While hosting the Tony Awards last night, Kevin Spacey made a few remarkably tone-deaf jokes about the gay rumors that have dogged him throughout his career. In what is usually described as “the gayest night of the year,” the Usual Suspects star sang a song-and-dance number referencing all the year’s Best Musical nominees, in which he made several winking jokes about ‘coming out.’ At one point Whoopi Goldberg stepped out of a closet onto the stage as Spacey performed and he asked:
“Whoopi, how long have you been in that closet?” Spacey asked.
“Well Kevin, it depends on who you ask,” she answered.
And, oh, how the audience roared.
In a later skit, Spacey asked advice from previous award show hosts. Billy Crystal appeared and said:
“If all else fails, put on a dress.”
Spacey came out moments later, dressed as Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard, and and “I’m coming out,” before stopping himself.
“No, wait, no …”
Again, ha ha ha.
Still later, The Daily Beast notes:
Spacey continued his gay panic humor later in the show. Talking about his former co-star Chris Cooper, who was a nominee Sunday night, he said, “He kissed me in the garage and shot me in the kitchen. Then we did American Beauty together.” Ay-o.
These jokes did seem a little off, a tad tone-deaf, particularly at the Tony Awards. The jokes were written with the knowledge that they’d get a rise out of that audience, and that rise comes from the insinuation that coming out of the closet is a laughing matter.
It’s a particularly off-putting notion coming a year after the James Corden-hosted Tony Awards ceremony, which took place the day after the massacre at the Pulse gay club in Orlando, where 49 people lost their lives in a hate crime that targeted them because they chose to be out.
Corden was wonderful at the time, reminding viewers of the theatre, and by extension the Tony Awards, as a safe space for the LGBT community to be themselves—or, especially for young viewers, to maybe discover who they are.
“Theater is a place where every race, creed, sexuality, and gender is equal, is embraced, and is loved,” he said. “Hate will never win. Together we have to make sure of that. Tonight’s show stands as a symbol and a celebration of that principle.”
As writer Tim Federle posted on Sunday, and I can certainly corroborate, countless young people watch the Tony Awards and for the first time feels seen, which is a monumental thing for a young, questioning person. “Some kid out there who doesn’t know anything about theater is waking up right now,” he wrote. “Tonight he’s gonna happen upon the Tonys and be saved.”
Tonight, he watched the Tony Awards and saw that coming out of the closet is a joke.
To be clear, we’re not ridiculous enough to really find offense in Spacey’s jokes. Our general reaction can be summed up in our loud groan and dramatic eyeroll after it happened. Kevin Spacey joking about his sexuality at the Tony Awards in 2017 is just… annoying.
Thankfully, we had Cynthia Nixon’s beautiful speech, in which she thanked her wife and all the people who have fought back against hate in the age of Trump, right after to cleanse our palate. The Falsettos cast performed a number from their show, about how an unconventional family comes together when a gay father’s partner is diagnosed with AIDS at the beginning of the epidemic in the late ‘80s.
Moments like those are why people tune into the Tony Awards, and the message the Broadway community sends: love, acceptance, and the urgency of being yourself and fighting for what’s right. Sure, the community has a great sense of humor, too, so they—and we—can laugh at lazy jokes like Spacey’s. But we can hope for something better.
I mean, yeah, whatever. People can come out of the closet whenever they want. Blah blah blah. No pressure, dude. Of course, he IS 57 years old. And it IS 2017. And its not like it can hurt his career. He’s made his money, gotten his accolades, and will always be considered a giant in the industry, no matter whom he brings as a date on the red carpet.
As Andy Cohen once wrote:
“I still get enraged when I think about [Spacey] talking about being in love with that woman on 60 Minutes. Come out, sir.”
(Photo: Pacific Coast News)