Last night's Colbert Réport on Comedy Central featured a guest interview with John Amaechi, the first (former) player in the National Basketball Association to publicly reveal his homosexuality. (Update: The video clip from the Comedy Central website is now embedded above.) As a homosexual myself, as well as a former resident of England, I found the exchange spiffing.
John Amaechi on The Colbert Réport, 2005-05-22. Copyright ©2007 Comedy Partners.
Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A.: Welcome back, everybody. My guest tonight is a former NBA player who wrote a book about coming out of the closet. "Top of the key," "In the paint," "Out of the closet" — I don't understand these basketball terms. Please welcome John Amaechi! [walks over to the interview set] Thank you. Thank you very much. Welcome aboard. Mr. Amaechi, thanks for coming on.It seems that America is unable to get past the issue of "choice": why do people choose to be sexually aberrant moral deviants? It's a question that has no answer — at least in the case of normal, well-adjusted homosexuals — because it isn't a choice. No one, not one single person ever in the history of humanity, has ever woken up one day and decided to become a homosexual. Nor has any person ever woken up and decided to be heterosexual or bisexual or omnisexual or asexual. You can change your nationality, your religion, your hairstyle, and even your sex, by willful conscious choice, but not your sexual orientation. Maybe you're born with it, maybe it's genetic, maybe it's hormonal, or maybe it's the environment of your preschool years, but by the time you reach kindergarten, you're either predominantly homosexual or you're not. Even the people who claim to have changed to heterosexuality by some form of "therapy" generally don't list having "been" homosexual as a choice. Oh well; I don't want to get too preachy in a footnote on a humor piece.
John Amaechi: Thank you.
Colbert: Can I start off here, would you feel comfortable if — I don't do this with all my guests. Are you comfortable with a man telling you, you're very handsome?
Amaechi: Thank you.
Colbert: You're okay with that?
Amaechi: Absolutely fine.
Colbert: Okay, fine. Now, your book is called Man in the Middle, and your journey, if I can describe it this way, through the NBA, was different from other athletes, because you are English. Was it hard being in a locker room with other men who don't know how to play cricket?
Amaechi: I don't think that's my major concern, wasn't my major concern. There were others.
Colbert: Okay, we'll get straight to the — I'm burying the lead here. You also recently came out and said that you're homosexual, that you're gay.
Amaechi: This is true.
Colbert: I assume those are the same thing. And, um, when did you choose to be gay?
Amaechi: This is — that's not how it works.
Amaechi: Genetic, biological — lots of different reasons, but not a choice.
Colbert: But did you choose to be a basketball player?
Amaechi: That I chose.
Colbert: You chose to be a basketball player? You chose to be this tall?
Amaechi: That part, no.
Colbert: 'Cause I think it's, you know, more likely to be biologically a basketball player than biologically a gay person. I just think that, you know, God wouldn't make gay people, because God says you're not supposed to be gay, but God would make basketball players, 'cause there's nothin' in the Bible about bringing the rock to the hole. [pause] Right? You grant me that? You grant me that? Nothing in Leviticus about driving the lane.
Amaechi: No, no, God doesn't say that He's —
Colbert: He doesn't say that.
Amaechi: Well, that depends how you look at that, I suppose.
Colbert: I guess not, yeah, how you describe "the lane." [audience cheers] Now, but, getting back to the point here, you are the first openly gay NBA player; what is the book about?
Amaechi: Well, there are about 30 pages in the book that have anything gay in them; the rest of them is about my life.
Colbert: How does someone with an English accent play basketball? Let me ask you that.
Amaechi: Well, I mean, there are a lot of difficulties. I talk trash very badly.
Colbert: What's English "smack talk"?
Amaechi: You see, I don't even want to try to attempt it.
Colbert: Really? "I say, I say, this is a dry crumpet."
Amaechi: Well, that would be bad form.
Colbert: "You! You there by the rim, queue in the line, or I will not drive the lorry of my ball up the lift."
Amaechi: You can see how it would be difficult.
Colbert: It would be tough. Why did you decide to come out and say that you are a homosexual. I mean, for years you didn't, everything was jim-dandy. (It's an American phrase.)
Amaechi: Thank you.
Colbert: But why come out and say it? Everything was just fine. Why flaunt it? Isn't the rule of professional sports "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"?
Amaechi: No, that's the military.
Colbert: They're very similar.
Amaechi: They are similar. No, I think it's important: people need to know that there's diversity in sports as well as other areas of life, and I want to be the person to kind of bring that to the forefront.
Colbert: Okay, but if we end up being open and accepting of homosexuals in sports, will we not then begin to become open and accepting of homosexuals in other walks of life? I mean, I'm just saying, it's a slippery slope. You'll admit it's a slippery slope?
Amaechi: I'm hoping it's a very slippery slope, yes.
Colbert: Did your decision — when you came out and said yes, I was a professional basketball player and I'm a gay man — did that surprise people, or did the English accent throw them off?
Amaechi: To be honest, the English accent threw them off.
Colbert: The English accent jams America's gaydar.
Amaechi: I think that's very accurate, yeah.
Colbert: We just — to be safe, we assume everyone from England is gay until further notice.
Amaechi: That is the #1 thing that I hear.
Colbert: Really? Is it the #1 thing you hear?
Amaechi: It is.
Colbert: Not like, "Great game"?
Amaechi: No, none of that stuff.
Colbert: None of that stuff? You are in the Hall of Fame, though.
Amaechi: I am in the Hall of Fame.
Colbert: And what are you in the Hall of Fame for?
Amaechi: Complete luck, actually: I scored the first basket of the millennium.
Colbert: Okay. Was that in 2000 or 2001?
Amaechi: Technically, the first basket of the new millennium would be 2001, but it was in 2000.
Colbert: In 2000? So you didn't actually score the first basket of the new millennium?
Amaechi: This is true.
Colbert: Is there a special different nootche — I call it a "nootche": a nook, a niche, a nootche — for the guy who actually did it?
Amaechi: I'm hoping so. I'm hoping I don't get booted out at the end.
Colbert: Okay, fantastic. You once said that the players in the NBA, they flaunt their bodies in front of mirrors and compare necklaces, rings, designer suits: "Sometimes I had to remind myself that I was the gay one."
Amaechi: I think it's true. I mean, you would stand in a locker room, and I've been in locker rooms with people who were painting their toenails in seasonal colors.
Colbert: Really? You played with Dennis Rodman.
Amaechi: You guessed well.
Colbert: Okay, thanks very much. By the way, when you said that you had to remind yourself that you were the gay one, how did you remind yourself? Was it like a flash card? Or do you not want to talk about it?
Amaechi: No, I don't think I should talk about it.
Colbert: Okay, thank you, John Amaechi, thank you so much. The book is Man in the Middle; we'll be right back.
Colbert: Well, folks, that's it for the show tonight. You know, I learned something very valuable in tonight's guest interview, but I forgot it during the last commercial break; I have got to remember to write that stuff down. Good night.
For the record, though, I am often mistaken for heterosexual, and I have only once ever allowed someone else to paint my toenails (never done it myself). Even though I'm 188 centimetres tall, I'm lousy at basketball, and I'm not much better at smack talk. When I lived in London, I bought a book on cricket, but still haven't the foggiest idea how it's played, or for that matter why anyone bothers. I most certainly do believe in slippery slopes.
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