and comedian and talk show host George Lopez. Kirstie is appearing on the current season of the TV show “Dancing with the Stars” and by all accounts has done quite well in her first few outings. Alley has a long and very public history of struggling with her weight. She appeared in two reality shows about her attempts to drop some pounds, has been a spokesperson for several weight-loss products, and went on Oprah following one successful diet to show off her new “bikini body.” The woman has a lot of guts and is quite a hoot.
Last week, following her first routine on “Dancing with the Stars,” George Lopez showed a clip of Kirstie dancing and said “She did a nice job—her little hooves tapping away.” Then, in case his joke wasn’t clear enough, he added, “Before the show, she went to the market, and then she had some roast beef.” Lopez’s video switched to an actual pig squealing while the host remarked, “and this is her going aaaaaall the way home.” Setting aside any attempts at human decency, in what universe is any part of this joke funny? Possibly the one that is populated by 12-year-old schoolyard bullies?
Following a social media firestorm, mostly against George Lopez (himself no underwear model, by the way), the talk show host sort of apologized, saying that his joke was “misjudged.” What does that mean? That he’s sorry he made it because he didn’t realize that being a total asshole would hurt his own popularity? As Kirstie said herself via Twitter later that day, “Misjudged the joke? Is that like a husband saying to a wife, ‘I misjudged putting my dick in that whore?’” Alley then tweeted that she didn’t want or need George’s apology, she just wanted his kidney, a reference to the kidney Lopez’s wife donated to him several years ago followed by Lopez dumping her. After a few more days of Twitter volleys, Lopez (or his publicist) sent Kirstie a big bouquet of flowers and the “pig wars” came to an end, with Alley saying she accepted his apology. Oy.
I don’t watch “Dancing with the Stars” but after reading about this exchange I was curious to see Kirstie Alley’s number. When I searched for it on YouTube, I was shocked to find a clip of Conan O'Brien joining the fray. Et tu, Conan? I’ve never watched George Lopez but I always thought O’Brien was as funny as they come. But besides being cruel, I found Conan’s comments about the "poor suffering floor" at “Dancing with the Stars” (because of Kirstie Alley’s weight) terribly unfunny. Maybe he didn’t write the bad joke, but the Conan I thought I knew would have said to his writers, “No, I’m not reading that! It’s mean and not funny.” Because of my brother-in-law’s band, I’ve attended tapings of the Tonight Show during the runs of both Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien. The reason Charlie and I were solid members of Team Coco last year was precisely because I thought Jay Leno was so mean-spirited in his monologues. I truly believed Conan was above such humor and, as stupid as it sounds, I felt betrayed when I watched that clip. I almost never watch talk shows these days but I was recently thinking that I needed to find and record O’Brien’s new show to see what he’s up to. Um…no thanks.
Do I sound dangerously humorless here? I don’t mean to adopt a holier-than-thou attitude and believe me, I’ve laughed at many an obnoxious joke in my lifetime (I love Don Rickles!), but I’m just flabbergasted that in 2011 it’s still okay for respected, mainstream comedians to spew such unbridled venom at overweight women. On top of everything else, don’t they realize that this is probably the demographic that makes up the majority of their audiences? I don’t care what a good sport Kirstie Alley is, there’s not a human on the planet who wouldn’t bristle at being publicly compared to a pig after being brave enough to put herself out there for all to see and judge. Jokes like this are the reason why so many women develop eating disorders, why so many women lock themselves away from public view.
When Elizabeth Taylor died last week, I couldn’t help but remember that period years ago when the actress first gained a lot of weight and comedian Joan Rivers relentlessly made fun of her. I think the barbs are especially cruel for women like Taylor and Kirstie Alley who were once famous for their beauty and gorgeous figures. How dare they gain weight and make us look at them! Oh, the horror! How dare they not be 23 and slim anymore—how could they DO that to us! No matter that WE are no longer 23 and slim! I remember wincing at Joan Rivers’ Liz Taylor jokes but, to be honest, I probably laughed at some of them because of Rivers’ expert delivery. Still, looking at some of these pearls today, they’re really not very funny. Most of them have joined the pantheon of cliché fat jokes:
• Elizabeth Taylor has more chins than a Chinese phone book.
• I take her to McDonalds just to see her eat and watch the numbers change!
• Elizabeth Taylor pierced her ears and gravy ran out.
• She's so fat she stands in front of her microwave oven and yells, HURRY!
After Taylor lost a lot of weight, Rivers tried to defend her attacks by saying that it was because of her jokes that Elizabeth cleaned up her act and got skinny again. She wanted Elizabeth Taylor to thank her for the fat jokes. Oy, Joan. No matter how mean Joan Rivers was, though, the fact that she herself was a self-deprecating woman, making fun of her own appearance, made her barbs seem less vicious than the ones that come from men who act as if the extra pounds are a direct personal affront to them—that they should be able to go through their lives gazing only at size zero supermodels. Anything else deserves to be condemned and ridiculed.
It’s quite clear that many of the most lauded beauties in movie history would be considered obese by today’s standards and probably the butt of late-night talk show hosts’ jokes: Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Sophia Loren, Jane Russell, Ava Gardner, Brigitte Bardot, and so on. These incredibly sexy woman had some meat on their bones, to be sure, but lucky for them, the definition of beauty during their reigns did not include women who starved themselves to look like concentration camp survivors.
I don’t mean to be adopting a pro-fat or anti-fat stance here. Obviously, people who are morbidly obese would live longer and have much healthier lives if they lost some weight. But the cruelty in most of the jokes about fat women today has nothing to do with health. Indeed, some of the women who are held up as “perfect 10s” by these late-night bozos are probably so underweight that they’ve stopped having their period and are losing their hair.
Why can't we just accept Kirstie Alley for who she is and celebrate the fact that while she may have some additional weight she’d like to get rid of, she feels good enough about herself to put on a sexy gown and dance her ass off? I think the 60-year-old actress is a role model for many. And frankly, I’d like to see George, Conan, or Jay try the following number on live TV. I hereby delare myself a solid member of Team Kirstie.