Michael Douglas, winning his third major award for his role as the gay pianist Liberace in the TV movie “Behind the Candelabra,” fulfilled expectations by making a third snarky joke about gay sex.
The veteran actor had, at the Emmys, joked about the film being a “two-hander” and that he and co-star Matt Damon would have to fight over the “bottom or the top” halves of the trophy — both fairly obvious puns playing on the audience’s idea that gay sex is inherently both funny and a little gross. At the Golden Globes, Douglas said he had been worried his casting in “Candelabra” had meant his previous acting for director Steven Soderbergh had been “mincing” — a (barely-)coded word that’s long been used to express disdain for feminine gay men.
At tonight’s SAG Awards, Douglas began with a sincere tribute to his fellow nominees — all had seemed to have been going so well! And then he declared that he and Damon, nominated against one another at all three major awards ceremonies, had “gone head-to-head” over the course of the past year. He paused for laughs — the joke, you see, was that “head” is a slang term for oral sex.
When Douglas has discussed straight oral sex in the press (which, bizarrely, he has, claiming that performing cunnilingus gave him throat cancer), it is very serious. When he discusses the sort of sex his character had, it’s all a big joke — a weird, surreal thing that’s so obviously funny that Douglas need do no more than allude to it to get a laugh, which the room gamely gave him.
In my previous piece on Douglas’s and Jared Leto’s speeches at the Golden Globes, I anticipated that Douglas would push the envelope again at the SAG Awards. (To his credit, Leto bounced back from a weirdly narcissistic Golden Globes speech to pay tribute to those afflicted with AIDS at the SAGs.) Douglas perfectly reflects a wearying, outmoded mindset, one that’s quite literally dying out; why he took the part in “Behind the Candelabra” given his obvious and constantly-expressed disdain for people is a mystery, but at least his time at awards shows is over for quite some time.
The audience, though, didn’t have to laugh, and at least one person had the good taste to signal to Douglas that he might want to be more circumspect. Matt Damon, Douglas’s costar, was laughing in the audience but drawing his finger across his throat at the “head-to-head” joke, as if to signal that Douglas might want to wrap up.