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Too Soon? The Thought Process Behind Dead Celebrity Jokes

At the time of Whitney Houston’s unfortunate passing, I was driving to an open mic. At the open mic, which was only a few miles away from where she had reportedly died, jokes about Whitney Houston were already being cracked. Many people would wonder why you would ever joke about someone’s death, let alone the death of someone you hardly ever knew, LET ALONE the death of someone who suffered from an unfortunate set of circumstances that resulted in drug abuse.

As a comedian and a person who loves/defends comedy, I’m going to give you a transcript of sorts of what goes through a comedian’s head when he or she is thinking of making those types of jokes. There’s been enough written about Whitney Houston as of late, so the following will be in the context of whenever Madonna’s death comes to pass so you’ll better understand all the insecurity-laden frame of mind comedians are in.

DISCLAIMER TO ALL, ESPECIALLY BILLY EICHNER: As mentioned before, the following would be the thoughts of a comedian if they just had found out Madonna died, hypothetically. THAT MEANS I wouldn’t make these jokes if I wasn’t writing a stream of consciousness piece of how a typically insecure comedian, which is redundant, would come to make jokes about Madonna at the time of her death in the future.


“I’m funny. Fuck everyone who doesn’t think that I’m funny. FUCK THEM WITH A STICK WITHOUT VASELINE ON IT. That could be funny… My crowd at the generically named dive bar would appreciate THAT.

“It’s going to be alright. Someone thinks I’m funny. That’s what counts.

“That place was just comedians and drunk assholes anyway. I don’t need them. I’ll show them. I’M FUNNY! I AM FUNNY! I’m going to tweet my angst and frustration over not being accepted so it will be ignored just like I am real life reinforcing my already established angst and frustration.

“I feel so alone.

“Would you look at that? Madonna died. I’m going to show how funny I am RIGHT NOW. It’s not edgy if it’s funny. Comedians are supposed to point out the flaws in things. I’m not trying to be edgy. Can’t people understand that? People are so whiny as if I’m actually dropping an atomic bomb in words on them. Maybe, I should drop an atomic bomb on anyone who groans at my jokes. That’d be funny…

“1:37 in the morning. Hmmm. I thought Jenny would have called me back by now.

“Madonna jokes. OK, let’s do this.

“Wait, that’s not how I write jokes. Come on… WHAT’S FUNNY ABOUT MADONNA DYING?

“Nothing. It’s shitty and even I make a good joke it’s going to get lost in the myriad of other shitty jokes that will be made by people less funny than me.

“OH, COME ON, I can think of something.

“‘It’s the one ‘holiday’ we’ve all been waiting for…’

“That’s too obvious. How is that even funny?

“‘Instead of day off of work, ‘holiday’ will now be defined as overplayed, overrated song played after the artists’ death.’

“That may be something….

“‘Madonna has ruined pop music so much that it’s unfortunate that she couldn’t die like a virgin.’

“OOOOOOO, that’s what I’m talking about. That’ll definitely piss some people off. Will it? I mean, well… fuck those people. Bill Hicks hated Madonna, so it’s OK for me to hate Madonna. That’s my own opinion. I think for myself. Right?

“Maybe I should just make fun of her teeth. I can do that because I have fucked up teeth.


“‘Her teeth… Madonna’s teeth are so…’ Orthodontist… gaps… stupid…

“COME ON! You’re better than this! Not as a person, but as a comedian, that is. I should say that on stage. I’ll sign off with that.

“‘4 out of 5 orthodontists will be in attendance at Madonna’s funeral as one of their greatest celebrity spokespersons.’

“Nice. There we go. That’s not even THAT offensive. I mean, how can I be hated for making a joke about her teeth. Let’s keep’ em rolling.

“‘The greatest trick that the devil ever pulled was getting Madonna to think that she had an accent that made her sound sophisticated. Too bad he has to listen to that shit now in hell.’

“HAHAHAHAHAHA! There we go. Is there a posthumous roast we’re having of Madonna? High five to me.

“I knew I was funny.

“What would people say at my roast? Fat… should have been gay because I’m so bad with women… adoption jokes… yeah, those are classic… probably a few ‘he was so depressed that he would get charged extra at therapy”‘ jokes.”

(text message) Jenny: Are u still out?

(text message) Me: Of course, I’m still out, waiting for you. Are you really going to use “u” instead of you?

“No response. Go figure.

“‘I think the reason that Madonna and Guy Ritchie split was Guy Ritchie remembered that he made Snatch and could do way better.’

“Didn’t they make a movie together? What was it…? Swept Away. The pun’s obvious, but go beyond that.

“‘Madonna made a movie called Swept Away. Oh how rich the irony would be if somehow print versions of her film could be swept back and forth over her grave.’

“Wait, how’s that ironic?

“The sweeping of celluloid strips over a grave would be ironic because the movie is called Swept Away and it was terrible and bombed at the box office.

“That’s a stretch.

“‘If Madonna represents the voice of a generation as the self-styled Queen of Pop, it’s no surprise that Snooki doesn’t know what “feminist” means.’

“That’s solid. I’m feeling good about this. These will outshine everyone else’s shitty Madonna’s-dead joke.

“‘Given the horrible atrocities throughout history brought about by monarchy, it only makes sense that the Michael Jackson and Madonna were the King and Queen of Pop.’

“What about laughs? Remember, ‘it’s not about the laughs.’ Who the fuck told me that? What the fuck does that mean anyway? When am I ever going to use these, save for once?

“What if this doesn’t work? There’s an outside chance of a possibility of a roll of the dice that someone might not find any of these funny and then what…

(text message) Jenny: I don’t think we should see each other anymore.

“OK… FUCK EVERYONE. I’m doing all of these even though I have a friend who works for Madonna.

“If these aren’t funny, it’s your fault, Jenny. It’s all your fault.”

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  1. Ryan Megan says:

    You can’t declare a joke unfunny before the joke is told.

    I’m not a fan of the tone of this post.

    If you make a bad joke, it’s a bad joke no matter the subject/context.

    Pretending to care about someone you never knew, to me, is much more offensive. Trying to find a humor in the dark and finding it, can turn on the light. It’s all a part of dealing with the most common human trait, eventual death.

    Sure, just being a crude dick isn’t cool. But that isn’t subject/context dependent. I would be very upset if no jokes were told at my expense during my funeral. I would, if I wasn’t dead.

  2. Vern says:

    Indeed so.

    The event that sort of kicked this off here was Princess Diana dying. All very sad, two young boys left without a mother, but the way the press 180’d on her was repugnant. In the weeks before her death, the tabloids were slagging her off for shagging Dodi, going to the gym in leotards (it was the 90’s) and generally daring to divorce the future King, she dies, and suddenly she’s a saint. Now, I’m not saying they should have kept going at her in the same way, but at least maintain a level of consistency…

    Ahhh, iits good to vent…

  3. Cassie says:

    Yeah, like how after a celebrity dies, suddenly everybody and their mother have been a huge fan their entire lives… what are they trying to prove, you know?

  4. Vern says:

    Ha! I think Monkees fans probably are…

    I have lots of undefined thoughts about this issue, the public mourning of celebrities, the faux moral standpoint of the tabloid press, people being ‘offended’ on behalf of others (or the nation)… Basically it makes me want to scream. It should be illegal to pretend to be offended because you think someone else might be – its so damn patronising, if they are upset, let them express it. This isn’t the same as defending the weak and disenfranchised.

    The problem for me is that it reeks of ‘Look at me! See how good and moral and and right I am!” Its so thin and fake, it makes me want to rail at the sky…

  5. Cassie says:

    @Vern: Ahh, just noticed your name is “Vern” not “Vernon”, I misread the little timestamp thing. And I live in California, so I have no excuse for posting at 1 AM… 🙂

  6. Cassie says:

    @Vernon: Aw, Monkees fans unite. 🙂

    I should have noted that the only “jokes” I’ve heard about celebrity deaths have been unfunny ones. I did giggle at “I’m a Bereaver”, as well as at “Life is short, so was Davy Jones”… perhaps Monkees fans are simply funnier and more tasteful than the average bandwagon-jumping comedian. 🙂

  7. Vern says:

    I see my posts are tagged with 3:11 and 3:19am, I feel I should point out that I am in the UK, and have a normal, healthy sleep pattern…

  8. Vern says:

    Hmm, re-reading that, it sounds more aggressive than I intended, try reading it with a giggle in your voice…

    Those jokes about Whitney weren’t funny though… It is possible to make gags without being overly offensive, I’m a character comedian, I play a medium who ‘speaks to the other side’ I did a routine that included Whitney Houston last Saturday, the audience had a collective intake of breath when I mentioned her name, but when what I said was funny, and didn’t attack her, or the unfortunate circumstances of her death, they warmed up, and laughed, there is no reason that one can’t do this stuff, and still show a modicum of respect.

  9. Vern says:

    Then I saw her face, now I’m a bereaver… RIP Mr Jones.

    See, I’m a huge Monkees fan, and yet I think that joke is funny.

    We as a society are getting more and more antsy about this stuff, when the truth of it is, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care what you say about me after I’m dead (not that bothered what you say about me now) and why? Because I don’t know you, I’ll never meet you, and the fact that you have access to the internet doesn’t change that or make you or your opinions more important. The main problem with all the Whitney jokes is that none of them were funny.

  10. Cassie says:

    Love this article, you nailed it! Making jokes about super-recent celebrity deaths for the sake of being “”””edgy”””” is a low blow… I might break down if someone makes a Davy Jones joke anytime soon. 😐