Seventeen days ago, a horrific helicopter crash took the lives of basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter, her friends and their parents. On the very same day as the crash with the helicopter fire still burning, comedians took to social media and started telling jokes about it. Their timing was breathtaking. One in particular, Ari Shaffir, tweeted a 65-word so-called joke, winding Kobe’s controversial media grabbing, 2003 rape allegation into it (It never went to trial). Shaffir’s tweet stated he’s glad Kobe’s dead, saying he deserved it, and ending with “What a great day!” It was an unfunny joke that became a vicious rant that was both hurtful and unspeakably cruel to the devastated families. Which brings up the debate, should we let the dead be mourned for a proper time, or anything is fair in comedy but not war?
Before I go on, I must say I’m profoundly sorry to all those affected by this tragedy regardless of how I feel about free speech and comedy. We must realize there are many people who are devastated, and nothing should be said to diminish that. After all what’s funny about a father, his daughter and three other families dying in a crash? How can you write a joke about that? Well, how about that age-old set-up, “three kids walk into a helicopter….” If you can’t think of the comedic possibilities of that, then you don’t belong in a comedy club. Comedians are free to tell degrading insensitive jokes and the audience is free to boo and boycott them. No censorship, just freedom. This is not Russia.
Our own “The Gallery Downtown” has comedy night twice a month. The comedians tell lewd, raunchy, cringe worthy jokes. F-bombs fly, but the owner, Pattie Pederson, makes it a point to warn people that if they’re offended by this, then perhaps they shouldn’t attend. If you’re reading this, hearken, I’m giving you another warning. Personally, I like a good laugh over a good cringe, but comedy doesn’t work if there’s limits, so if you don’t like it don’t pay attention to it. As Stalin said, “black humor is like food, not everybody gets it.”
There were tasteless jokes after 9/11 but mercifully not on the same day it happened. But leave it to Joan Rivers to quip, “A friend called me and asked me to join him for lunch at “Windows on the Ground,” a clever wink to the restaurant “Windows on the World” located inside the World Trade Center.
Rush Limbaugh getting the Presidential Medal of Freedom is a clear path to comedy. He got it for spurring hate, degrading others, calling a 12-year-old girl a “dog” because her parents were democrats, and bullying the Time Magazine Person of the Year, Greta Thunberg. So, is it too soon to make jokes about his stage 4 cancer? It’s not soon enough.
Jokes on tragedies are about timing. With passing of time people are less likely to be offended. “So other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” And Dorothy Parker’s seize the moment joke on President Calvin Coolidge’s death “How can they tell?” was hilarious because her observation was dead on.
There was one joke told on the same day of the crash I laughed at and not ashamed I did - a clever joke referring to Kobe’s tendency to hog the ball. “Kobe passing? It can’t be true!”
As they say, everything is funny until it happens to you.
Steven Seymour is a Vietnam veteran who lives in Navasota and writes a bi-weekly opinion column. The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions and viewpoints of The Examiner.