Why does “30 Rock” get a pass on its lesbian jokes?

It’s no secret lesbians love Tina Fey. She topped our AfterEllen.com Hot 100 in 2007, beating out actual gay women as the celebrity who was number one in our hearts. Fey is a talented, funny writer who embraces feminism as well as her sex appeal as an actress who isn’t caked in make-up and wearing next to nothing. She’s the intelligent woman’s hero, making hilarious and successful females chic.

So when she created 30 Rock, we were among the millions that tuned in every Thursday night.

The Emmy-winning half-hour comedy is consistently full of smart humor and likable (even if they are purposefully unlikable) characters. This includes Fey’s Liz Lemon, an unmarried 40-something television writer and producer that serves as the butt of her peers’ jokes. Many of these jokes revolve around Liz’s perceived unattractiveness, which often lead to inferences that she is a lesbian.

This week, 30 Rock won a GLAAD award for an episode in which Liz Lemon outs her gay cousin. Fey accepted the award and addressed the gay jokes made on the show.

I want to thank everyone at GLAAD for having such a keen self of humor because jokes are tricky things. And so much what makes the difference between a joke being offensive and being funny is the context it is in and the intention behind it. I so I want to on behalf of everyone at 30 Rock thank everyone at GLAAD for recognizing that from Liz Lemon’s bi-curious shoes to Jenna Maroney’s heterosexual transvestite boyfriend to Will Arnett’s ongoing semi-erotic business rivalry with Alec Baldwin, thank you for recognizing that the show has nothing but respect and admiration for the lesbian, gay and transgender community.

It’s true that it’s not only lesbian-related when it comes to the gay humor on 30 Rock, but there is enough of it to suggest an ongoing theme in the writer’s room.

In 2006, we wrote about an actual lesbian character on the show, Gretchen Thomas, played by Stephanie March. It was a small role, but it played into the idea that Liz was a lesbian, when Jack (Liz’s boss, played by Alec Baldwin) set her up a blind date with Thomas. We wrote about the episode, “Blind Date”:

The jig is up immediately, as Liz tells Gretchen she’s not gay, Gretchen tells Liz she is (“that’s awesome” Liz replies in an awkward attempt to save the moment), and Gretchen assures Liz, “I’m certainly not interested in chasing a straight girl.” They have dinner anyway, and hit it off over a discussion of plastics. The next day, Liz tells Jack she’s not offended, but doesn’t understand why he thinks she’s gay. He mentions her shoes (which are of the casual sneaker variety), saying, “Those shoes are definitely bi-curious.” Despite her insistence that she’s straight, Liz is flattered when Jack tells her Gretchen had a great time at dinner.

Because they hit it off, the rest of the episode follows Liz and Gretchen’s burgeoning friendship, which has them “making plans to go shopping at IKEA and see a Margaret Cho concert together,” but, in the end, Gretchen is looking for a woman who is into women and Liz, unfortunately for her, is only interested in men.

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