Off Limits?: The Comedy World and Sandy Hook
By Jake Kroeger on January 7, 2013
It is January 7th, 2013, 24 days after the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT and Anthony Jeselnik, arguably the overseer of dark humor, hasn’t tweeted a single thing about it. After the shooting in the movie theater in Aurora, CO, Jeselnik tweeted, “Other than that, how was the movie?,” which is one of the very few angles you could take at the time in comedically addressing the shooting. Sure, he’s busy with his upcoming Comedy Central series, The Jeselnik Offensive, and his hour special Caligula, but, perhaps, like many working comedians and writers, he didn’t find anything funny about the shooting.
Any sort of jokes about Adam Lanza and the 26 people he killed, 20 of whom were elementary students, are incredibly scarce. Yes, there have been jokes about gun control and other ancillary topics related to Sandy Hook, but the shooting itself has stayed relatively untouched. The first night back after the shooting, Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel opted to merely acknowledge the events that transpired and go to some absurd, silly humor on their respective late night talk shows. Leno and Letterman also brought the shooting up, but steered way clear of anything that might even remotely be considered in bad taste. Of course, if you went to an open mic on the night after December 15th, odds are you would have heard some amateur comedians try to talk about Newtown in either a shocking or genuine fashion, but ultimately doing so to no laughs.
In fact, many comedians took to their blogs and Twitter and eschewed any sort of routine sarcasm or wit for a demand for legislation and reposting examples of statistics in other countries that have much stricter gun control. Only the silence of the NRA after the shooting and Wayne LaPierre’s subsequent speech calling to arm teachers in schools were ridiculed by comedians in general over the last three weeks.
The collective absence of “Sandy Hook jokes” is an interesting comment on an art form that stands as one of the few bastions of truly free speech in the U.S. If you ask most comedians, even now, they would tell you that there are no sacred cows in comedy; humor that references rape, the Holocaust, 9/11, abortion, domestic violence, racism, mental illness, religion, politics, etc., etc. have managed to be proven funny in the right hands, by the likes of such revered comedians as Doug Stanhope and Dana Gould. Still, there are probably few, if any pages in notebooks and laptops anywhere that have even made an attempt at joking about the second worst school shooting in U.S. history.
In my opinion, this isn’t a matter of Sandy Hook being a so-called “sacred cow” or not enough time passing. Again, I’d argue — and before any of you scroll to the comments to get indignant with me, please read this whole paragraph — that you can joke about anything, including the Sandy Hook shooting, so long as you find something funny about it. If that’s not the case, then don’t even try to joke about it. That has seemed to be the case for nearly all of comedy for almost a month. To all those political-correctness fanatics out there, comedy can largely censor itself if there is nothing remotely funny to be said/written, as it is doing right now.
By the way, the same standard of joking about things that you personally find funny should also apply to rap lyrics, puns, and the differences between black and white people.