Brow Beat

Stephen Colbert Responded to Controversy Over a Homophobic Joke but Missed a Valuable Opportunity

Stephen Colbert responded to a controversy of his own making on Wednesday night. The Late Show host was greeted with disappointment on the left and pointed outrage on the right after hurling a homophobic insult/joke at President Trump, with many on social media (somewhat disingenuously) generating a #FireColbert campaign. As the backlash grew, Colbert’s prepared remarks on the backlash leaked online, and he stuck to the script for the taping of his show.

Welcome to The Late Show. I’m your host, Stephen Colbert.

Still? I am still the host?

I’m still the host!!

Now, if you saw my monologue Monday, you know that I was a little upset at Donald Trump for insulting a friend of mine. So at the end of that monologue I had a few choice insults for the president in return. I don’t regret that. He, I believe, can take care of himself. I have jokes; he has the launch codes. So, it’s a fair fight.

So while I would do it again, I would change a few words that were cruder than they needed to be. I’m not going to repeat the phrase, but I just want to say for the record, life is short, and anyone who expresses their love for another person, in their own way, is to me, an American hero. I think we can all agree on that. I hope even the president and I can agree on that. Nothing else but that.

Colbert, notably, did not apologize for making the joke, only expressing regret for “a few words that were cruder than they needed to be.” He implicitly spoke to the most directly offended parties, saying that “anyone who expresses their love for another person—in their own way—is, to me, an American hero” but otherwise letting his comments stand.

Stranger was the way Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons—a gay man—was trotted out to begin the second half of the show, and abruptly speak on the matter. “Are you feeling homophobic?” Parsons asked coyly to begin the interview, to which Colbert deflected and cracked, “No, I’m feeling homophilic.” Still less than a minute into their conversation, Parsons then rushed to Colbert’s defense: “I thought that was a very strange tag to put on the whole monologue. I thought ‘That’s not homophobic’ … As a gay man … it’s titillating. I wouldn’t call it homophobic.” Colbert said “you’re welcome” to end chatter on the subject, then quickly switched gears to talk about The Big Bang Theory.

Colbert should not be fired, of course, for making one bad joke. But those behind The Late Show clearly thought that the backlash to it was loud enough to merit a serious response, and CBS even teased that Parsons would have something to say on the matter. No matter how they were ultimately exploited for political gain, Colbert’s comments left many upset across the aisle. It’s unfortunate, then, that his show skirted the opportunity to speak to that a little more genuinely and address those viewers more directly.