When you think about Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, or Alec Baldwin, odds are the first thing that comes to mind is the long-running NBC sitcom, 30 Rock. The show was created by Fey who channeled much of her experiences from her time on Saturday Night Live into the series. 30 Rock is about the behind-the-scenes on a sketch comedy show. Sound familiar?
30 Rock won numerous Emmys during its run but it also made headlines for any controversial jokes. There are some that, if the series aired today, would probably not be received nearly as well, especially as many were already side-eyed years ago.
Several instances of blackface
As far as the off-color jokes on this sitcom go, this is probably the most egregious. Not only did 30 Rock show Jenna donning blackface once, but the “joke” was carried out in more than one episode featuring other characters. It wasn’t the right choice for the show to make then and it’s even more shocking to think NBC allowed it.
In this day and age, there is no way something like that would have been allowed on the network. The character Jenna Maroney donned blackface on more than one occasion, one being where she dressed up next to Will Forte’s black swan and even guest actor Jon Hamm did it too.
The Harvey Weinstein jokes
30 Rock made several Weinstein jokes during its run. One of the most memorable occurrences is in an episode that Jenna Maroney claims she “turned down intercourse” from Weinstein because she’s not scared of anyone in show business.
What is particularly upsetting about this joke is knowing that the entire scandal was truly an open secret in Hollywood. Had the same type of joke been now, it would be met with a far different response than humor about the incident being brushed over back then. That wasn’t the only time the series mentioned Weinstein or his crimes, either.
TGS Hates Women episode
This episode was already met with some controversy when it was released and some of it is written in a way that is clever and smart but there are also several jokes that miss the mark. For starters, many people have differing opinions on the character of Abby, what’ she’s trying to do, and the now-infamous “sexy baby” voice.
Plus the joke she makes about her uncle thinking her pigtails are sexy… ick. That being said, it may just come down to a matter of opinion. There is plenty to like about this episode but it would probably be harder to get it on the air now.
The Bill Cosby joke
Even more so than Harvey Weinstein, the sexual allegations against Bill Cosby were a real shock that caused a ripple effect through all of Hollywood and changed pop culture forever. Unlike Weinstein, the truth about Coby was lesser-known and so rewatching 30 Rock now and seeing a particularly eye-brow-raising joke about the allegations is shocking.
In the episode “The Bubble” Tracy is on the phone with someone claiming to be Bill Cosby. Tracy’s response to him is “You’ve got a lot of nerve getting on the phone with me after what you did to my Aunt Paulette!” Many people thought it was just a joke but years later it is clearly a pointed jab at the Cosby’s predatory nature.
There is a pretty terrible joke in the season five premiere of the series where Pete talks about having rough sex with his wife while she’s asleep. The problem is, what he describes is literally the textbook definition of rape. Just because they’re married doesn’t give Pete the right to violate her body whenever he pleases.
To make matters even worse, the show actually gives us some visuals of the moment. Why the writers thought this scene would be funny more so than unsettling is confusing to say the least but it certainly wouldn’t be received well if it aired today.
Jack and Tracy do therapy
It’s kind of a golden rule of thumb that people shouldn’t do impressions of other races. It’s almost always going to wind up being negative or offensive. This occurs in an episode where Tracy and his family go to therapy and Jack is there to help him.
He winds up playing the role of Tracy’s father and the entire exchange is pretty uncomfortable. The gag is meant to be played for laughs and it is obvious in the show Jack is being racist but it doesn’t make the joke any less hard to watch.
The Avery Jessup joke
Speaking of rape jokes, 30 Rock made another one that was even more explicit than the one mentioned by Pete. In one episode Avery comments that Avery Jessup is hot and was on Maxim’s list “I’d Rape That 100.”
While the joke might be layered and it might be ripping into magazines like Maxim for the way they exploit and objectify women, it’s undeniably dark and offensive, too. It would be harder to get a line like that on the air in today’s climate than it was back then. There were several other jokes along those same lines on the series.
Pete is a creep… again
As if you needed even more proof that Pete was kind of a creep back then, there is an episode of the series where he makes a comment about not wanting to go back to teaching high school. His reasoning?
He doesn’t like that the teenage girls act like they’re not women “but they are.” Except for Pete, they’re really not. It’s a gross, predatory, and supremely creepy comment that shouldn’t have been made back then and absolutely wouldn’t be made now. If it was, people would be rightfully livid at the implications of Pete’s statement.
The transphobic jokes
30 Rock was particularly bad about making frequent and terrible jokes at the expense of trans people. There were multiple slurs used throughout the series, although they did seem to lessen in the later seasons. There were also frequent jokes made at the behest of Jenna’s boyfriend, Paul, and a character transitioned and was initially met with several jokes in poor taste.
Probably the worst of the bunch though is the frequent usage of slurs. Watching the show now is cringe-worthy in some places due to the lack of sensitivity around the topic and many of these jokes would never have seen the light of day now.
Plenty of gay jokes
It would be difficult to track down every gay joke that has ever been made over the entire run of 30 Rock, watch the show and you’ll immediately catch several. They’re everywhere, constantly, all the time. Even Liz makes a big deal out of being thought of as a lesbian as a horribly offensive term on several occasions.
Then there’s the writer’s room where the guys constantly make derogatory gay jokes towards one another. It does seem like this gets toned down in later seasons as they begin to realize there’s not anything wrong with being gay but it’s still extremely prevalent on the series as a whole.