We’re nose-deep in the Era of Outrage, where saying just about anything to anyone can trigger a tidal wave of anger and rage among this social media platform and that one. Consequently, we’re at the very least upper lip-deep in the Era of Being Outraged Over Outrage. This is when people get angry at the angry people and accuse them of being uptight, overly sensitive bippies without senses of humor. Some of the anti-uptight crowds’ favorite catchphrases include:
“It was a JOKE!”
“Political correctness is out of control these days!”
“You people need to lighten up!”
“Nobody knows how to laugh anymore!”
And so on and so forth. Every time some comic says something outrageous, the cycle begins anew. Daniel Tosh thinks it would be funny if a heckler “got raped by five guys”. Joan Rivers says Obama’s gay and his wife’s “a tranny.” Shock jocks like Howard Stern and Opie & Anthony define their careers by being outrageous and then ducking into the “I’m just joshin’” cave when public reaction gets too volatile.
And yet one crowd never gets attention because the “take a joke” brigade and the “apologize, scum!” faction won’t stop squabbling: the “that joke sucked” crowd. Sometimes, jokes just plain aren’t funny — not because they’re offensive, but because they’re BAD. At which point, “you don’t have a sense of humor” ceases to work as an excuse.
For some people, this is not a new revelation.
Joan Rivers saying Michelle Obama is a transsexual isn’t what’s offensive — it’s that someone paid to be funny couldn’t craft an actual joke around that observation. Even if you gotta make shit up (which you would, unless you have actual evidence that Michelle sports an Executive Branch of her very own), at least craft something clever. It’s Joan Rivers, insult comic extraordinaire — clearly she knows how to be funny. In this case, she wasn’t — no need to pretend she was just to rib the thin-skinned crowd a bit more.
Likewise, Daniel Tosh’s rape “joke” wasn’t a joke. This isn’t because he chose to talk about rape and that’s terrible — it’s because he didn’t tell a joke. “Wouldn’t it be funny if this girl got raped?” isn’t even a clever observation — it’s just a thing. Imagine if I wrote an article where the entire text was “Wouldn’t it be cool if an old lady got attacked by wild dogs?” That’s not funny, but not because the context is sad (some people deserve a good mauling now and then, and perhaps she was one of them). It’s not funny because it’s not a good joke, not a funny line, and isn’t clever in the least.
On the plus side, it would make for a killer sample if I ever apply to Buzzfeed.
Another big debate going on now is whether or not it was right for Sirius radio to fire Anthony from Opie and Anthony for going on Twitter and raging racistly against a black lady who snapped at him on the streets. What’s lost among the “freedom of speech” vs. “suffer the consequences of being a douchebag” argument is that, for a guy hosting a comedy show, Anthony isn’t all that funny. Neither is Opie. They’ve spent the last 20+ years resorting to the most basic, primitive, obnoxious crap imaginable. Get someone to prank call their mother and say they’re in jail? It’s funny cuz he’s not actually there! Get women to flash their boobs? Hilarious, because titties! Pretend the mayor of Boston died in a car crash? How dare you fire them — they were being silly!
Somebody dying after their car violently crashes into something? What kind of sucker would fall for such an obvious jest?
Comedy is an inexact art, and sometimes even the best fall flat. I’m not narcissistic enough to think everything I spin is gold, and that also goes for Rivers, Tosh, Anthony, Stern, George Carlin, and literally anybody else who has ever made a goof. If there was a scientific algorithm that could deduce the exact syllables required to induce the biggest belly laughs, then robots would handle the job, like they’re starting to do with news copy.
“Philip Rivers threw for 260 yards and 2 touchdowns yesterday, as the San Diego Chargers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 26-14.” AFFIRMATIVE. PULITZER DESERVED.
But they can’t, because jokes aren’t a push-button science. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Even the best of us bomb at times. But when people just spew outrageous crap for attention, without even bothering to be witty about it, they’re not even close to earning a giggle.
So the next time you bash somebody for “not having a sense of humor,” remember that the people who make the jokes need to actually make people laugh by saying or writing funny things. It’s not a law we have to laugh just because someone says “it’s a joke”. We’re not laughing because we’re offended — we’re not laughing because we’re bored.