So, if you’re trans, by this point in the news and social media cycle, you will have heard about the Justin Timberlake starring trailer for a faux romantic comedy called “She’s Got A D!%k” on Saturday Night Live this past weekend. And you probably already have, or are trying to form, an opinion.
The first I heard about this sketch myself was just this evening, on a Facebook thread in which my opinion as a Second City trained Sketch Comic and Improviser was solicited. And I resisted reading any of the comments before I watched, so I could get a fresh take on it.
What I got was at least two good chuckles, one of which was a Eugene Levy reference, which, was really just spot-on. Also, a couple of “Awwws.” And the thought, that afterwards I read reflected in various comments, that, gosh, I’d really like to actually see this movie!! It would probably even become a guilty favourite.
There has already been at least one pretty insightful blog post by a transperson, written by Antonia D’orsay who is the Executive Director of This Is How. And though I don’t agree with everything Ms. D’orsay has to say about the subject, it is well worth a read for it’s pretty in-depth analysis of the deeper issues.
So, that being the case, I’ll stick with looking at the sketch from the point of view of a comedy professional who also happens to be trans.
I could break down the technical details of the sketch for hours, but basically what you need to know is, despite the title of the movie, it’s not really a sketch about trans people. Or rather more specifically, the subject of trans people is incidental to the main joke. That joke being, how formulaic romantic comedies are.
Take one “meet cute”. Flavour with any randomly contrived conflict (spin the magic wheel and it lands on…. “Woman with a penis”) that’s only ever really a matter of characters being honest with each other. Add a pinch of concerned authority figure (Eugene Levy!). Stir in a quirky friend (The magic wheel lands on…. “Funny black guy”). Separate the obviously meant to be together couple for a really unacceptably dumb reason (the aforementioned penis), that makes the audience want to scream at how dumb they’re being. Bake for 70 minutes or so and then let the characters finally get over the contrived conflict and get together.
Que the audience reacting with, “Awwwwwwwwwww, that was sooooooo cute!!”
Heck, if anything was offensive, my pick would be the borderline stereotyped black character. Not that I think anyone will complain. It worked and was funny. Which sounds simplistic, I know. But my experience with what people will or will not be offended by in comedy is that’s usually where the safe side of the line lies.
As for it being a cis woman playing trans . Yes, this usually bothers me in lots of other things. However, the requirements of sketch comedy are such that it is common for members of an ensemble to play all sorts of characters they quite clearly aren’t. And I thought that the lovely and talented Nasim Pedrad did an excellent and rather sympathetic job. So, while Lorne Michaels is more than welcome to call me anytime he needs an authentic trans person (Please call me Mr. Michaels!!! Please, please, pretty please with a token trans woman on top!!!), the only way I’d have a problem with this is if they actually made this movie for reals. In which case, it damned well better be a trans actress playing the part!
Finally, I have to say that I find it to be a fairly positive thing that mainstream comedy shows like SNL feel their audience is familiar enough with trans people to use us as a comedic reference in a way that isn’t just the old “hairy guy in a dress” trope that was already a standard when Milton Berle was using it (yeah, I’m looking at you Craig Ferguson!). This may not seem at first blush to be so significant or even positive, but I assure you it is. Comedy, especially sketch comedy, tends to play to the reference level of its audience. So, for a show as broadly appealing as SNL to produce a sketch with this level of sophistication in its reference to transgender people and our lives, it has to be assumed that the bulk of the unwashed masses will actually, “get it”.
So, there you go. I liked it. It was okay, not great, but well done and funny. And possibly even slightly positive!
Possibly. Maybe. I hope.