Thursday, 11 September 2008

Inappropriate humour

I admit that the timing could have been better.

My latest video contains the lyric "My internet's gone down. Like the World Trade Centre." I didn't consciously plan to put it online two days before The Date That Must Apparently Never Be Joked About, and it wasn't until today that I noticed what I'd done. When the angry emails and comments started flooding in.

Normally, I don't think there'd be a problem with a line like that. People who subscribe to somegreybloke get the joke; they understand, I imagine, that Graham is blissfully unaware of what's appropriate, and enjoy watching him blunder stupidly across the borders of taste. That's the point of the character - he's socially inept, and yet he loves talking. Hilarity, hopefully, ensues.

Trouble with the latest video is, YouTube featured it at the top of their "Comedy" page. So in under two days it's had close to 80,000 views, and a lot of those people are finding somegreybloke for the first time - and finding him offensive:

"That rip on the WTC was really uncalled for. I can't believe that anyone would go that far in the name of humor. This video should be removed from YouTube for just that purpose (sic)."

"yeah, 911 jokes are not funny ever. Talk about dancing on the graves of the poor souls who died in the planes and twin towers."

There are also complaints about another line, one that goes: "Like Terri Schiavo, I've been disconnected..." - and I did have doubts about that one. But ultimately it seemed like a perfect analogy for the social networking death that results from being forced offline, and I left it in.

Okay. So by making this video, I've shown that I'm insensitive to the feelings of (maybe millions of) people who don't like jokes about tragedy. My question to you, the miniscule readership of this blog, is - are jokes like these justified if they raise a laugh simply by being inappropriate, or does there need to be a more serious point behind this kind of humour?

I'd really like to get a debate going about this, as it's something that concerns me.


Jeremiah said...

I agree with something Larry David once said about the handling of taboo or sensitive subjects. It's the comedian's equivalent of a high jump. There's a greater risk of falling on your ass, but there's also a greater payoff when you succeed. It's circumventing a person's own sense of morality to create laughter, which can be very liberating, even though some people feel guilty about it afterwards.

The timing of the 911 joke might've been unfortunate, but those who are offended by it would've been offended any day of the year. I'm sure it'll soon be forgotten. Right now I'm working on a trailer for the Freud series, and it almost inevitably features a voice that sounds a lot like the recently deceased Don LaFontaine (thanks to the brilliant vocals of Max Koch). Some might find this in poor taste, and it's not my intention to be disrespectful. But I'm sure that months from now people will look at it and either assume it was made before LaFontaine's death or they simply won't think about it at all. On the other hand, we once made a video that had a mild crack about theboringdispatcher (months before he died) and one person seemed offended that we hadn't predicted his death and removed the joke retroactively. Some people are just idiots.

I know there've been other instances where a video went up that strangely coincided with something that was happening in the world. Our proudest moment was when Cornelius Blow's final video was posted the day Reverend Falwell died. But stuff like that fades from memory very quickly.

Mike said...

I've just seen another comment along the lines of "You posted this on SEPTEMBER 11th? I'm unsubscribed!", so I guess for some people the problem is the unfortunate coincidence of dates (that I could have avoided had I looked at a calendar and, you know, thought about it for a moment).

What interests me is how one decides where they're going to draw the line. I'm all for material that makes people laugh despite themselves, as I agree that it can be cathartic. But sometimes...

Example: British version of The Office. Gervais had some brilliant moments of bigotry that were funny because they came from the characters and were in context with what was going on. But in one episode, David Brent makes a reference to the movie "The Dam Busters" SOLELY so that Gareth can then use the word "nigger". There was no real reason to mention the movie, or to then focus on that scene in the movie - the reference was simply crowbarred into the story as an excuse to use a forbidden word. It was contrived - and to me, that's not clever.

I'm not sure if what I've done with Graham in this last video is similar. I can justify it to myself by saying "Well, to Graham, the loss of his internet connection is a tragedy on a momentous scale like the WTC attack, and he's just trying to express that, and unwittingly upsetting people"; but I also feel that maybe that's not a good enough reason to make a joke that has the potential to sicken people. Even if they are mainly idiots.

Jeremiah said...

I see what you mean.

I remember there was a brief period after September 11th when nothing seemed funny at all. Just two weeks later The Onion was finding ways of getting humor out of the situation, with articles like "American Life Turns Into Bad Jerry Bruckheimer Movie", "God Angrily Clarifies 'Don't Kill' Rule", "Hijackers Surprised To Find Selves In Hell", and so on. I think at that point one could only laugh at the surrealism of it all.

Four years later there was that documentary about the "Aristocrats" joke. South Park's Eric Cartman tells a version where the family imitates the victims of 9/11, running around and screaming "Oh my God, the buildings are falling down!". In this case the whole idea of the joke was crossing the line, and they get away with it by having Stan and Kyle standing by with their mouths agape while Cartman makes an ass of himself.

As for your joke, I think is was perfectly consistent with the character Graham and the tone that's been well established in the series. The whole song is a variation of "My internet's gone down", which is probably the only event that would produce the emotions necessary for Graham to break into song at all. It becomes steadily more inappropriate until finally he compares it to the collapsing towers, which is the point where in real life we'd say "Oh, for fuck's sake Graham!" It's perfectly detached. You're not joking about people leaping from burning skyscrapers. And it's quickly followed by a reference to 9/11 conspiracy theories, which is always fair game.

Hmmm...I'm not sure if this is helpful to you. Perhaps we should hear from a dissenter.

Mike said...

Maybe I can attract some over from YouTube.

Meanwhile, best 9/11 joke ever:

srtgray said...

Well, I though it was funny.

OpenMind said...

Who-finds-what-funny is generally tightly connected with how close and how soon. Years ago "I've fallen and I can't get up" was funny to most people. Not to my husband, because his mother had just had that happen, and broken her hip. Two years later he told me he'd finally realized "I've fallen and I can't get up" is funny. ANY joke in ANY of your videos will be not-funny for someone who experienced it yesterday (such as Richie-the-pedophile vid). But there's no point in trying to create humor that will offend no one.

Nobody I said...

I love your videos and I thought those two "offensive" lines were the funniest ones in the whole piece. They're funny because he's blissfully unaware of his poor taste, which is in line with his general character. When you draw a large audience, you're going to get these people who constantly get "offended" at things. I don't even believe they're being genuine, but that's another debate I guess. I just want to say, please don't give in to those kinds of forces. Your humor is clever more than it is offensive, and those who don't like it can click on something else.

Jack said...

I thought it was funny.
Obviously 50% of morons are looking for something to argue at, the sheep will move onto another field.

It fits the character so well, I'm sure there are other less reaction breaking jokes, but the fans donut care.

adamtlord said...

everyone knows that 9/11 was a bad event, but this clearly was not meant to offend any of the victims.

organicprankster said...

Firstly, I don't believe there are subjects that are out of bounds for comedy; it's entirely about the context. I think the Terri Schiavo line is more problematical than the reference to the World Trade Centre, and in context - considering Graham is the source - I think that one works too.

Secondly - without wishing to get too sanctimonious about it - I think it's a hell of a lot more respectful (or at least a lot less sullying) to the people who died in those towers to take the piss out of the absurd conspiracy theorists than it is to... be an absurd conspiracy theorist.

Lincoln said...

Post-modern comedy seeks to make things of our past meaningless. By referencing the WTC attack, you're sucking the meaning from the event. For some people who invest a lot of meaning in the event, that is a horrible crime, and for others that don't even instill meaning in such events, it doesn't matter. Whether or not they get the joke isn't the problem for most people. By even including the joke, regardless of the punchline or the social ineptness of the character, you are calling the deaths of a large amount of people meaningless enough to be a one-liner in a youtube video.

I personally don't have a problem with it, I laughed very hard, but you can't really "prove" its social acceptability one way or another based on the views of individuals. Some people still put a lot of stock in "meaning," and I can certainly respect that, but I don't think you should censor your comedy just because some people don't fit with your brand of humor.

Lincoln said...

Also, call me a horrible person, but I find this equally hilarious.

Mike said...

Very good points. And that song is amazing.

Chris said...

Mike, I know a lot of people would get upset about that bit but it's only because you say "The World Trade Centre" it pictures up images of that fateful day.

And people saying that you posted it up on an inappropriate date the date of 9/11 , rubbish I say you're British and you posted on 11/09, obviously it wouldn't have clicked. Also when you're a creative, you can lose track of time I know I didn't know that it was 9/11 till later on in the day and all that did was reminded me that me and my ex wife split up the day before the Twin Towers.

I don't think you have anything to apologise for, you just used the WTC as simile. It was a small joke and it was poking fun at the whole conspiracy theory movies.

It could be worse I felt sorry for that Tolkien bloke bringing out that Two Towers movie what an insensitive T%$t!

dasuprememep said...

I think it's interesting that if you would have said, "My internet's down like a statue of Saddam." Then there wouldn't be much dissent.

The winners write the history books.

Anonymous said...

I don't consider myself a prude but it's called respect, so close to the date? You do realize thousands of people died...right? Song was bad you tried to squeeze that in...

Mike said...

As I said, the video going up so close to the date was unintentional.

I'd been working on it for months - the lyrics were written and recorded in June - and I did what I always do: as soon as the video was finished, it went online.

I'm rarely aware of what day of the week it is, let alone what date. Maybe I'll learn from this experience to pay more attention.

Rick Teasdale said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SkyPork said...

I think "sensitive" jokes are only funny to someone if that person can get over their initial knee-jerk emotional response. Me, my knees don't jerk much at all, so I laughed. But I know people who are almost entirely governed by their emotions, and who still can't fathom that any group would have the gall to strike at 'Merica ... these people are the kind who are most likely sending you the scathing e-mails.

Please, please, please don't ever capitulate to those kind of people....

Also, if you haven't already seen it, check this out, because it's filled with funny.

Mike said...

Wow. That's a brave and hilarious piece of writing; I can't imagine how much hate mail they got for that.

(The end of the URL should be:


but Blogger cuts it off.)

Godfrey said...

Firstly - the social blundering is perpetrated by Graham (a fictional character), not Mike. It would be a sad day for the entertainment industry if nasty/offensive characters were no longer permitted. Can you imagine an action thriller, drama or horror movie with no "bad guys"?

Secondly - even Graham himself did not make light of 9/11, but merely used it as an example of a terrible tragedy or disaster (which, I presume is how the humour-impaired complainers see it).

So - with no reasonable reason for any reasonable person to be offended and no guilty feelings required on Mike's part, how to respond to the criticism?....

When in doubt, add more fuel to the fire. I think an apology from Graham himself is called for (suitably bungled of course). I'm looking forward to a somegreybloke video entitled "Graham apologizes" or similar.


Godfrey said...

I notice you got away with "kitten in a blender", "kitten wins argument with creationist", a dig at Jesus, and references to the Illuminati, Jenna Jameson blowjobs and Goatse (complete with graphic imagery), but it's the passing mention of 9/11 that draws the criticism.

Interesting where sensitivities do (and don't) lie. OK, most of the above could be missed if you're not paying attention to detail or are lacking basic literacy skills but...

People threatening to unsubscribe? This is fascinating - As subscribers, these folks have presumably watched episodes like "Baby photos" without any problems regarding tastelessness. Actually, they must have enjoyed these or they wouldn't have subscribed in the first place, but they're offended by a mention of 9/11?

The American psyche is a wonderful thing to behold (from a safe distance). Reaction to the Vietnam war is especially interesting. The death of 50 thousand American soldiers is (apparently) hugely meaningful, while the death (in the same war) of several million people of other nationalities is irrelevant.

Their way of dealing emotionally with this war involved several decades worth of Hollywood movies and TV series (e.g. Rambo and MASH) ranging in genre from action to comedy. By comparison, one seldom hears a word about the French war in Vietnam and the 50 thousand French soldiers who died in that war.

What does this have to do with Graham, you may ask. Well just that we need to (attempt to) understand where the criticism is coming from.

At the end of the day, while I appreciate that:
a) Americans tend to be hugely self-important and consider themselves the centre of the universe.
b) In general - Me spilling my coffee on the keyboard is a disaster; you slipping on a banana peel and breaking your neck is funny,

I have to admit I don't understand why:
a) It's acceptable to make millions of dollars from a comedy revolving around the American war in Vietnam (and related suffering).
b) It's not acceptable to even mention 9/11.

Think I'll give up trying to understand or sympathize with Americans and just wait for the "Graham apologizes" video.

lordkabab said...

It was 7 years ago, I mean c'mon, more people dies in Hurricane Catrina, seriously, get over it, I loved the joke, was very funny, and keep up the brilliant work.

Mike said...

I'll have a think about how Graham can make amends, Godfrey. Thanks for the suggestion.

gordon said...

I thought it was very funny. Don't let over-sensitive people stop the jokes. Nobody is forcing them to watch your vids..

Prophet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Prophet said...

I watched the video and I loved it, as usual. When you mentioned the towers and Schiavo, I thought both were clever but I did stop laughing for a moment. And I cannot send it to people I know in real life because I'm in New York.

But this really is not about it being a taboo subject, it's simply about people faking offense or being easily offended who, most likely, do not even have the right to be offended by it in the first place--not that I'm implying that you need to live in New York to be hurt by the attacks. Additionally, anyone who is honestly offended should not be using YouTube (or for that matter, the internet) because they are bound to find things they will not like.

One thing I do not understand is the disproportionate amount of importance placed on 9/11. There are plenty of comedians talking about aspects of Katrina and its aftermath. Katrina caused over 4,000 deaths.

On the one hand, I find it unfortunate that you cannot make a joke about something that happened quite a few years ago without getting asinine and petty ripostes.

But on the other hand, they are just that: ridiculous and petty and should not be taken as anything more than the regular incoherent and homogenized bullshit that represents the only thing of which most YouTube users are capable.

This recent comic by xkcd sums up my thoughts:

You are no politician, you are a comedian, so if people are truly so offended by your video, then I am offended by their lack of intelligence.

deathvult said...

I do agree that talking about great tragedies is kind of strange.
But lets take a change of perspective, im sure youve all watched the dead muslim terrorist video, its very funny, and i dont see you all crying over that, if you think it through, its all the same stuff, and its funny.
So, all these people who love taking videos down, you should start making videos and expressing your opinions, and help each other out by improving ideias, not just blocking other people's creativity.
an and blocking is not the way to go ever.

Of course the autor could have written a million other options for that line, and obviously did not mean to ofend anyone, so dont just get harsh on the guy for silly stuff ok? Its not like hes saying sep/11 was good, or making fun of any victim, thers nothing mean on the sentence. He is just comparing his internet problems with the tragic incident. Not really even laughing at it, just mentioning it, so you should look at it as it is and not try to distort the way it has been mentioned as if this video in any way had any intention of offending anyone. Not even ISPs can get offended to such a silly video.

I am a long time subscriber, always found the videos funny, and my only complaint about this video is that its a rap, and i dont like rap to much, would prefer a death metal musical aproach ;-)
All the best with your next videos, look foward to seeing them.

Casual Dave said...

Just ask "what would Jesus do?" He let himself be crucified for his beliefs so there you go. Of course, I think this would have been funnier referencing Dick Cheney shooting his friend with a shotgun instead of golfing but I'm not sure if that story had come out before your video.

KiRa ShinoBaShi said...

Those lines in the video are perfectly fine, because you don't actually say what buildings they are, and you're not trying to make fun of it.
But all that doesn't matter, because every human on this earth has what are called 'Essential Human Rights'; little bits of rights that some countries (Amer¡ca, Russ¡a, ¡srael, etc.) do not seem to understand.

You are entitled to freedom of speech, religion, thought, expression, not to be subject to cruel and unusual punishment, and many others.

If you want to argue with this, I might happen to know where some of the USSR's 'misplaced and unaccounted for' nukes are, and they might accidentally land somewhere near you. Just kidding, but seriously people, this video is meant to be funny; let the artist's create what they want. After all, that's what being creative is all about, right?

Gabe said...

The terry schiavo line was hilarious.

Arifi said...

The Terry Schiavo line was terribly insensitive, the world trade tower line was absolutely horrible and when you inserted the Prophet Mohammad's "facebook page" into that episode, you were being offensive for absolutely no purpose. These things are not funny and sadly distract from the actual humor that is in the rest of your posts. You have the potential to be better than shock comedy. It's the lazy comedian's tool to mock issues or figures that people hold sacred. And the sad thing is, you actually have talent. You dont need that nonsense to get readers to laugh. It's one thing to have a character who is charmingly socially awkward and adorably befuddled; it is quite another to use shock humor to detract from the character and series itself. You have the potential to be better than this. Live up to it.

KennyT said...

ur mom

DragonTat2 said...

Interesting, 2012 mentioned at the end. Dude... you psychic?

Istas said...

I realize I'm incredibly late to the discussion here, but whatever, here's some more opinion for you. (and I agree with quite a few of the posts before this, so sorry to repeat so much)

I do not believe there is any topic beyond humor. It's much more the intent, the tone behind a joke, that matters. There's an immense gulf between two jokes with the same subject, the same progression, even the same exact words, when one's vindictive, or mean, or puerile, and the other is not.

You don't strike me as a mean comic. The video does not come off as mean or hurtful in tone. The fact that you posted this question/discussion at all is evidence that the people who immediately stormed off in a hissy fit over this are the ones being immature.

There are always people ready to be offended at the drop of a hat about any topic, and they're often the loudest. I would hate, as others have said, for these few to get others to censor themselves.

It's all subjective of course, but really, I don't think you crossed any lines with this. No reasonable ones, anyway.

And no, Dragon, he's not psychic about 2012, he was just aware of those particular conspiracy theorists before the (relatively) mainstream media picked up the furor as their next source of income.