When AIDS Was Funny

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When AIDS Was Funny
Directed byScott Calonico
Produced byHarmon Leon, Scott Calonico
Written byScott Calonico
Running time
7:40 minutes[1]

When AIDS Was Funny is a 2015 short documentary film by Scott Calonico. The film plays controversial audio of the White House's acting press spokesman, Larry Speakes, responding to questions on the escalating AIDS epidemic by journalist Lester Kinsolving. The audio recordings are from several of the Reagan administration's press conferences in the 1980s. The audio is juxtaposed with images of AIDS patients at Seattle's Bailey-Boushay House in the 1990s.[2]

1982 exchange[edit]

The controversial dismissal of the growing AIDS epidemic is heard in the film through a series of press conferences in the 1980s, such as this 1982 exchange between Speakes and Kinsolving:[3][4]

KINSOLVING: Larry, does the President have any reaction to the announcement—the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, that A-I-D-S is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?

SPEAKES: What’s A-I-D-S?

KINSOLVING: Over a third of them have died. It’s known as “gay plague.” (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it’s a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it?

SPEAKES: I don’t have it. Do you? (Laughter.)

KINSOLVING: No, I don’t.

SPEAKES: You didn’t answer my question.

KINSOLVING: Well, I just wondered, does the President—

SPEAKES: How do you know? (Laughter.)

KINSOLVING: In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke?

SPEAKES: No, I don't know anything about it, Lester.

KINSOLVING: Does the President, does anybody in the White House know about this epidemic, Larry?

SPEAKES: I don't think so. I don't think there’s been any—

KINSOLVING: Nobody knows?

SPEAKES: There has been no personal experience here, Lester.

KINSOLVING: No, I mean, I thought you were keeping—

SPEAKES: I checked thoroughly with Dr. Ruge this morning and he’s had no—(laughter)—no patients suffering from A-I-D-S or whatever it is.

KINSOLVING: The President doesn’t have gay plague, is that what you're saying or what?

SPEAKES: No, I didn’t say that.

KINSOLVING: Didn’t say that?

SPEAKES: I thought I heard you on the State Department over there. Why didn’t you stay there? (Laughter.)

KINSOLVING: Because I love you, Larry, that’s why. (Laughter.)

SPEAKES: Oh, I see. Just don’t put it in those terms, Lester. (Laughter.)

KINSOLVING: Oh, I retract that.

SPEAKES: I hope so.


  1. ^ http://www.scottcalonico.com/#/when-aids-was-funny/
  2. ^ http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2015/11/reagan-administration-response-to-aids-crisis
  3. ^ "The Reagan Administration's Chilling Response to the AIDS Crisis". Vanity Fair. December 1, 2015.
  4. ^ Eilperin, Juliette (December 4, 2013) "How attitudes toward AIDS have changed, in the White House and beyond." Washington Post. (Retrieved 7-7-2014.)