What is funny? Farts. No, wait, that was a rhetorical question. As strange as it sounds, there's never been a concise and accepted definition of what's funny or why we laugh. Is it relief at the passing of danger? Can't always be. Is it about strengthening human connections? Well, what about laughing alone? And how do we even decide what to laugh at? Some people out there don't even think I'm funny. I know, right? Holy shit. But it takes all kinds, even people who are wrong, to make the world work.
If it's hard to determine what is funny, does that make it easier or harder to figure out what is not funny? I think it may be a little easier, but I'm no gynecologist. I do know about some jokes that people sure as shit didn't react well to, though. Let's focus on those.
#4. Tosh's Rape Joke
This was pretty much a misfire heard 'round the world as far as comedy goes. Last summer, comedian Daniel Tosh was at the Laugh Factory in LA and he dropped a joke about rape, to which an audience member yelled out "Rape jokes are never funny." Oh man, have I got a prime setup for comedy here!
So far this scenario is mundane. It wasn't Tosh's first rape joke, whatever it may have been, that upset everyone. It just upset that one audience member. Tosh replied with "Wouldn't it be funny if that girl got raped by like five guys right now?" That joke right there was the problem. You can probably see why, and if not, maybe you have a soundproof room in your cellar.
Everyone from Jim Norton to Louis CK to Lindy West and every blog and website in between has covered this already, and I have neither the interest nor the capacity to defend and debate comedy and rape culture. I'll just say that I think rape is bad, comedy should be funny, and jokes about bodily functions always makes me laugh.
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Ahh, bouquet of colon.
The thing that is significant to our topic here is that Tosh's joke wasn't really trying hard to be funny. It was a spur-of-the-moment reaction based on a funny premise (not rape, but taking something someone has expressed a dislike of and then forcing it on them) that missed the mark. For instance, if someone tells you they hate olives and you make them an olive pizza as a joke, that's kind of funny. Also terrible, because that pizza would be so gross, but it fits in with the theme of general prankery that you can develop once you know someone's likes and dislikes. Except rape is a really, really shitty foundation for that kind of prank. And then it became public.
Tosh could have turned this around for himself simply by taking another approach. For instance, Tosh cracks a rape joke, audience member says "Rape is never funny," Tosh responds with "Tell that to the circus clown who made me play the slide whistle while he finished on my back."
Is that joke awful? Yes it is, but it isn't as globally offensive as his actual response. In fact, that would have gotten laughs. Uncomfortable ones, and that audience member would still have been pissed at him, but the whole show would have had less of a sex offender vibe than it did.
#3. Gilbert Gottfried's Tsunami Joke
One-time Aflac duck Gilbert Gottfried is famous for his melodious singing voice and only slightly less famous for his legendary sense of tact and timing. Gottfried is the man for whom "too soon" was invented and, in a lot of people's eyes, he's kind of a comedy hero for it. In my own opinion, I think his tactless jokes are great, and I like that he's willing to jump on a sensitive nerve. A tragedy needs comedy, and I don't feel like Gottfried is ever mean-spirited in his delivery. Maybe callous, but not wallowing in schadenfreude like some kind of sinister piggy. That said, it's not surprising that not everyone agrees.
Shortly after the massive and destructive tsunami that devastated Japan, Gottfried went on Twitter to share this gem -- "I was talking to my Japanese real estate agent. I said 'is there a school in this area.' She said 'not now, but just wait.'"
This was followed by another tsunami joke that resulted in Aflac firing Gottfried from his spokesperson job, as they apparently had not really researched the man before hiring him in the first place and just went with the first duck-sounding comedian they could find.
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You ever notice mallards swim like this and Aylesbury ducks swim like this?
BuzzFeed took the bold stance of simply calling Gottfried an asshole, then listed all of his tweets to suckle off of the controversy for sweet, sweet traffic, in that way BuzzFeed does. They also posted about a half dozen other articles about how funny Gottfried is since then, but never mind that, we're just focused on the joke that got famous for being offensive.
Gottfried, you may know, is infamous for making the Aristocrats joke a public thing at the roast of Hugh Hefner. It's the joke that comedians told other comedians not really as an exercise in humor, but one meant to show how insanely depraved the teller could make the story. His whole career is a testament to intentional poor taste and hilariously awful things. Just listen to his voice.
Still, if you're in a position to lose work over a crass joke, you need to have a quick solution up your sleeve to get out of trouble. What should Gottfried have done? In real life, he deleted the tweets and apologized, which is nice. He still got fired, and a vocal percentage of people, probably less than half, however, seemed genuinely offended by his jokes. A decent spin doctor may have looked at this situation and said that Gilbert Gottfried has a substance abuse problem. Fortunately he's seeking help, which you can watch every Sunday on Spike TV starting this fall -- it's Gottfried Got Help!