Let's lower the pitchforks for Bert, a relic of a bygone era

Our national debate has been dominated by two bald men who spent more of their lives in the 20th Century than the 21st, making socially tone-deaf comments in the era of #Metoo.

But does Bert Newton's ill-conceived Logies gags really deserve the same treatment as David Leyonhjelm's overtly sexist political attack on Sarah Hanson-Young?

Bert Newton in the media room  at the TV Week Logie Awards.

Bert Newton in the media room at the TV Week Logie Awards.

Today PS makes a case for Bert, not to defend his jokes but to give pause and consider why we might want to lower the pitch forks, just a little, for a man about to mark his 80th birthday and who has been entertaining Australians for generations with a bawdy brand of humour we once rejoiced in, rather than sought offence from.

Newton, born in 1938, is clearly the product of a very different time. His jokes have always been slightly ribald, filled with innuendos and plenty of "wink, wink, nudge, nudge".

I'm 48-years-old and remember being a kid in the 1970s and watching Newton's jokes, along with Graham Kennedy's one-liners, of a similar ilk, on Blankety Blanks. We even bought the vinyl album of the show with its best gags and the whole family would listen to it – though I'd have second thoughts about playing it today.

Muhammad Ali forgives Bert Newton for his "I like the boy" gaff with an after show kiss on the cheek at the 1979 Logies.

Muhammad Ali forgives Bert Newton for his “I like the boy” gaff with an after show kiss on the cheek at the 1979 Logies.

And, every so often, Bert's gags have landed like a lead balloon, as they did with Muhammad Ali, again on the Logies stage back in 1979. The pugilist recoiled when Newton referred to him as "boy", but you only have to watch the footage to realise it was an ignorant faux pas rather than a deliberate, racist put-down of a world champion boxer.

When Bert got on stage last Sunday and referred to himself as an "old poof", I chuckled. So too did the "old poof" watching with me.

I could chuckle, rather than be insulted or condemn him as being a homophobe, because I am actually looking forward to becoming an old poof.

In my lifetime I have seen society embrace same sex couples rather than discriminate against them, something that kept Newton's old friend Kennedy in the "closet" about his private life, unable to share so much of himself with his fans.

I was 14 when being gay was decriminalised in NSW. Six months ago I cheered as same sex marriage was legalised. Compared to before, these are good times.

A word like "poof" can still carry a sting for some, but I dare say it has more to do with how it's delivered, and by whom.

There was no malice or hatred in Bert's delivery, just self-deprecation and a few tired cliches, relics of another time. He later explained it was the term Kennedy once used to describe him, so we can add plenty of irony in there too, Bert being the studly model of virile heterosexuality that he is.

During this year's Mardi Gras one of the most popular parties for 20-something gays was called Fag Tag. While I still find it a little tricky hearing that particular "f" word, there was no outrage from the smiling millennial gays queuing for tickets.

There is far more sinister and real homophobic vitriol being spewed into the public domain by the likes of Leyonhjelm than what came out of Bert last Sunday night.

As for Bert's gags about "mentoring", referring to both Don Lane and Kennedy as doing "plenty of mentoring" with younger starlets behind closed dressing room doors, it was bound to get an uncomfortable response given the current climate. But would we have reacted with such contempt in a pre-Harvey Weinstein, pre-Don Burke world?

Bert wasn't making fun of the victims of sexual abuse, he was making fun of sex.

Yes, his timing was terrible, but there are far worse perpetrators of sexual abuse, oppression and discrimination than a slightly out-of-date comedian trying to get a laugh – and nothing more – out of an audience of privileged celebrities attending a television popularity contest in an industry which has commoditised sex.

We should save our most serious scorn for them.

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