Recent events in Japan, Libya, Bahrain, Tunisia, Egypt, and Wisconsin have led many comedians, both by trade and self-appointment, to spout off jokes that toe the line of uncouth. Gilbert Gottfried found out that the line is not as well defined as he thought a little too late. As a frequent participant in these activities myself, I wonder if there is an art to telling jokes “too soon.” First, I will delve into the recent Gottfried controversy about his Twitter comments and the subsequent backlash across many cultures. Posing theories to the questions like “have we blurred the lines in the din of Twitter and Facebook between popularity and significance?” and “Do we expect those we follow in one arena to be role models in all facets of culture and politics?” Finally, I will pose a series of less remembered comments for you digest and share your opinions.
We'll start with the most infamous of the jokes so far, Gottfried's quip about the recent double tragedy in Japan. He tweeted “Japan is really advanced. They don't go to the beach. The beach comes to them.” Funny, yes. Inappropriate, we'll see. Obviously, something like this can be filtered many different ways. If the tsunami or the earthquake in Japan directly affected you, then you would be more apt to holler out “too soon!” If you are an overly sensitive attention-craving neo-conservative with no sense of humor, then you might also be on the side of anti-Gottfried. However, once you take into consideration that Gottfried is a life-long stand up comedian who has made his living by telling cutting-edge jokes, this doesn't seem all that out of character. I agree with AFLAC's choice to remove him as the voice of the Duck on their long running commercial series. But only because it was a business decision, and multinational companies have to worry about public relations more than stand up comedians do. When Gottfried chose to move from the 1st Amendment protected world of stand up comedy to the ultra-sensitive world of corporate advertising, he had to know that one day need to compromise one for another. I am glad he chose to compromise his meal ticket rather than his true talent of comedy.
Keep in mind, Gottfried wasn't the only person to make fun of the Japanese disaster. He was just the most famous person to suffer consequences (probably the first time Gottfried was the most famous person to do anything). 50 Cent, a virtuoso at using social networking to further his own agenda to rule the world, without ever mastering a single written language, also had something to say about Japan. His Tweet, “Look this is very serious people I had to evacuate all my hoe's from LA, Hawaii and Japan. I had to do it. Lol.” was mentioned in some stories, but not treated with nearly as much fanfare as Gottfried's comment. Was it because of the Twitter-approved lack of grammar? Was his “LOL” a get out jail free card? Or was it that nobody really takes 50 Cent's tweets with serious cultural significance? I would normally have sided with the last one of those three. Except, I had read a story just a couple of months ago, where a series of Tweets by 50 cent led to a small company's stock H&H Holdings, going up 290% in a single day. He was asked to delete those Tweets, and the stock has leveled off. However, there is an investigation pending by the Securities and Exchange Commission to decide if there was anything unlawful in his actions. So, 50 Cent does have cultural and economic significance. That being said, why hasn't his record company issued an apology? And why haven’t his endorsements come under fire? It is not because his comments were in the “too soon” category. It is because they weren't funny or witty. Gottfried's however, were a little bit of both.
I thought back to the Comedy Central Roast of Hugh Hefner that took place just three weeks after September 11th, 2001. A “roast” is known for its affinity to bring up all things lewd, crude and socially unacceptable. This time was no different. Gottfried was on the dais to perform that night. He stood behind the podium and joked that he had intended to catch a plane, but “they said they have to connect with the Empire State Building first.” The crowd did not know how to react. Some people let out faint calls of “boo” while others shouted out “too soon!” Gottfried realized he had to do something fast, and reached into his bag of tricks. Instead of apologizing and sanitizing the remainder of his set, he went off the deep end. I'm not sure if you’ve heard any of the many versions of the most infamous joke ever told, “The Aristocrats.” If you have then you know how far he decided to go. If you haven’t heard it, I recommend finding the Bob Saget or Artie Lang version on YouTube.. Gottfried went on to describe the most unholy things that have ever been uttered on the stage at a Friar's Club Roast. He has since been applauded for his courage and ability to think on his feet in such a situation.
I'm sure Gottfried will do just fine without AFLAC, and I'm sure his apologies were heartfelt. But I don't think he believes what he did was wrong. That sentiment has been aped by many of Gottfried's cohorts in comedy. Most notably Howard Stern and Joan Rivers have come to his defense in recent weeks. The least notable is likely to be Paula Poundstone. They explain that he is an insult comedian and a purveyor of shock jokes that his many fans have eaten up for years. Why should he change just because the twenty-four hour news networks have Twitter accounts and need to fill time in between “Balloon Boy” and the next crazy thing out of Charlie Sheen’s mouth? I say he doesn't have to change, because we can still exercise our right to change the channel.
That being said, I would like to invite comments on other “too soon?” comments I have recently overheard, and retweeted. Just note the comment below, and tag it with “TS” (guess what that stands for?) or JR (for a Goldilocks-esque “Just Right”).
- Why do I text to donate $ to Haiti for buying cell phones, so they can text $ to Japan?
- Pat Robertson must still be researching if Shinto is a Japanese version of Voodoo. If so, he may have a theory on the Earthquake.
- George Bush doesn't care about black people, Kanye told us that. Barack, you're on the clock for your answer about Libyans. Lupe Fiasco, you're on deck.
- Breaking News: Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, Usher and Beyonce donate their Gaddafi party profits to charity for the Hummer Drivers' gas fund.
- I think I've got it. Gaddafi is limiting collective bargaining rights in Tunisia, and that is why Charlie Sheen was fired as the PM of Egypt.
I look forward to your comments and judgments. Please feel free to share your own “too soon?” posts as well, but keep in mind that I might steal them and take credit.