With Caitlyn Jenner’s announcement earlier this year, the talk of show business has become the transgender community. Most people jumped on board, some gave her a courage award, many were berated for improper pronoun use and it was a pretty interesting week.
Of course, some groups have claimed (as they have for years) that gender reassignment procedures are evil and immoral, but many of those groups also consider birth control and homosexuality to be abominations. At this point, making a joke or colorful comment about the trans community is becoming a death trap for celebrities. Clint Eastwood took some heat over a very benign comment (called her Caitlyn Somebody) and of course, Jamie Foxx said, prior to the surgery, that Jenner would be doing a “him and her duet all by himself”. Edgy for sure, but many argue that it’s a comedian’s job.
Comedy is where the boundaries of tolerance and acceptance are pushed. Many comedians will make fun of just about anything because the goal of comedy is to get people to laugh and poke fun at themselves. Obviously many don’t agree, and many in the LGBT community don’t see sexual preference or identity as suitable topics for jokes. Supporters of comedy argue that if one topic is off limits, it opens up the door for other topics being protected. Whatever your stance, here are twelve popular television sitcoms that have made trans jokes. There are more but these are several of the most notorious. Additionally, there is some variation among the shows listed, as some trans jokes are simply careless, while others are downright brutal, cruel and offensive.
12. The Daily Show
The past week involved Jon Stewart’s final episode of The Daily Show, and people across the political spectrum took note, with some happy to see him go and others devastated. The LGBT community pointed out that while Stewart’s career has endeared him to liberal ideologies, he was unkind to their causes.
He made a notorious joke about a transgender woman being named to the Supreme Court, shouting “all rise for the honorable justice Chick-with-d***”. Meant to get a laugh of course, but ultimately offensive to those with different sexual orientations. Fans of Jon Stewart pointed out that nobody is off limits for the comedian, but offended parties argued that no jokes are ever made at the expense of cisgender people. Fair point, I’m open to hearing some cis jokes.
11. 30 Rock
There is some debate over this one and I will try to remain impartial. Some have suggested that Tina Fey is transphobic after a scene in her show involving a previously male character announcing that she is in fact a trans woman, who was dating a woman. So, she was a transgender lesbian. The “joke” pretty much ended there, as the other characters in the show promptly swapped in the appropriate pronouns.
The show 30 Rock has also featured a character using the word “tranny” for a small amount of comic effect. Such jokes have resulted in some debate over whether Tina Fey (creator of the show) is transphobic (along with a few other phobias), while most of her fans point out that as a comedian, she makes fun of just about anything and everything.
10. Ray Donovan
Now in its third season, Ray Donovan is a crime drama on Showtime that never backs down from a gritty topic. As such, they have made a couple of notorious jokes at the expense of the transgender community. The show stars Liev Schreiber, as the titular character, whose law firm helps the “rich and famous” protect their interests and names.
One of the jokes for which the show took fire occurred when a distressed agent called Donovan, asking for his assistance after a client picked up a transgender woman. He was horrified, used the term “tranny” and said “she had an Adam’s apple the size of my fist!” These add up to an interesting story-line, but GLAAD (formerly: Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination) have frequently come after the show.
One of the most beloved shows to ever grace television screens has been called both homophobic and transphobic. If you ask most people, it is one of the first shows to advance acceptance of homosexuality and transgender issues, although some are not convinced.
Chandler’s father Charles, was often the punchline for jokes as he first came out as gay, but later became cross-dresser, and may have become a trans woman. Before Chandler and Monica’s wedding, one of the jokes was “nobody is going to be looking at the bride if the father of the groom is wearing a backless dress”. Not exactly a violent or hateful comment, but still cited as offensive. The problem was however, that Charles was the butt of jokes while being a cross-dresser and possibly a trans woman.
Others have called Friends homophobic for jokes made at the expense of Ross’ ex-wife who came out as a lesbian. Fans will also remember “no-homo” as a term popularized by the show, which is now recognized as homophobic.
8. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Just about anyone can claim to be offended by It’s Always Sunny. It’s an offensive comedy that makes no apologies for offending people based on race, sexual orientation or political views. I have often considered it the most uncomfortable show on television, but that discomfort often includes falling off the couch with laughter.
With regard to transphobic humor, there is a character named Carmen who is a transgender woman who is often used for comic relief and is often referred to as “the tranny”. It’s a prejudicial word, but none of the characters in the show are ever considered “good guys”. They are all villains in their own way and as such, it should not be a surprise that trans humor fits in with the racial jokes and everything else that goes on in the show. The character Carmen is beautiful and has been credited by some advocates as being an example of a positive example of a trans person on television. The objections lie in the other characters’ treatment of her.
7. Two and a Half Men
Given that the main character of Two and a Half Men was essentially Charlie Sheen playing Charlie Sheen, nobody should have been surprised by some of the less than savory things he said. The show was mostly criticized for being misogynistic. With that said however, the show featured two transgender characters; one back in 2004 and one in 2013.
In 2004, Charlie (Sheen) went to the bar to meet an old girlfriend for a drink, only to realize she had transitioned to a man (Jill had become Bill). Initially he was horrified, and this intensified when Bill hooked up with Charlie’s mother. But in the end, Charlie and Bill made peace. There were a few jokes made at the character’s expense, but in reality, Charlie’s ignorance was the real butt of most of the jokes.
In 2013, Charlie’s brother Alan (Jon Cryer) dated a transgender woman. After some initial surprise, everyone on the show was accepting, and some tame jokes were made. No use of offensive words and no improper pronouns were used.
There was however, a pair of incidents in which Charlie had inadvertently picked up a trans woman and had later expressed his surprise and horror. Finally there was one marijuana induced dream sequence during which he says to an imaginary version of a former fling that he broke up with her because she had male genitalia.
6. The Colbert Report
Stephen Colbert is a difficult person to nail down in terms of where the politics starts and comedy begins. Some people fail to realize that his character on the Colbert Report is meant to be a parody of conservative commentators in the U.S. Accordingly, it’s hard to figure out whether Colbert is playing on stereotypical conservative prejudice when he makes certain jokes.
He has made many that have used trans people as the butt of jokes, with one of the most recent being a joke about beef with an additive called “pink slime”, which has the alternate acronym name LFTB. He said that beef with this modification was now considered part of the transgender community, and then apologized to his “transgender, bovine viewers”.
This is just one example, and whether or not Colbert is making these cracks to parody the transgender community or to parody the comments of Republican commentators, plenty of people took to the internet to complain after the “pink slime” joke.
5. Mike and Molly
Mike and Molly is a show that is normally just fat joke after fat joke, but every now and again, there is a gay joke or transphobic remark. It has its moments, but overall the show is repetitive. At the end of the day, the cast is what makes this show; more accurately, it’s Melissa McCarthy who makes the show.
The show earned some negative press for a few homophobic jokes, and it was the standard, calling a man gay and locker room humor. With regard to transphobia, the show has featured a couple of trans characters who have been mislabeled and the word “shemale” has been used, sparking some outrage. Mike is a cop and his partner Carl, spoke of a “shemale event” when Carl spent much of the night crying and using mouthwash. It implied that trans people were inherently disgusting which was obviously offensive.
4. The Cleveland Show
Back in 2009, after making jokes about just about every group on the face of the planet, The Cleveland Show, which focused on Cleveland Brown of Family Guy, featured an episode about a trans woman. “Auntie Momma” was determined to be trans after Cleveland saw her urinating while standing up. Her voice deepened when confronted about the incident and Cleveland demanded that she admit to being a man. The rest of the episode involved mislabeling and a few transgender jokes.
When asked about the content of his show, creator Seth MacFarlane said that he and the show’s staff were on the side of the LGBT communities, despite making jokes at their expense. Hard to believe for many, but MacFarlane is no monster; he, like others on this list, makes jokes about everyone, and any time a character like Cleveland Brown or Peter Griffin (more on him later) make a prejudicial joke, their ignorance is the true butt of the joke. But again, few people care to sift through the subtlety and take these jokes at face value.
3. How I Met Your Mother
One of the most beloved shows of the 2000’s HIMYM was a comedy/romance show featuring several beloved characters. They often brought edgy topics into the frame for episode themes. Neil Patrick Harris’ character Barney Stinson, offered most of the comic relief with his catch phrases and womanizing lifestyle. Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan played Marshall and Lily, the stereotypical, pathetically in love married couple, adding to the jokes.
From time to time, they included a joke at the expense of homosexuals and a few other times the show featured transgender based humor. Twice, main character Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) imagined women he was dating telling him they were born male. He recoiled in horror both times. Ted and Barney talk about playing a game called “Who’s Hot and Who’s Scott” with regard to a group of models in which one is rumored to be transgender. Finally, in a couple of episodes the word “tranny” is thrown around casually.
2. South Park
Never the types to shy away from touchy subjects and offensive humor, South Park has featured several episodes with LGBT themes. Schoolteacher Mr. Garrison had a sex change in the ninth season of the show. In the same episode, character Kyle Broflovski underwent an imaginary procedure called “negroplasty”, which made him taller and darkened his skin, in hopes of becoming better at basketball. His father Gerald, also underwent “dolphinoplasty” making him look more like a dolphin.
The entire episode was an attempt to say that surgery can’t make a man a woman, a white person black, or a person into a dolphin. Like everything South Park does, the issue was taken to the point of absurdity, and while offensive, they have never tried to make light of issues or pretended to be remotely politically correct.
More recently, in an episode entitled The Cissy, Eric Cartman demands his own bathroom because he identifies as a girl, while character Stan Marsh starts to question the ideals of gender identity while his father Randy dresses up like musician Lorde, and identifies as a woman.
1. Family Guy
Seth MacFarlane’s polarizing show Family Guy, has taken multiple jabs at all groups of people. Nothing is off limits. Much like South Park, everything can be made fun of. From race, to political views and of course different sexual preferences and identities, they’ve touched nerves with roughly every group out there.
With regard to the transgender community, there have been plenty of jokes thrown around in passing, but in the eighth season, perverted neighbor Glenn Quagmire (who has engaged in nearly every depraved sexual act known) was shocked and horrified to learn that his father identified as a woman and planned to get a sex change. Dan became Ida and then spent the night with Brian Griffin. Upon finding out his one-night stand was a trans woman, Brian enters a Family Guy-style vomiting joke that gets dragged out too long.
The character Ida has become a recurring one on the show and some sort of trans joke is always involved. Family Guy knows its audience, and has never cared who is offended by the edgy humor and foul themes. People have argued that Seth MacFarlane is stupid or clueless, but it is the opposite. He has made over $100 million off of offensive, humorous television because he knows that millions will tune in for the jokes and some weeks many more will tune in to find something to complain about for the following days.