When Jokes Go Bad, Part II
When is it too soon?
Recently, comedian Dane Cook made headlines with his “joke” that poked fun at the Aurora shooting. The joke played on his disappointment in “The Dark Knight Rises.” His punch line can be summarized as: “the people in the theater probably thought the movie was so bad that they were thinking just shoot me.” Of course, the video of the joke (performed at the Laugh Factory) immediately went viral; it was quickly answered with public outrage. Dane Cook promptly responded with a public apology, claiming that he made a bad judgment call. No shit, Sherlock.
People would characterize this type of joke as a “Too Soon Joke,” concluding that it was too soon for Dane Cook to make a joke about the massacre. But, does a formula exist for jokes of this kind? Is there a definitive time period after which the matter can be spoken of lightheartedly?
Obviously, there is no all-encompassing book of joke etiquette; there is not a sole authority on whether or not a joke is “Too Soon.” But I would like to respond to this inquiry by asking, when is it ever okay to disrespect a human life?
I think it is sad that some people lack the creativity to make up jokes that do not contain punch lines of death or misery. Not sure if it’s too soon? Put yourself in the shoes of those involved in [insert celebrity death, massacre, etc]. Think of those who lost loved ones in the Aurora massacre: if your mother died in the shooting, would you find yourself laughing at Dane Cooks joke? Or, jokes that poke fun at horrific events, like rape or suicide... you never really know who you're talking to, realize that everyone has a background and that those kind of subjects? Well, they aren't quite laugh-out-loud funny anyway. Treat others the way you would want to be treated. Easy as that.
In the past 3 years, the public has witnessed the passing of many international superstars such as Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, and Whitney Houston. I specifically remember seeing a post on my Facebook newsfeed following the death of Amy Winehouse that enraged me. It said something along the lines of,
“Congratulations Amy. You have been sober for a whole 24 hours.”
Whatever recreational habits Amy had, I am pretty sure that she still had more brain cells than this girl. The ignorance that could inspire these kind of jokes shows how little of life's sadness some people know.
The moral of the story is that if you’re unsure as to whether or not the joke is "too soon"---just drop it and get some new material. I don’t think that death is funny. I think that most people would agree. There is enough irony and hypocrisy in our society to provide comedic material for centuries to come. Read the newspaper. Make jokes around personal anecdotes. Make shit up. If you feel that you need to make a joke that’s too soon or just plain offensive in order to impress others, well, then its probably time to get some new friends.
Again, these are just my limits. People differ in their sense of humor, sure, but with people you don’t know well, its better to err on the side of caution. When trying to judge the appropriateness of a joke, use your instinct. If you find yourself thinking twice, don't make the joke. And, if you find yourself thinking afterward, "oops, that was kind of mean," don't make it again or clarify that it was distasteful.