National Tragedies and Comedy

Dane Cook made a joke about the Aurora, Colorado shooting. And some people are upset. It’s currently on the front page of the Huffington Post and the Drudge Report.

I’m not a fan of Dane Cook, nor do I agree with his take on The Dark Knight Rises, but anyone at the Laugh Factory should be used to these types of jokes. This has happened before and it will happen again. Comedians will make tasteless jokes about national tragedies. The brouhaha reminds me of the response to Gilbert Gottfried’s joke about the Japanese tsunami.

Slate’s Jake Shaffer had a good point about that one.

The biggest tactical mistake Gottfried made was not writing these jokes or even telling them. As I’ve illustrated above, sick jokes follow disasters like autumn follows summer, and there’s always an appreciative audience with ears open wide to receive them. Had Gottfried introduced any of his Japan jokes in his comedy club routine, I doubt that any patron would have winced at his crudeness or insensitivity, let alone walked out. After all, Gottfried is a known transgressor. He’s the comic who, when lightly booed for telling a 9/11 joke at a Friars Club roast for Hugh Hefner three weeks after the attacks, segued into a triumphant, wildly obscene telling of the famous joke that’s chronicled in the 2005 film The Aristocrats. The mystery to me is not why did Aflac sack him, but why did they hire him in the first place?

Gottfried’s “mistake,” if you want to call it that, was to tell his vile and timely jokes in a venue that he thought was as safe as a dinner party with a friend. Before posting, Gottfried must have thought, Who but a lover of daring comedy would follow me on Twitter? But he was wrong. The new rules have made everybody—including edgy comedians—accountable in the public sphere for the things they say “privately” in social media spaces. (See also the school teacher who gets fired because somebody finds a Facebook page of her chugging from a bottle of vodka.) Would Michael Richards have suffered the same universal shaming if his off-the-wheels racist attack on a heckler at an L.A. comedy club hadn’t been videotaped and posted to the Web?

With Cook and Gottfried, the jokes were made to groups of people who made decisions which increased their likelihood of exposure to offensive material.  Those reporting the joke are the ones bringing it to the attention of the people who could be hurt by it. Anyone at the Laugh Factory or reading Gilbert Gottfried’s twitter should know that they will hear or read material that violates all sorts of taboos. But some shmuck going on the Huffington Post to find out more about Kristen Stewart cheating on her boyfriend, or to the Drudge Report to see if Obama has said something controversial, is more likely to be offended.

It’s manufactured outrage. The blame for anyone being offended should go to those who carelessly disseminated the comments at a sensitive time, taking attention away from valuable news about the best places to go to make charitable donations. But no one ever blames the news media for hyping these stories in the first place.

With Dane Cook’s comments, both the Huffington Post and Drudge Report write-ups have links to a video on the Daily Caller website. So if anyone’s offended by Dane Cook’s comments, it’s Tucker Carlson’s fault. Unlike Dane Cook, he’s the one making sure that people are hurt and offended in order to make money.

About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. You can email me at
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