Larry Wilmore's Bruce Jenner Segment Draws Fire: Did You Find It Offensive?

Last Friday’s 20/20 special, Bruce Jenner: The Interview, was widely lauded for its sensitive handling of the former Olympian’s announcement that he is transgender and transitioning to female.

Now, the exact opposite is being said of a Monday night segment on The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore, in which the host used Jenner‘s brave revelations (i.e. “for all intents and purposes, I am a woman”) to fuel almost eight minutes of mock confusion, outmoded stereotypes and Colin Quinn’s Pinocchio blathering about his own “transition” from puppet to real boy.

“Back in the day, ‘Johnson’ equalled man, ‘Ladybird Johnson’ equalled woman: Very simple,” Wilmore said at the beginning of the piece. “I’m just a little confused. You’re saying you’re a woman, but you have man parts. OK, well how are you so sure that you’re a woman?”

Wilmore’s practiced ignorance about transgender issues — and his inability to bring anything fresh or funny to the conversation — seemed especially thudding (and perhaps even transphobic) following Sawyer’s two-hour special. The ABC report, to its credit, included thoughtful information about gender identity, troubling issues plaguing the transgender community — specifically violence, depression and often suicide — and a history of the transgender movement.

Press PLAY below to see the entire Nightly Show segment — then weigh in with your thoughts. Did Wilmore merely fail in his attempt to mine Jenner’s situation for humor, or did he cross a line into offensive territory? Or did Wilmore amuse you — and make you think it’s his critics who need to take a seat? Sound off!

The Nightly Show
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56 Comments
  1. Karen says:

    I find it very sad that we as the public and Bruce as a person feels the need to publicize this topic. Don’t begrudge his need and try to understand it. The problem is that it is a personal subject and shouldn’t include anyone but Bruce and his family and medical advisor. Why go public? It’s not our business!

    • I hear you. The talking panel at the end of the show actually went into this, with the question being raised if the fact that a public figure being so open about this was a good thing or a bad thing, since if nothing else it raised awareness and made it a lot easier for people to name someone they know of who is transgendered.

    • Howard Sands says:

      Since he is in the public eye, by going public he is giving hope to others that may be afraid of doing the same thing.

      • Marie says:

        Thanks to technology & the increasingly ridiculous tabloid media, there’s no real choice except going public. At least the story is now under Bruce Jenner’s control.

    • Lizo says:

      Umm because they are a public family, he’s being a role model for thousands of people (maybe millions)…..and us cis straight people are *always* making our sexuality and gender public. So check your transphobia.

    • A fan of TV says:

      Is this sentiment not just meant as a cover for those uncomfortable with it? Saying ‘why do we have to even discuss/publicize it?’ the same way people wish sexual orientation was a non-subject, allows for the continued misunderstanding of, or lack of acceptance towards, the LGBTQ community. 50 years ago these issues and realities weren’t publically discussed, and the LGBTQ community was inarguably much worse off. Talking about things that might make us uncomfortable is important. Because of the negativity that still surrounds being transgendered, Bruce going public is immensely brave. Besides, as a public figure who had already begun his transformation BEFORE coming out as transgendered, he was followed by the media who were all too eager to speculate, mock, and spread rumors. Bruce felt a responsibility to say something, to own theessage regarding his own identity. And there is NOTHING wrong with that, IMO…

      • Youry says:

        Which in turn obliges one to discuss it. I feel no such need. It is what it is, people have the orientation and/or the gender they have, be it physically or mentally. The question is whether it is a non-subject because you can’t handle it, or because you accept it as one of life’s basic truths.
        Aside from the fact that Jenner C.S. are and have always been attention seeking professionals.

    • rowan77 says:

      There are many people hoping to transition and having a difficult time telling their family because they’re scared they won’t have the support of those they love. Bruce doing this in public is a service not only to those who want to and are transitioning to feel represented and that they are not alone, but for the families and the general public to better understand the hows and whys of transitioning. If you don’t want to know about it, don’t watch. You have the ability to choose what you read and watch.

  2. Dunno about offensive per say, but didn’t find it funny either. Thank god they followed it up by talking to some actual transgender people… Even if you want to call that bit covering one’s ass or whatever at least it was done to try and have something resembling a conversation.

    • Patrick says:

      This was the problem. As long as something is funny, a lot of insensitiveness can be over looked. Unless it involves truly offensive hate speech, the American people will overlook anything, as long as it makes us laugh.

    • Lenny Zenith says:

      Good point. I found the panel discussion sincere in its humanity

  3. Grunt says:

    Eh, it’s par for the course for the Nightly Show, really. The show is very very uneven, partly due to weak writing, sophomoric humor, & anemic editing, and as much as I liked Wilmore during the Daily Show days, he just doesn’t have the presence or the voice necessary to carry such a flawed program.

    (also, when you bring in comedians to fill a panel up, better bring in someone who’s actually funny, and not someone who thinks “I’m not for the death penalty, I’d rather have terrorists be forced to get a sex change, and then get raped in prison for the rest of their life” is funny)

    • Sheila says:

      I generally like Larry, but the bits where he talks to one of the painfully unfunny staff members drives the whole show into the ground. And it seems like he has one guest who is trying too hard to be funny and ruins the panel discussion. I really wanted to like his show.

  4. Scotty2Hotty says:

    Last year everyone could make fun of Bruce Jenner and it was fine…but now that he’s transgendered, it seems like he’s off limits now. Very hypocritcal. I fully support LGBT+ but I also support people making fun of ANYONE they want. No one should be off limits. That just makes them seem abnormal. If you can make fun of a man for being weird, you can make fun of same man for being weird even when the man transitions into a woman

    • Anna says:

      Not the same – we live in a world in which transgender people (especially trans women) have to deal with higher murder rates, higher sexual assault rates, higher unemployment rates, higher housing discrimination rates, higher job discrimination rates, higher homelessness rates, and more than the general public (and even other disenfranchised populations). A National LGBTQ Task Force study from 2011 found that around 15-16% of trans people of color have been PHYSICALLY assaulted at work. At WORK! Not even touching on what happens when they are out in the street!

      It’s not cool to mock a group that is struggling not just for equality, but the ability to actual live safe lives. Until that is achieved, a lot of people are going to fight back against mocking this particular group of people.

      And Bruce Jenner isn’t off limits – but he should be mocked for marrying into the Kardashians, not for being trans. Keep mocking him for the Kardashian thing!

    • Anna says:

      And I re-read your comment after I posted mine and realized that I read that last sentence wrong – you didn’t ask why you can’t make fun of someone for their transition – whoops! Sorry about that! Ignore me, haha.

  5. Dude says:

    It’s simple, if you’re gonna make fun of sensitive topics, it better be damn funny. The more sensitive the topic, the funnier it has to be. His biggest crime is that those jokes were painfully unfunny and horribly outdated. Did he write them when Bruce was an Olympian?

  6. ninamags says:

    Larry Wilmore was confused about the interview because it really made no sense. Jenner says he is NOT gay. Later he says he is attracted to women. Well, Bruce if you are going to become a woman and you will continue to be attracted to women, guess what? That makes you GAY.

    Later on he says he is asexual, whuuut??? Many people found this interview bizarre.

    • Patty says:

      I think, because Bruce Jenner was still presenting himself as a man (for the last time), and because people still thought of him as a man, that’s why he said he was not gay (man attracted to women). However, now that the interview is over and Jenner is going to present himself as a woman from now one…she (Jenner) would most likely be considered gay or a lesbian, should she decide to pursue a relationship. Because she’s focusing on other things now, I think that’s why she said “asexual”, as in, she’s not thinking about any of that stuff now, so she has no interest in anyone. People may have found the interview bizarre because they’re not aware of the many issues transgender people face. It is confusing, but hopefully, we, as a people, can strive for better understanding.

  7. juan reyes says:

    nothing wrong with this sketch,at all ,and don’t u tell me what to think or say or write much less DO ok mr. big brother

    • mamamitzvah says:

      Just saying that I do not think Michael was telling anyone what to think, say, write or do. I think he was asking people for their opinion. Plain & simple.
      I honestly believe that our society suffers from too much information syndrome. I do not claim to understand the Kardashians or the Jenners or any of the LOOK AT ME people cluttering our TVs, movies, magazines and newspapers. Does anyone believe in privacy anymore? Do what you want in your bedroom as long as you are consenting adults. Why does everything have to be put out there for everyone to see?

    • mamamitzvah says:

      Additionally, whatever your sexual preference, do and say in public only what you would want your children to see and hear.

  8. Lizo says:

    It wasn’t “perhaps” transphobic; it was straight up, clear cut transphobic.

  9. Mikey says:

    Slezak – You’re not telling the full story. You left out how the rest of his show was dedicated to talking about trans issues, and that he featured two trans guests in the discussion. That’s twice as many as Diane Sawyer interviewed. One had his own segment, which is unusual for the Nightly Show. The show as a whole was more positive to trans issues than anything else seen last night. It’s disingenuous to tell only part of the story. Larry is a comedian, playing a part, much like Colbert did. Playing ignorant up front, he opened the discussion later in the show.

    • KatsMom says:

      That’s how I saw it too. Larry was playing the dumb guy asking all the questions so that the trans folks surrounding him last night could set the record straight.

    • Becky says:

      I agree with this. Watch the whole show, report on the whole show. Talking only about this part is not fair or informative.

    • Luna says:

      The panel afterwards was just as cringe-worthy, especially when he said the t-word after being told that it was pretty much hate speech.

  10. Yup, had to turn it off. May be my last time watching.

  11. Tom says:

    Didn’t watch the interview because honestly I don’t care about it. So he’s transitioning to a woman, big deal. Why is it even an issue in this day and age, aren’t there other things to be worrying about?

    • Dysturbed says:

      I agree that it shouldn’t be an issue or a big deal, but considering how many people call those who transition “freak” and other cruel words, it is clear that it is an issue. Most of us can never fully comprehend it, but by making it an “issue” through things like Bruce Jenner’s interview, people will hopefully will eventually have at least some degree of understanding.

  12. Daisy says:

    He is an ass hole. Why is he making a joke out of Bruce. Remember ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’

  13. fairmont1955 says:

    I didn’t see it as mocking Bruce or the issue, but rather the ignorance of the public and where our minds go to with questions. As one of the panelists said, why is it OK to openly ask transgender people what’s “under the hood” and that it’s highly offensive. It was an uneven episode and the panel portion was a terrific discussion that, as a straight person, I really appreciated as it was a good learning opp.

  14. rowan77 says:

    This was a misstep plain and simple. Not only did the comedy land with a tone-deaf thud, event eh pacing of delivery was slow and halting, as if they knew part way in it was a mistake, but that had to finish it because that was the segment scheduled.

  15. TV Gord says:

    Who (other than Michael) is actually criticizing it? No one is cited in this article. Is this a news story or an editorial. There was a time when they were two different things.

    • TV Gord says:

      Sorry, I made a mistake and didn’t end the third sentence with a question mark (although the question is rhetorical, so I suppose I can rationalize my mistake that way). ;-)

  16. Ron says:

    I’ve just never found Wilmore funny at all. Not even when he was on TDS. He occasionally gets a chuckle out of me, but on the whole he’s just not funny at all. That’s why I was disappointed when he got a show to replace Colbert. However, out of fairness, I gave TNS a chance. I think I tried it for roughly two weeks (way more than I should’ve). It was awful, unfunny, and just downright annoying at times. Whether this was transphobic or just a “joke” that was very poorly executed, I don’t know. But somehow, I wouldn’t be surprised either way.

  17. EspoLady says:

    I’m surprised.
    Really?
    It’s like when people would be upset with Colbert for making fun of something, when he in actuality was making fun of people who think that way.
    Surely, we know from his past work, and the rest of that episode that he was not making light of transgendered people.

  18. EspoLady says:

    Argh. Let’s see if this get posted this time…
    I really get the feel that this is supposed to be like Colbert for making fun of something, when he in actuality was making fun of people who think that way.
    Surely, we know from his past work, and the rest of that episode that he was not making light of transgendered people… right?

  19. Cheeto says:

    I blame Colin Quinn, he’s the opposite of funny.

  20. liame says:

    Not all Transgender people are going to have the love and support Bruce is now receiving. It’s a complicated world where good and evil exist and people are going to agree and disagree on the subject of Bruce going public, but hopefully this will help those still struggling with their truth and have a positive support system behind them. I find it striking that people are so close minded and unwilling to accept people who are different from them, that brain scar has ruined this world without a doubt.

  21. wjm980 says:

    Sounds like a desperate attempt at some buzz for the show. Since Colbert left, there has been little to no media attention for Wilmore’s show.

  22. Ricky Lee Jones says:

    There’s always at least one insensitive idiot with an opinion

  23. Eris says:

    It’s not funny, and mildly transphobic. But I think that comes from ignorance rather than malice.

  24. bryan says:

    Larry always makes jokes and makes light of LGBT issues, the whole segment was a joke. Other instances were another episode where he was talking about protests to allow LGBT people to march in the St Patrick’s day parade. While on that topic, he interjected with something along the lines of “oh my people are trying to not get shot, your people just want to march in a parade”.

  25. dman6015 says:

    “Did You Find It Offensive?” No, I find Larry Wilmore offensive.

  26. Tammy says:

    To me Larry was coming across as “middle America” and trying to voice maybe their thoughts/concerns. It was kind of a dumbing down of the subject to me. I agree with others, it wasn’t very funny. But it’s a comedy show on a network that even has Comedy in it’s name so shouldn’t we just write this off as comedy? Funny or not, it’s still comedy.

    Larry has been hit or miss some nights with his show but I still enjoy it, especially the panel discussions. It’s the skits that bore me. Even on the Daily Show, the skits bore me.

    They have been trying to tweak his show and it might be a while before they find the right mix. I like that Larry has tackled some topics that others won’t or has approached them in a way others won’t. Bruce was confusing in his interview. He did say things that made for some funny jokes by comedians. We don’t have to wear kid gloves just because it’s Bruce Jenner.

  27. WonderWaage says:

    It’s a comedy show, take a breather.

  28. Derision says:

    I’ve known since the age of 3 that I’m a T-REX stuck in a male body!

    If you don’t agree with my belief that is DINOPHOBIA!!

  29. Nou Neim says:

    Pfffthahaha, Larry Wilmore is a genius.

  30. ilcorago says:

    I don’t know what Larry Wilmore’s intention was, but this was SO offensive. Trans people have enough to deal with without this mindless and hackneyed attempt at humor. In a society where transgender people are seen as appropriate targets of violence just because of who they are, this crossed a line. Bad job, Mr. Wilmore, very, very bad job.

  31. kenneth says:

    The first problem was that there is/was nothing humorous about Jenner’s revelation. The courage that it took to come out and announce this change is to be lauded especially when people are killing themselves because they can’t cope with the hate and rejection they receive. It was childish to even bring it up, and I hope Wilmore realizes. Sometimes things just aren’t to be joked about.