It’s been even simplified so neat as the following equation: tragedy + time = comedy.
Now, while every rule in art forms more or less have a gray area, making fun of horrifying events such as a natural disaster or an untimely death immediately after they occurred, more often than not, ends up being in bad taste. However, it’s not impossible to make actually funny jokes about controversial events with so little time having passed. Paul Provenza (Showtime’s The Green Room), in a recent interview, has said “I have a friend who does a lot of business in Japan, and he said you go into any bar or nightclub in Japan, and everybody is making tsunami jokes. You deal with it! But Gilbert [Gottfried]’s the bad guy. So what, is it timing? Well, whose timing?”
The undeniable fact is that comedy is a way to cope with pain, loss, tragedy, and more. Yet, the problem that most comedians, humorists, writers, bloggers, etc. have in this regard is that they go for the pure novelty of shock rather than digging for funny. In the very untimely death of Amy Winehouse, we have a perfect a case-study of this dynamic.
As soon as the news broke of Winehouse’s body being found dead, plenty of so-called comedians took to their social network of choice and flooded the Internet with poorly conceived Winehouse jokes. To many of those people, the novelty of being so controversial somehow counts almost counts as a “comedy badge” to be proud of. It’s just as empty of pursuit as you could imagine it to be, but still there were plenty of “hack” tweets about rehab missing Winehouse or how completely unsurprising it is. Huffington Post contributor Tricia Fox even came under fire for trying to compare the death of Winehouse to the choices of small businesses and their products.
Again, the shock alone only makes it awkward and most likely enrages people to put the blogosphere-equivalent of a dunce cap on the person responsible.
Delving into one of many theories on joke writing would certainly be tiresome here, but a core principle behind making things funny is finding irregularities in what’s commonly accepted by everyone else. In anything from 70’s sitcom to hardcore drug use, there are observations to be made that most people glance over and in an unexpected way, something funny can be derived. That’s vastly oversimplifying jokes, but there is a common thread along such lines.
When the tsunami hit Japan and Gilbert Gottfried was fired as the spokesman for Aflac after making some Tsunami jokes, most though that joking about the disaster would be taboo. Only a few days after the incident, comedian Brooks Wheelan tweeted, “@brookswheelan This whole Japan thing is the biggest win dolphins have had since the ‘72 undefeated season. #LARRYCSONKA,” which I found absolutely hilarious. Granted, you have to be familiar with the Japanese treatment of dolphins and the undefeated season of the Miami Dolphins to get the joke, but it’s an unexpected turn that cleverly pointed to something most people would take for granted and not connect.
Similarly, while combing through Twitter, I found this funny tweet by writer/comedian Matt Manser only two days after Winehouse’s death: “@mansermatt Amy Winehouse’s death is a huge tragedy. Mostly because it gives Dr. Drew an extra excuse to appear on television.” In either example, an actual effort to strive for humor instead of just saying “that is some fucked up shit” was made a resulted in something that was actually funny.
Granted, that formula doesn’t work all the time (cough cough Jay Leno doing Casey Anthony joke on the day of the decision).