Joan Rivers was on The Today Show and, shock of shocks, she said something shocking. That’s right. A comedienne who has made her millions by saying shocking things said something shocking. In talking about the guest room at her daughter’s apartment, she said that she had less room than the Cleveland kidnapping victims. Then, when later confronted about her remarks, she quipped “They got to live rent free for a decade.”
Clearly, Joan Rivers was doing what people on the internet call “trolling,” which is saying outrageous things to elicit a reaction. The sad part is that the official apology seekers in the media were instantly offended and started demanding an apology, which Rivers unsurprisingly balked at also, telling TMZ “One of them has a book deal. Neither are in a psych ward. They’re okay. I bet you within 3 years one of them will be on ‘Dancing with the Stars.'”
Well that sent everyone into a feeding frenzy including Today post-show host Willie Geist who couldn’t apologize profusely enough, including talking about how regretful he was that the joke went out over their airwaves, how you could rewatch the original airing and see how none of them laughed, and so on and and so on. He basically spent 40 seconds groveling like a little child who got caught by his parents.
It was more disgusting than the apology.
A wise man once said that comedy was like dissecting a frog. You could cut open a frog to understand it and you would see everything, but you’d wind up with a dead frog. Comedy is similar in that once you start dissecting, the humor is gone.
We live in a weird country. In this weird country we are constantly walking on eggshells hoping not to offend the latest and greatest group that everyone is coddling at the moment. For some reason, we think it’s necessary to beat apologies out of everyone. Sincerity be damned, we want the words “I’m sorry” and we want them directed at us forthwith, and yet the biggest problem goes even beyond that. As Ricky Gervais famously put it (in a video that you really need to see from last June that puts this in perspective beautifully), “Stupid people treat jokes about bad things with the same fear and loathing as intelligent people treat the actual bad thing.”
For some reason everyone thinks they’re entitled to not be offended, and then they’re also entitled to an apology when they are.
As Gervais notes in the video, comedy isn’t there to help us get over good things, it’s to help us get over bad things. Often particularly dark humor is referred to as “gallows humor,” and is often a coping mechanism for people like police officers or soldiers who see death more than average people. It doesn’t mean they’re joking about the dead person or what happened, it means they’re coping, and for some reason, with comedy, that’s constantly a problem.
Within a few years of 9/11, we had movies and miniseries and documentaries and books on it. People were profiting regularly and shamelessly on 9/11 without even giving it a second thought. No one questioned their motives or anything else. If a comedian made a joke about it, however, they were immediately torn apart. It became such a thing that now comedians have worked the “Too soon?” line into their act so as to make jokes about potentially painful things seem more innocuous.
Why do we hold comedy to standards we literally hold no other medium to? And why, when her comment was clearly not directed at Castro’s victims, should Joan Rivers have to apologize to them? Clearly her joke was one made of exaggeration with a touch of “you shouldn’t go there” to make it even more original.
You could argue that one shouldn’t pander to the lowest common denominator and try to shock people into laughter, and that’s fine, but your alternative isn’t to silence that person or force them to grovel for your forgiveness; it’s simply to change the channel and watch something else. Willie Geist’s insincere groveling in an effort to distance him and his show from the comments of one of his guests was so sickeningly emasculated, I cringed listening to it. It was even more sickening that none of the folks in studio reacted while Rivers was in front of her, choosing to take cheap shots at her while was already under heavy fire from the offendarati in the media.
We have had so many incidences of this over the past 20 years or so that we don’t even give it a second thought any more. We are a nation of apology-expecting children who think we’re entitled to a pound of flesh any time we’re made to feel bad, and that needs to stop in a hurry or we’re going to be in a really bad position when all the talented and edgy entertainers decide that the grief of plying their trade for our entertainment isn’t worth the sickeningly simplistic way some idiots view it.
That’s going to be a sad day, but I fear it’s already here. If you want proof, simply go back and watch a few episodes of the early 1970’s smash hit All in the Family. If you think that 45 year old show could come close to airing in the United States today, you’re out of your mind. We didn’t see the erosion of it, it was just out from under us one day. You never put a live frog in a hot pot of water or it’ll jump out, but if you raise the temperature slowly, it stays in and boils.
We’re getting to the top of the temperature scale. At some point someone should stick a thermometer in the water.