The Greensleeves venue in Johannesburg has been hosting medieval-themed experiences since 1974. Patrons enjoy lavish feats, alongside a baron and his troubadours, while decked out in era-appropriate costumes.
There’s much dancing, revelry and audience interaction. A recent patron, Bernard C (not his real name), however, believes that it’s time for the venue to drop its outdated and offensive take on humour:
This past Saturday night, my (gay) partner and I went out to dinner at Greensleeves with a group of friends for a going-away dinner. We have lived in South Africa for the past two years and it has been for the most part an enjoyable experience. Unfortunately, our goodbye dinner ended on a very sour note.
Greensleeves is meant to be somewhat of an immersive medieval experience. The dinner is held in a castle dining hall, with guests wearing medieval costumes and singing old-timey songs. They are guided through the experience by a joke-cracking host who delights in putting individuals on the spot by singling them out for embarrassing activities. It was to be expected, therefore, that awkwardness and corny jokes would abound.
What changed the mood for me is when the host picked me out of the crowd of about a hundred people to come up to the front of the room. He summoned me by saying “Ah so?” with a terrible “Asian” accent (I am a Canadian of Vietnamese descent), and suggesting that I couldn’t understand English. He then asked me to spin around while flexing my biceps, which I did reluctantly. While I was doing it, he said “no, but do it without looking so gay.” Trying to point out the awkwardness of the situation, I made a comment about how I can’t help it, because I actually am gay. Ignoring my comment, he asked the ladies to coo (mockingly) while I spun around some more, and told an older grey-haired gentleman that he was the only person in the room who was finding me attractive.
Caught off guard and trying to keep my composure, I went back to my seat after this humiliating experience. My intention was to move on, because being a double minority (gay and Asian) has taught me that you cannot go through life fighting every time someone offends you because you would be fighting, well, all the time. Eventually I decided I just could not let this slide. This little skit attacked my very identity as a proud gay Asian male.
My partner and I decided to walk out of the place but not before talking to the host about his joke. He immediately apologised but seemed dumbfounded by the fact that his off-color skit had offended me. He said that he didn’t know that I was gay as he had not heard me tell him. (I suppose I don’t have the effeminate manners some tend to associate with gay people). He said that his daughter was gay, and that he has many gay friends who are not offended by this skit, which he performs “all the time.” He didn’t get it, basically.
Let me make it clear to him so he knows better in the future.
WHAT HE SHOULD KNOW
In this day and age, this kind of joke about homosexuality is not acceptable. If your “joke” is simply calling someone gay, or saying that they “look gay” (there were other, similar jokes as the evening went on), then you are perpetuating the idea that just having this label applied to you should be considered ridiculous or humiliating. Having an off-colour sense of humour myself, I can understand that the concept of political correctness can feel limiting and unnecessary, but there are some jokes that are simply not worth defending.
I want to make it clear that I believe there is basically no topic that is off-limits in comedy, but there’s a catch: it has to be funny. Or intelligent. Or at the very least show a bit of creativity. Yelling at someone that they “look gay” so that a crowd full of white heterosexuals (mostly male) can have a grunty laugh doesn’t meet any of these criteria. It’s basically no different than yelling the same thing in a high-school locker room at any kid who looks like an easy target.
The rape jokes and the wench-beating jokes also fell flat, but hey, I’m not here to critique his whole show.
WHAT HE DOESN’T KNOW
Asian males have been portrayed for years in the media as unattractive or effeminate boys, who are weak and nervous, and poorly-endowed. From Long Duk-Dong (Sixteen Candles) to Mr. Chow (The Hangover), Hollywood has a long history of playing up this tired old stereotype for cheap laughs. This portrayal has consequences for Asian males in society. On dating apps and websites we are the least-favourite group. A popular line on these services is “No fats, femmes or Asians” — our entire race is among the top three unattractive things for other gay men.
So assuming that your crowd will find it funny to watch a man being called gay (“so humiliating!”) is a problem. Picking me, an Asian male, out of a crowd for your jokes about how unattractive to women I am and how gay I look is also a problem. It reinforces tired old stereotypes in the minds of the people in the crowd, and therefore makes the lives Asian males (gay or straight) more difficult.
Another tired stereotype he played up was the association of the old white man and the Asian – which affects both gay men and straight women. While I am not sure about when and how this started, the image of an old sugar daddy and his younger (maybe mail-order) Asian partner is a common stereotype in both popular and gay cultures. This association is a dangerous one. At the very core of it, it implies that the value of an unattractive white male is higher than the value of an Asian person.
And while I don’t have a problem with people of different ages dating each other in a consensual relationship, I have a problem with this stereotype affecting the lives of Asian people. We constantly get the message that we are worth less in white currency. How is that for equality and white privilege?
WHAT HE SHOULD TAKE FROM THIS
One of the things that most puzzled me while he was apologising was the fact that he said that he had been using this script for the past twenty years and no one had ever said anything. Well, I, for one, think the script needs some revisions. After all, he does perform it in a room of a hundred people night after night. That’s a LOT of people over 20 years.
As I left, I hoped that our conversation would influence him to change his routine. I later learned from some friends who stayed after I left that the gay jokes went on all night. “Mylord, if you didn’t understand what I meant when I “overreacted” to your skit, I hope you do now. Greensleeves might be set up in medieval times but your jokes should not be.”
Mambaonline contacted Greensleeves for comment and received this reply from the owner and host, Jonathan Gaylord:
Firstly I would like to apologise to the person concerned for his discomfort and embarrassment at his farewell dinner. As I tried to explain to him on the evening, no insult was intended, and that I would be foolish to embarrass or alienate any part of the audience. He even said, before he left, that after speaking to me, he could now see that I was not doing it intentionally, and we shook hands, as he thought that we should.
When I called him out, I had no idea that he was gay, and I did not choose him because he was Asian, for that matter either. We would be foolish to pick on people in that sort of a way, as we would be committing commercial suicide if we did.
If he did say that he was gay during the time that he was on stage with me, I certainly did not hear him, as I would not have continued with the sketch, or at the very least, changed things so as not to embarrass him in that way. It is not my intention to make my audience uncomfortable or embarrassed, but we do take people out of their comfort zone, as is often done in audience participation shows.
The “joke” of the piece is that I ask the person who is called out as the “executioner”, to show his muscles to the audience, and show off to the ladies by turning around and flexing his biceps. This usually gets a little, if any reaction from the ladies, and then I ask him to do it again, but this time not to look so gay. The intention here is not to embarrass the person for being gay, as he is not (to my knowledge anyway) gay. I am suggesting that he do it again, in a less feminine way, even though he has not done so, to get more of a reaction from the ladies.
My saying, that the only person who was excited was a man, has nothing to do with the fact that he was older or grey haired, it is usually just a man who is sitting nearby. It is meant as a joke, because he was asked to please the ladies and only a man was excited. I knew nothing of stereotypes of older men and younger Asian men, and nothing bad was intended.
I fully admit that a lot of the show is dated and perhaps not that funny to some, and that some of the “jokes” are not politically correct. But I take exception to being accused of making jokes about “rape and wench-beating”, these are not funny activities in any way, and I simply don’t joke about it. There is a fine line between humour and bad taste, and I try to avoid going there. After he left the only mention of anything “gay related” was when I suggested that the ladies before performing the can-can dance, had taken advantage of the “gay dancing master” to learn the dance.
I thank the person involved for bringing all this to my attention, and for his elucidations, explanations and suggestions of what I should change in the show. I hope that he will see my side of the story as well, and know that my intention was not to harm any one in any way. And I now have a better idea of some of the complexities of life!