This weekend I was offered two lessons on tragedy and comedy. The first was the now predictable/stale and instantaneous response to the death of Paul Walker within the comedy world. Now the jokes were coming from people who ranged from strangers to me to people I respect as people and as comedians. But I have to ask people who made the jokes, what were you thinking (not rhetorical)? Are you lacking a basic comic nerve ending to actually think anyone needed (just on a humor level, forget decency) a 907th “fast and furious – how ironic” joke. And there is this cottage industry (unpaid of course – this is comedy) of people who hear about a death and immediately blurt 140 characters or status update whose speed is only matched in its laziness. I honestly do not understand the thought process. Step 1 – Person died. Step 2 – Must be first to hacky joke that I am not sure is hacky because my mind is consumed with quickly generating something mocking the death (or know is hack, but because we treat comedy like a useless, disposable commodity who gives a shit if I throw out some clunkers). It borders on compulsion.
Because here is the thing – if you honestly believe you wrote something original and then there are 10,000 jokes identical to it on Twitter within an hour, then there is a chance you not very good at making jokes (or in the very least you need not defend some of these weak ones). That is not my opinion, that is just a fact based on numbers. I read a couple of good jokes (literally like 2-3) and found myself less annoyed because at least when making something you know is offensive you should be pretty sure that it is funny. Otherwise you are shitting on someone without providing comedic benefit. Like comedians who think talking about eating ass is automatically funny, just because Patrice O’Neal could make funny jokes about it.
The real problem is that anyone with a few mics under the belt believes their comedy is unassailable because they are automatically “truth tellers” and on the front line of the defense of the First Amendment. I am not saying you cannot say what you want. Feel free to. But if your joke sucks, don’t automatically assume it is because you are too edgy and pushing the boundaries of decency like a modern day Lenny Bruce. You might just be mediocre at writing jokes. And that merely highlights the laziness, the indecency and the shamelessness of an otherwise lame joke. Of course I have friends who made some F & F jokes and for some it represents a microscopic blip on their overall quality comedy landscape. But other folks I see in social media consistently produce lazy crap that is offensive, but then claim Constitutional and artistic protections to hide the fact that the jokes suck. Like someone who doesn’t show up for work for a month, gets fired and then claims racism, sexism or some other form of discrimination is the cause.
And then, the second thing that occurs after hastily constructed hackery and the almost as quick backlash against said hackery are folks within comedy that claim that self-righteousness, or policing of comedy, is the real problem. I don’t know if any of the comments on my Facebook feed were directed at my comment referring to this stuff as evidence of bad comedy, but the fact remains if you enjoy me criticizing Louis CK, or hecklers, or hacks, or alternative comedy or Kevin Hart or anything else in comedy, what makes you think that something as ubiquitous as bad jokes about celebrity deaths would get a pass?
I have always defended comedians’ rights to workshop harsh or offensive material because that is the only way to find the funny. But if calling Jeff Dunham a shit show is generally accepted among comedians, why is calling a hack joke about a tragedy tasteless and lame suddenly beyond the bounds of the unwritten comedians’ code? And Twitter, as Jim Rome said, is in ink. Unlike an open mic, social media, for better or worse, is a final draft once you publish it. And if you can have the balls to chance a bad joke about a sad event, then at least have the balls to own up to creating a weak joke for exploitative purposes (if clicks, hits or retweets trump “funny” in your calculation of whether or not to put out a joke, you have already lost the protection due to comedians for that joke because funny was not your main intent). If you added me as a friend, or followed me on Twitter because you like the approach I have to calling out stuff in comedy and mocking it, then this is merely in keeping with why you like my stuff. Like I said, I don’t know if any of those comments were directed at me, but I don’t police comedy. I just take shots at bullshit without wondering what the cool kids think. Sometimes they like it and sometimes they don’t. Oh well, rant portion over.
There was a more positive lesson learned this weekend from tragedy and comedy. The fund raising campaign for my web series Comedy Academy ended and $2630 was raised! Since family members contributed less than 10% to the campaign it was nice to see that there are still fans, friends and colleagues that have some degree of respect for the stuff I have been working hard to produce. And of the groups of people who contributed most (in dollars and number of contributors) the most came from law school classmates and fellow comedians. The lesson? Endure tough experiences with people and they are more likely to support you. So the lesson I guess is for you struggling comedians to join the military. Because if the rigors of law school and the impoverished misery of comedy can breed more loyalty and support than other groups in your life for a lot longer, just imagine what a few tours in Afghanistan could do for fundraising campaigns among your brothers-at-arms when you get back stateside!
For more opinions, comedy and bridge burning check out the Righteous Prick Podcast on Podomatic, iTunes and NOW on STICHER. New Every Tuesday so subscribe on one or more platforms today – all for free!