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Bill Burr’s Ignorant Jokes About Caitlyn Jenner on Conan O’Brien

Bill Burr thought that Caitlyn Jenner’s transition would make for an acceptable comedy opportunity on Conan last night, and the results are cringe-worthy cluelessness at best and harmful ignorance at worst. No one wants to watch this video. But I did it, for you. Let me tell you what’s in it so that you don’t have to watch it.

The segment begins with Burr lamenting the incessant news coverage of Jenner’s transition, instead of “baby seals” or other news that he implies would be more important. This might be an interesting point, if he were trying to make commentary on how inappropriately fascinated cis people are by these stories, and how cis ignorance is framed as “mere curiosity” that excuses the exploitation of trans people and the way that cis people force them to answer inappropriate questions about their medical choices, their life experiences, and so on. But, uh, no. That wasn’t where he was going with it.

Here’s how I know: because the entire rest of the segment is Burr undercutting his own initial point by talking about how he feels shocked by Caitlyn Jenner’s transition. Most of the jokes revolve around how sudden Caitlyn Jenner’s transition felt to him, complete with lots of misgendering. Burr laments that he “never got to say goodbye” to Jenner (as though she’s somehow gone forever?), he grumbles that he isn’t “allowed” to talk about the topic without seeming “homophobic” (uhhhhh), and even complains that Jenner “never said” anything to him about her inner thoughts (even though his own comments reveal why no one would ever confide in him about this).

This segment is a classic example of a cis person centering themselves and their feelings about the transition of someone they know (or don’t particularly know, in this case). Burr is making Caitlyn Jenner’s transition all about him, as opposed to considering how incredibly difficult the process might have been for her. It’s also worth noting that the reason why Caitlyn Jenner could get various facial surgeries so “suddenly” (according to Bill Burr’s perception) is that she has a lot more disposable income than your average trans person. Many trans people have to take much more time with their transitions than Caitlyn Jenner did for a variety of reasons outside of their control. Again, not something that Burr seemed to understand when making his comments. Also, still not great joke material!

Throughout this segment, it’s clear that Caitlyn Jenner’s life is what’s being held up for mockery, not Burr’s own cluelessness … which is for the best, because Burr’s cluelessness isn’t funny, either. None of this is funny. The ignorance of cis people isn’t something that works as a joke; it’s something that actively hurts trans people every day, and prevents us all from creating an atmosphere of safety for trans people to come out and live their lives.

Worst of all, Conan O’Brien laughs along throughout this entire segment, never once interrupting Burr or deflecting away from the topic. Conan positions himself here as a fellow clueless cis person, misgendering along and giggling, as though Burr is finally saying what we in the audience are assumed to be thinking as well. (We aren’t, by the way.)

It’s painful and depressing and sickening, and it’s also unfortunately a reflection of how incredibly ignorant many cis people still are when it comes to the experiences of trans people, especially trans women who have to navigate transmisogyny in particular. Ironically, this is exactly the type of ignorance that super-101-level shows like Caitlyn Jenner’s I Am Cait are supposed to help combat. Although I Am Cait has a lot of problems, as highlighted in our series of reviews by Marcy Cook, it seems intended as a show that will help humanize trans people and get cis people to stop making such ignorant comments. I doubt Bill Burr is watching, if this segment is any indication.

There. Now you don’t have to watch that Conan video. Ugh.

(via UpRoxx)

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Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (relay.fm/isometric), and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (robotknights.com).