Ron Howard defends keeping gay jokes in his film


Ron Howard is an Oscar-winning director of such movies as A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon, Splash, and The DaVinci Code. He’s one of the most successful directors and producers working today, and he pretty much has his pick of any script and actor he wants. So many questioned Howard’s decision to make the film The Dilemma, starring actors like Vince Vaughn and Kevin James. My problem with the film – as I noted when I covered the trailer – was that it seems like there’s not really any story there. Vaughn plays the best friend of Kevin James, and Vaughn discovers that Kevin’s wife is cheating on him. Does Vince tell his friend? That’s it. That’s the premise. The rest of the film is just poop jokes and people calling each other “gay”.

It was the “it’s gay” jokes (“jokes”) that upset people. Those “jokes” are featured prominently in the trailer, and though gay-advocacy groups protested the “humor,” those jokes have not been edited out of the final film, it seems (although they were taken out of the trailer). Vince Vaughn already defended himself and his usage of the “saying something is gay is funny, because being gay is something that should be mocked” premise. Note: as I said before, what I find even more offensive than the “it’s so gay” premise is just the sheer hack stupidity of it all. I mean, get a screenwriter who can write a funny script without falling into a “let’s mock an inanimate object as gay” crutch.

In any case, immediately following Vince Vaughn’s “this rebuttal is so gay” there wasn’t much of anything. Now, for some reason, Ron Howard is defending leaving in the gay jokes in an open letter to the Los Angeles Times‘ Patrick Goldstein:


I’ve been reading your posts about THE DILEMMA with a lot of interest. In the couple of weeks since you started covering the debate over our joke, it seems a larger conversation made up of many questions about all sorts of freedoms of expression has broken out: When’s it okay to walk off of a talk show if you disagree with the guest? Who is appropriate to cast in a movie and who gets to decide that? Should news people be held to a different standard in what they say? How risqué can a photo shoot be for a men’s magazine promoting an all-audience show? What role does comedy play in both pointing out differences and unifying us through laughter?

They’re all good questions and I’m certainly not the person who has definitive answers to all of them. The debate about what is appropriate in films and advertising has been going on since well before I started in the business — which is to say a very long time — and will never have a conclusion. But I do have some answers to the five questions you put forth in your post. I suppose you’re right that since our movie about two friends trying to do right for each other has been caught up in this larger debate, I’ll have to face these questions as we start to promote THE DILEMMA. I figured I’d address your questions here and maybe answer them once and not from, as you said, “every reporter with a
functioning brain.” So here we go.

So why was the joke in the movie? Our lead character of Ronny Valentine has a mouth that sometimes gets him into trouble and he definitely flirts with the line of what’s okay to say. He tries to do what’s right but sometimes falls short. Who can’t relate to that? I am drawn to films that have a variety of characters with different points of view who clash, conflict and learn to live with each other. THE DILEMMA is a story full of flawed characters whose lives are complicated by the things they say to and hide from each other. Ronny is far from perfect and he does and says some outrageous things along the way.

Was it in the script or was it a Vince Vaughn ad lib? Vince is a brilliant improvisational actor, but in this case It was always in the script. THE DILEMMA is a comedy for grown-ups, not kids. It’s true that the moment took on extra significance in light of some events that surrounded the release of the trailer and the studio made the decision to remove it from advertising, which I think was appropriate. I believe in sensitivity but not censorship.

I feel that our film is taking additional heat as an emblem for many movies and TV shows that preceded it that have even more provocative characterizations and language. It is a slight moment in THE DILEMMA meant to demonstrate an aspect of our lead character’s personality, and we never expected it to represent our intentions or the point of view of the movie or those of us who made it.

Did you think it wasn’t offensive? I don’t strip my films of everything that I might personally find inappropriate. Comedy or drama, I’m always trying to make choices that stir the audience in all kinds of ways. This Ronny Valentine character can be offensive and inappropriate at times and those traits are fundamental to his personality and the way our story works. Will comedy be neutered if everyone gets to complain about every potentially offensive joke in every comedy that’s made? Anybody can complain about anything in our country. It’s what I love about this place. I defend the right for some people to express offense at a joke as strongly as I do the right for that joke to be in a film. But if storytellers, comedians, actors and artists are strong armed into making creative changes, it will endanger comedy as both entertainment and a provoker of thought.

And what do you have against electric cars anyway? Nothing! We have a couple of them in our family including the one I primarily and happily drive. Guess what that makes me in the eyes of our lead character? But then again, I don’t agree with everything Ronny Valentine says and does in this comedy any more than Vince Vaughn, the screenwriter or any member of the audience should for that matter.

[From The Los Angeles Times]

Okay, to reiterate two points of Howard’s: this film “is a comedy for grown-ups, not kids.” Sure. Because you can always tell the quality of an adult comedy by how much time is given to the poop jokes. The film hasn’t been rated yet, but my guess is that the push will be for a “PG-13” rating, as opposed to a more Judd Apatow-esque “Hard R” rating for language. I think Ron Howard was trying to make an adult comedy (like Judd Apatow makes) but within a more family-friendly vibe, as Howard has done so many times throughout his history as a director. So, is this really an “adult” comedy? Or was Howard just trying to hack out and tap into the same audience of teenagers and 20-somethings that love Apptow’s comedies?

Second point: “This Ronny Valentine character can be offensive and inappropriate at times and those traits are fundamental to his personality and the way our story works.” Sure, I’ll buy that one more than I would buy the “adult movie” argument. And I think Ron Howard is being honest – he doesn’t think “Ronny Valentine” is funny, nor does he think the character is a good person, perhaps. Ron Howard is patronizing us, maybe? Because he thinks we will think it’s funny, because we’re so dumb and we enjoy hearing about cars being gay? That brings me back to the larger point: Ron Howard was trying to make a dirty, offensive, not politically correct film, but he pussed out. Instead of being bold, it just became hackneyed (operative word: HACK) and stupid.

Last point: for those who make the “first amendment” argument – look, I’m not saying “censorship is totally gay, and people who censor are gaylords.” I’m giving my opinion, just as Ron Howard has. This is a discussion, with opinions being bandied about all over the place. My opinion is that Vince Vaughn and whoever wrote this poop-filled screenplay are hacks. And it’s also my opinion that Ron Howard should be ashamed of himself.

Here’s the original “electric cars are gay” trailer:


Photos courtesy of WENN.

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41 Responses to “Ron Howard defends keeping gay jokes in his film”

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  1. Sarah says:

    I’m not offended by people saying “that’s gay” and I’m a gay woman. I say “that’s gay” about things. Words only have power when we give them power.
    Second, the movie looks stupid (no offense to stupid people). With or without the gay jokes the movie looks horrible.

  2. Tess says:

    The bottom line is Ron Howard is a liberal and being a liberal generally means never having to say you’re sorry.

    So, sadly, there is a double standard for what is acceptable speech and what is not, and a major factor is whether you are understood to be a liberal or not.

  3. BIte me says:

    And if gay teens had not commit suicide around the time the trailer was released no one would have taken offense to the word, wonder what the next word will be that people get upset about

  4. flourpot says:

    @Tess You’re doing it wrong! You’re supposed to be inserting and insulting Jen Aniston, not politics. NooB! 😛

  5. Marjalane says:

    Heh. I love it. Hollywood’s going to have to pick sides. Also- why didn’t Aunt Bea get that gap in Opie’s teeth fixed?

  6. Oi says:

    I said this on the Vince Vaughn post and I’ll say it again: No one objected this much over Katy Perry’s “You’re So Gay” SONG. It is still on her albums. The only reason I can see for GLAAD and the like getting so up in arms over this is because its frat-boy type humor. The pop star that they gays like got off scott free. This is a much bigger problem people.

    There was also another post a while ago about a show featuring gay couples that was stereotypical and offensive, but since it was a gay channel putting it on there was no real backlash even though everyone agreed that if straight people did that there would be hell to pay. These double standards by the gay community have got to stop.

  7. LOVE ANGELINA says:

    I don’t know why think you Howard is pushing for a family friendly film. The movie’s plot is about a guy seeing his friends wife have an affair and debating if he should tell said friend, whats family friendly about that? LOL The only film of Howard thats family friendly that you mentioned is Splash, maybe Apollo 13 I haven’t see that, I just know its about a comet or something heading for earth. I think he will be happy with an R rating and won’t argue for a pg-13 rating because I imagine a lot worse language will be used as will some sexual content.

    Um when it comes to movies, tv shows, and the craft of acting, and telling stories and art. As a wanna be artist of any of those mediums I believe in the freedom to create your story and write want you wanna write and create your characters how you want them. There are people in this world who say things like “this movie is gay or that car is gay.” Its just how some people are and if you make a character like that I don’t see the big deal, just like with people complaining about nudity in film. Are you fully clothed when you shower? Are you wearing a bra during sex (when you have time to really make love, not like “I have to be somewhere in 5 mins” kinda quickie) so why does it bother you that the person on screen performing those tasks is naked? I just don’t think there should be to much censorship in the creative medium. I am with Howard on this.

    People are mainly worried that someone will see something in a film and think its ok but really people need to THINK, not do everything portrayed in film, tv, or whatever, and think it is ok to do.

    EDIT: Oh cool Apollo 13 is on TV right now. I am not gonna watch it but its nothing about a meteor heading toward earth. I am thinking of that movie with Bruce Willis. This movie is based on a real event. Cool.

  8. devilgirl says:

    Love Angelina- Might I suggest Googling (for quick info.) what Apollo 13 is about. It is NOT about a meteor heading to earth. It is based on a historical event from the actual Apollo 13 mission.

    Edit- Didn’t notice your edit. My apologies.

  9. guesty says:

    the movie in & of itself looks ridiculous.

    sensitivity & not censorship is a fine line…but a necessary one imo.

  10. Samigirl says:

    I’m with Sarah and Oi. Besides, Ron Howard…idk, he is just super amazing to me. He is prolly one of the LEAST controversial people in Hollywood. The trailer just happened to come out at a bad time-when several gay men/boys took their lives due to bullying. It was terrible timing, to say the least.

    I have SEVERAL gay male friends, and they say “That’s SO gay,” more than anyone else I know….

  11. ohforf says:

    I don’t feel the word “gay” means the same thing today that it used to mean. Gay is no longer exclusively a term for homosexuals. These days gay being used in the vernacular, tends to mean lame. I don’t find it offensive at all, and many of my friends are homosexuals.

  12. kieran says:

    isnt queen latifah gay?

  13. LOVE ANGELINA says:

    Kieran Queen Latifah has never officially come out of the closet but many people believe she is.

  14. Sarah says:

    1950’s gay meant happy
    1980’s gay meant homosexual
    2000’s gay meant lame

  15. Jen says:

    When I first saw this trailer, I wondered what kind of bet Ron Howard & Jennifer Connoly had lost. The whole movie looks like a watered down “Wedding Crashers”– as if Ron Howard wanted to do that type of movie but make it more PG13.

    Doesn’t this movie come out in January? Is is really time to begin promoting it? Cause if so, the gay thing is going to play out quickly and then all that’s left to talk about is how horrible it looks.

  16. Milan says:

    That’s gay y’all!

  17. Susan says:

    I agree with the notion that this movie’s premise seems pretty frivolous. And I don’t think people should mock others for being different from themselves.

    IMO Howard should not edit the joke out of the film. I personally don’t associate the phrase “that’s gay” as a slur against homosexuals. The connotation of that phrase holds no association with homosexuality in my lexicon. Maybe I’m an ignorant jerk for having this perspective, but I am sure that most people use phraseology that could be construed as rude by some. Should we also censor those other questionable words for the sake of avoiding future occurrences of possible offense?

    If people are offended by this, they shouldn’t go and see this movie. There are plenty of movies that have been released that contain footage/material that I find offensive. Instead of complaining about it, I exercise my right to not view said content.

  18. michkabibbles says:

    i’m so glad tess is here to push her own political agenda on everyone else. it’s bad enough that every other article on every other site i visit on a daily basis degenerates into a liberal vs. conservative debate. i was hoping to skip it on a freaking gossip site.

    but thanks to tess i now know that, as a liberal, rules of society don’t apply to me, and i can say whatever the fuck i want at anytime. so at least it was educational.

  19. Roxanne75 says:

    @Sarah — Exactly!

  20. icantbelievethis says:

    “The bottom line is Ron Howard is a liberal and being a liberal generally means never having to say you’re sorry.”

    I’m not a liberal and I still don’t get what this has to do with the argument?

  21. Tia C says:

    I’ve said it before regarding this issue and I’ll say it again: Vince Vaughn’s character (as with many of his characters) in this film is something resembling a JACKASS who says jackass-y things. I personally like VV’s films and am a fan of his comedic style. Many people, however, are not fans and find his work juvenile and repugnant. If you like the frat boy comedies, then go see this movie. If not, by all means save your dollars. It’s really that simple.

  22. spinner says:

    Ron Howard has always been & continues to be a stand-up guy. I totally agree with him. We can watch murder, rape & overall bludgeoning on film (which is extremely offensive to all life) but whine & cry if somebody says ‘gay’ in an off-color way. The world has been turned on it’s head & I am not falling for it.

  23. krissy says:

    I find it offensive that both these bloated boorish actors are cast with skinny attractive wives.

  24. nita says:

    GAWD. People really need to lighten up. I can’t believe this is a story or an issue. SOFA KING stupid!!!

  25. Stef says:

    How come no one boycotted the 40 year old virgin’s “you know how I know you’re gay?” scene?

    My best friend is gay, and he says gay all the time. Most gay people understand that when the majority o adults (people out of high school or college) say gay, that really aren’t associating it with gay people. I don’t know how else to explain it.

    Further, if Howard took the “it’s so gay” comment out, I’d hope every other tv show and movie took out the word bitch, slut, c*nt, whore, n*gger, n*gga, jew (in the sense as an insult), rag head, towel head, Jap, etc.

    IT’S A MOVIE, PEOPLE. Yes, the timing of the trailer WAS bad because of all the very tragic suicides, however, if there was a sudden upspike in the amount of women committing suicide, I don’t think there’d be a petition to remove all negative terms about women from all movies. It is what it is. I think everyone here is being a little too PC about it. I love the LGBT community more than anything, and I support every single right for them to marry, adopt, and have happy, undetered lives by religious morons. However, I also believe in free speech and being an adult and understanding the difference in usage of words.

  26. hairball says:

    Tess you really want to bring politics in this and liberals never having to apologize?

    I’m still waiting for apologies from (the how many now?) right wing politicians/religious leaders (gag me) who wave their Bibles and use their influence to discriminate and spew hatred about gay people – only – oops, to find out in their spare time they like snorting heroin while while having their balls tied up by a male hooker.

    Or they sexually stalk male interns in Washington. Or radio talk show hosts who go so beyond offensiveness and riling up hateful mobs for their own gain.

    I’m still waiting for those apologies.

    Howard is saying comedies should not be politically correct and anything possibly offensive taken away as this can ruin great movies. Do we not have movies where men call women whores and b*tches because it’s offensive?

    Sometimes *sshole characters doing *sshole things can make the audience realize how unacceptable the behavior really is.

  27. Randomness says:

    Yay Sarah! This whole PC thing is a little exhausting don’t you think? I mean people should say what they want, you know that whole freedom of speech thing, then the people who get offended can say what they want back. Keep it’s a beautiful, “say what you want” kind of world people.

  28. caroline says:

    the movie itself looks terrible– i hate scatological humor and repetitive macho chest-bump “jokes”– but i think ron howard has a hell of a point here, and his response was well-written, polite, and just tongue-in-cheek enough to really drive his point home. he didn’t make a movie about some homophobe. he made a (really stupid) movie about a (really stupid) guy. i’m bisexual, my roommate is gay, and neither of us care. howard made a good point about taking it out of the previews, though; i understand that contextually the remark might have been less offensive, but on its own, a character calling something gay is always going to raise the red flag from somebody.

  29. Kim says:

    Go Ron! Freedom of speech.

  30. The Hamm is My Dream Man says:

    I am on Ron Howard’s side with this one.

    The character is a jerk. He’s going to say jackassy things. He’s going to say stupid things. I’m not understanding what the problem is. We can’t feature jackassy characters in films because they might offend someone?

    The world isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. It might be offensive, but it shouldn’t be edited out of a film because a few people got offended. Don’t waste your money on it then. I’m not planning on wasting mine.

  31. Isabel says:

    I’ve had conversations with my gay friends about this, and they don’t care if someone says “that’s gay” because they say it ALL the time about everything. The words they have the problems with are “faggot” and “dyke”. Which, I agree those two words should never be used in any way as those are generally MEANT as hateful words.

  32. Madison says:

    I’m with Ron on this one. “Electric cars are gay” they should have kept the joke in the movie. The problem with censoring movies, is where do you stop? there will always be someone who will find something offensive.

  33. bereal says:

    I’m going to go with Sarah on this one…

  34. coucou says:

    I am so liking every single post here! I was sure I was gonna get a chance to bitch (pms’ng, sorry) but every single post is so right on…wow…kudos y’all…i absolutely agree with every single one of ya…this is so weird…did the earth just slide off its axis or something…? Maybe that’d be an improvement…

  35. lucy2 says:

    I’m in agreement, the idea of having to take it out of the film is ridiculous and censorship. I wouldn’t have written that joke (or that movie in general) but it’s not my film, it’s theirs and they have the right to say what they want and portray characters however they choose. And if people don’t care for it or feel offended, they have the right to feel that way and express that, and the choice to not go see it – pretty simple. Just don’t call for censorship.

    I saw a full trailer for this in the theater over the weekend, and it looked awful. I’m so over Vaughn and his style of comedy, and can’t figure out what Ron Howard saw in this project – I think he’s a brilliant director, and I will love him forever for producing and narrating Arrested Development, but sorry Ron, this one looks like a stinker.

  36. jc126 says:

    The line should not be censored. Let the film stand or fall on its own merits – the context (I admit I have not seen the trailer) might be such that the character is a moron and saying that makes him look even moreso, or some such. I highly doubt anyone watching will come away thinking after seeing the movie “gays are bad”.

  37. sandy says:

    i like Ron Howard, leave him alone, lol.

  38. Ketlian says:

    On Ron Howard’s side on this one. I have 5 older than teen sons and they ALL say “that’s gay” If it was meant as a slam against homosexuals it would be different. But it’s not and in the trailer VV states it’s not. Poor timing? Sure, but it’s not like any one planned the bullying suicides, right?
    And the last time I looked, Ron Howard was about as conservative as they come, compared to other producers and directors.
    This may be a lame, chest bumping idiotic movie, but at least Mr. Howard isn’t trying to force his political veiws down my throat!
    Besides this will be a great movie to send the boys to while I go shopping with the daughters in law!

  39. Sandy says:

    Am from LA. Worked in celeb environment. Yes Queen Latifah is gay, and Ron Howard is actually capable of “Don’t you know who I am?” Seen it. It was pretty gross. Not fond of the man anymore even though Splash is one of my all time favorite films.

  40. LT says:

    Making this into a huge issue is gay.

  41. serena says:

    It seems a funny movie. Not the best, sure, maybe a little bit dumb but I’d watch it.
    And I don’t get all the controversy. I don’t think Howard intended to be offensive, just show a charachter as one of many out there, I’ll even say -common- charachter. So what’s the ruck about? Just stay easy people.