While comedy has always poked fun of the concept of celebrity and its cadre, the ever increasing accessibility of the world via the Internet has made making fun of celebrities a veritable pastime for comedians and comedy folk. Over the last year alone, some of comedy’s boldest voices have made headlines and, in some cases, gained their own celebrity on the web from viciously attacking actors, athletes, musicians, etc. online. However, whether it’s seen as a publicity stunt to get a following online or whether it proves a point, waging Internet war against celebrities is definitely a double-edged sword, especially if the joke isn’t very apparent.
On one end, celebrities get exactly what they have coming to them and get it dished at them expertly by what National Lampoon calls “celebrity snipers.” Neil Hamburger sarcastically responded to Britney Spears’ tweets as well as those of her fans; for that, Hamburger would get threatened, which he retweeted, showcasing the banality of many of Spears’ fan base. Joe Mande publicly took down NBA star Gilbert Arenas on Twitter as well as his Tumblr for the misogynistic and bigoted posts he would routinely make. It’s what TMZ should be cleverly and appropriately pointing and skewering instead of, in a way, celebrating the obsession the public seems to have with certain famous people leading privileged lives.
Through their own innovation, other “celebrity snipers” have become a virtual smart person’s TMZ with the following they’ve gained. Harris Wittels’ Humblebrag has gone from running a fun Twitter account pointing out the most vain commentary from some of the most vain people, many of which are famous, to a regularly updated feature on Bill Simmons’ intellectual sports and pop culture site Grantland, as well as becoming a household word amongst the web-savvy community. Jenny Johnson, a recipient of the Most Offensive Female at National Lampoon’s Twitter Awards, has reached Twitter stardom with over 100,000 followers, much of that, in part, due to the regular succinct lambasting she directs at Kim Kardashian, Chris Brown, and others. Whether this can overtake ET, TMZ, or any other acronym of overhyped coverage of Hollywood has yet to be seen, but this is certainly a start.
For one, Rob Delaney, literally “Twitter King,” has made himself a news item by announcing that he will sue the aforementioned Kardashian over her divorce from husband Kris Humphries, taking the Internet — and even the mainstream media — by storm, even though his facietiousness is apparent. Along the same lines, the exaggeration of Patton Oswalt wanting model and actress Phoebe Price to die is pretty explicit as an exaggeration given Oswalt’s comedy, and made even more hilarious with her paparazzi response video.
The other end of the “sword” comes in when very few people make the connection between the insults and barbs being hurled and the clever point trying to be made. Most recently, Colin Quinn ran into this problem when he decided to poke fun at Will Ferrell for winning this year’s Mark Twain Prize for Humor. Running through his Twitter feed, Quinn seemed quite upset at Ferrell for being bestowed one of comedy’s highest honors after “stealing” many of his ideas at SNL and beyond (like the idea for Anchorman). Later, after the Internet collectively became confused at Quinn’s tweet-by-tweet rant, Quinn publicly announced that he had been kidding and demanded an apology from the media for not knowing he was just ribbing Ferrell. Even though Ferrell’s camp stated that they knew he was kidding, they asked him to tone it down because they wanted to stop the calls asking for Ferrell’s opinion on the whole situation.
Since all of this happened on Twitter and all in text, while what Quinn and others who end up apologizing for something “bigoted” or “uncalled for” that they posted online was intended as sarcasm or satire, that, more often than not, goes right over a lot of people’s heads. Especially since Twitter doesn’t allow for different fonts or even italics, subtext is even harder to get across. If you’re doubting that, just check LiterallyUnbelievable.org and see how many people still don’t know that The Onion is actually joking after years of publication. In these cases where the sarcasm is subtle, the onus isn’t on anyone reading or listening for having no idea when someone is just “kidding around” when the humor can easily be misconstrued as a genuine expression of malice. The potential for that to happen has to be present in the mind of anyone calling out A PERSON, especially when they’re visible to the public eye.
Essentially, if you absolutely have to 1) apologize and 2) assert that you were joking for haranguing a famous person for undeservedly being famous or undeservedly getting to do something because they’re famous, you can’t assume that people just can’t take a joke about their beloved celebrity idol through whom they vicariously live. Think, “People believe what I’m saying and also believe I’ve f’n lost it.” Again, as in many cases involving racy subjects being made fun of, comedy doesn’t need to be censored. It just needs to be aware.