Storytelling for Squares

Storytelling for Squares

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Dear The Onion: Comedy is a Little Like Erotic Asphyxiation

28 February, 2013 , , , , , , , , , , , ,

onionThe Onion gave us Oscar night tweets, like: “‘Les Miserables’ Takes Home Oscar for Most Sound”  and “Did you know every scene in ‘Argo’ starring Affleck is shaky and out of focus because nobody was there to direct it?.” Then Mr. and Mrs. The Onion must have decided to jump in the car and go away for the weekend because within 90 minutes of “Most Sound,” The Onion kids, not used to being left alone in the company house, tweeted about a nine-year old, “Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a c***, right?”

There were three reactions: (1) “That’s funny,” (2) ” The Onion is a c***,” and (3) The Onion moving with the speed of an angry god issuing  its first apology ever, to anyone, and promising to draw and quarter the offenders.

“I feel bad for the tweeters,” I said. “They were trying to do the joke math.”

“Don’t worry. They’ll get a job at The Daily Show,” my friend said.”Wait, math?”

Even potty-mouthers don’t throw the c-word around much, not in the States. That must have been the  intent, to make a mean statement funny by adding an exponential exaggeration.  Make it ridiculous by using the most wildly inappropriate word for the little girl. Right?  That Onion tweeter may not realize it yet, but he or she just spawned the variation on the comedy tool used to avoid having to wait long enough after a bad event.  “Too soon?” make room for “Too young?”

“I don’t think anyone has to hear humor theory to understand that the tweet was completely wrong,” my husband said. “She is a little girl. The Onion is not.”

I know. Except, I don’t really, not completely. With humor we are not always certain when we have left the safe zone of Benign Violation and fallen into the clean out your desk land of Unpardonable Violation. Joan Rivers can spend her Oscar time on Fat Adele rimshot jokes and mouthing in earnest that Anne Hathaway is an “a-hole.” Funny? Seth MacFarlane pretended to confuse Denzel Washington with Eddie Murphy. Really? It can be hard to see the line that should not be crossed when The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences subsidizes tired Klan jokes.  I wouldn’t have approved the tweet. I would have seen that word and run it through the teller-victim-audience filters and decided that it hit the victim too hard and subjected the teller to too much risk.  Mostly I would have seen that word and frozen up. But then again, no one is asking me to write for Quentin Tarantino,  Sarah Silverman or Louis CK. I do not have the nerve to live that close to the edge. I wish I did.

We tell our students all the time: comedy is tough. Anyone who ventures in has to be comfortable in the extremes. And as The Onion experience shows, extreme humorists are out there all the time working without a safety word.

What do you think?

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