As soon as I woke on Friday morning twitter was buzzing about the earthquake in Japan. Tweets of concern. Tweets of prayers. Tweets of donations. Tweets of jokes. Yep. Lots of joke tweets. Some of them were about the disaster in Japan. Some of them were not. But some of them were.
In the event that you are at this very moment waking up from a coma that was at least 80 hours long (and have rushed right over here to see what fascinating thing I’m going to be talking about this week), I have some horrible news. On Friday, Japan was struck by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami. The death toll stands just over 1,200, but many are still missing. Aftershocks are still rumbling (which sounds less sinister than it is, aftershocks can be more powerful than the original quake) and a nuclear power plant was damaged, causing great concern. In other words, things are a terrible mess and the world is full of sadness.
As soon as I woke on Friday morning, the news ticker that is twitter was buzzing. Tweets of concern. Tweets of prayers. Tweets of donations. Tweets of jokes.
Yep. Lots of joke tweets. Some of them were about the disaster in Japan. Some of them were not. But some of them were.
The one that caused the biggest stir was this:
@thesulk If you wanna feel better about this earthquake in Japan, google “Pearl Harbor death toll”.
@thesulk is Alec Sulkin, writer for Family Guy and former paramour of Sarah Silverman. Famous for his funny, he is followed by 162,000 people or so. But it was more. Much more. Before the tweet, that is.
Within minutes, twitter parted like the Red Sea. Many cried “Off with his head!” like so many Red Queens condemning a facial hair-sporting, manchild version of Alice. It was apparent during the almost instantaneous backlash that Sulkin wished he had gone through the looking glass.
But many stood up for him, as well. Not necessarily for the joke, which most of the tworld found offensive (though a search reveals more people than I am comfortable with expressing agreement with the sentiment, rather than just the sentimenter), but with his right to tell it. If you’ve followed @thesulk for any length of time, you know that one of his go-to comedy formulas is to first fill you with shock and awe that then morphs into thoughtful examination much like his former girlfriend — whose jokes touch on topics (racism, sexism, homophobia, sexual assault, and pedophilia, just to name a few) that most comedians avoid like an invitation to a clothing swap at Lindsay Lohan’s house (hint: she takes all the clothes, pees in the potted plants, then falls asleep with a cigarette in her mouth, nearly burning the place down).
Carol Burnett said “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” So, how soon is too soon? Is there such thing? Are there some events that are off-limits, no matter how much time passes? Can we yet find levity in September 11? JFK’s assasination? The Hindenburg disaster? The sinking of the Titanic?
I was a freshman in high school when the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart just after takeoff, killing all seven crew members, and the nation mourned. The next day, a classmate told me a tasteless joke about the disaster and we laughed. Too hard. The kind of laughter that happens when the dam of tension breaks and every uncomfortable emotion you have comes rushing forth at once. Too soon? Of course it was. And I felt better.
Though suggesting that a natural disaster might be payback for an act of war perpetrated by a past generation is not my kind of humor (and, really, hasn’t that whole thing been worked out by now?), I get the need for comicality in times of sorrow.
Meanwhile, back at ground zero, the offending tweet has been removed by Alec Sulkin, and another has been posted:
Yesterday death toll = 200. Today = 10 thousand. I am sorry for my insensitive tweet. It’s gone.
I wish he hadn’t tried to excuse himself with confusing and inaccurate statistics, but humility and a Tom Selleck ‘stache just happen to be two things that I find sexy in a man. I’ll be sticking around to enjoy @thesulk’s less-appalling jokes and have a think on his more-appalling ones. I’ll also be visiting redcross.org to make a donation to help disaster victims in Japan (you can also text REDCROSS to 90999 or call 1-800-RED CROSS) because I still feel guilty about laughing at that Challenger joke. Humor, the gift that keeps on giving.