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Did you hear the one about ‘Brokeback’?

Are the jokes about the gay cowboy movie harmless fun or homophobic?
/ Source: The Associated Press

Some of the “Top Ten Signs You’re a Gay Cowboy,” courtesy of David Letterman:

  • You enjoy ridin’, ropin’ and redecoratin’.
  • Instead of a saloon, you prefer a salon.
  • Native Americans refer to you as “Dances With Men.”

Is the bottomless font of “Brokeback Mountain” humor — late-night monologues, fake Internet movie trailers, movie poster imitations — harmless and fun, or insulting?

Most gay groups find it fairly benign, and note that in any case, the movie’s overwhelming publicity can only be a good thing.

“Some of the humor may be insensitive, but even that has spurred positive conversation,” says Susanne Salkind of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest national gay rights group.

But Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, says he’s sick of it: “It may be funny, but there is a real element of homophobia. It’s making jabs about sex between gay men.”

Jay Leno made at least 15 “Brokeback” jokes in January. Many were references to gay sex. One that wasn’t: “The cold weather continues to spread across the United States. In fact, down south it was so cold people were shaking like Jerry Falwell watching “Brokeback Mountain.”

The Internet is saturated with “Brokeback” imitations. One of the best is a fake movie trailer called “Brokeback to the Future,” which uses deftly edited shots from Michael J. Fox’s “Back to the Future” to make it look like Marty McFly and that wacky Dr. Emmett Brown are falling in love. There’s also “Top Gun 2: Brokeback Squadron,” with Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer.

And then there are the poster imitations. Like “Kickback Mountain,” with the faces of indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Rep. Tom DeLay superimposed over those of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Andy Borowitz, author of The Borowitz, says people get insulted by everything — “so the safest bet is to make jokes about everything.”

Besides, he says, “I run into so few gay cowboys in Manhattan. So I think if I’m at a cocktail party and I make a good ‘Brokeback’ joke, I’ll be safe. I guess if I were on a ranch and there were a few strong, silent types, I’d be careful.”

Of the movie’s iconic line, “I wish I knew how to quit you,” Borowitz says he’s “hoping it’ll become the new ‘Show me the money.”’

Paul Rudnick, a playwright and comedy writer, sees the humor as coming from heterosexual men who are both fascinated and very uncomfortable with the content of the movie.

“They’re not quite sure what to make of it,” says Rudnick, who is gay. “They know their wives are going to fall in love with the movie, and with the men in it.”

Rudnick hasn’t written about “Brokeback” yet — but only because he’d have to find something really original.

“Just joking about a gay cowboy isn’t enough anymore,” Rudnick says. “If you’re going to joke about it now, you really have to be up to the challenge.”