When do jokes about celebrities cross the line?

And then he messaged me: 'You're a comedian? If you can't understand the mockery of another dead coke fiend, you're gonna hate the world for the next few days.'
Publish date:
February 16, 2012
death, twitter, comedy, standup, jokes, whitney houston

I've typed and deleted at least 12 different opening sentences to this post. I’m so overwhelmed with feelings that words are failing me (not a good thing for a writer, I know).

Words however did not fail the countless folks who took the Internet seconds after the death of Whitney Houston to share what they felt were the most hilarious and totally appropriate jokes ever.

I picture these people, whoever they are, racing to their laptops to“cleverly” change the title of a Whitney song into something about her death, even though by the time they post their “clever” play on words it’s already been posted by people who can type (spew poison) faster, then they pat themselves on the back or buy an ice cream sundae or masturbate or whatever it is losers do when they’re done shitting all over another person who they've never met.

And not only are jokes about someone dying (before they are even at the fucking morgue) insensitive and gross but every “joke” I read was unoriginal and dumb. And sorry but adding the cutesy and overused “too soon?” doesn’t excuse you from being a jerk. Maybe I'm the minority here but I just don't think mocking the death of a human being is cool.

Human being. In case we’ve forgotten celebrities are human beings. And I know people love to claim “well they knew what they signing up for when they got into the spotlight.” Uh, no disagree. Artists make art, if they make that art well they might become famous. Being an artist does not equate to being obligated to handle hate and zero privacy. Sure, there are some celebrities who are not artists, who welcome drama and choose to expose their every secret as entertainment, but for the most part a lot of celebrities got into the business because they were passionate about their craft. It’s not their fault that in recent years tabloids, entertainment “news” shows and social media has invaded everyone's lives. Once upon a time singers and actors were mysterious, their private lives were for the most part private. Now, the flaws and tragedies of artists seem to be more celebrated than their talent.

Like with Whitney Houston.

When Whitney started there was no In Touch or OK Magazine, no Twitter, no gossip blogs. There was just music and talent. Sadly Whitney battled with addiction which, if you didn’t already know, if an illness. Whitney didn’t choose to be an addict, who the fuck would want to be an addict? But she was, and she admitted she was, and she tried to recover. Now, in an ideal world she would have dealt with her illness in private, like most people do, but now everyone’s business is everyone elses business and I don’t think constant scrutiny helped Whitney’s recovery.

And yes, I know, I know she was on that horrible reality show and failed her fans by showing up to shows unable to even sing. Maybe she made those choices or maybe her “people” did, I’m no pop star but I can’t imagine that Whitney was in control of all of her business decisions nor do I think she was making great decisions when she was on drugs.

But my issue isn't about Whitney Houston specifically. It's fine if you weren't a fan, It's fine if you could care less about her life or death. And yes, I can see why some people feel frustrated that the media is so focused on the death of one woman when lots of people die daily- children, soldiers, victims of horrible crimes and tragedies. I get it, that is why I am clarifying that my issue isn't "we should all be devastated over Whitney" my issue is that in general, we have stopped treating people with mutual respect.

After seeing about 30+ stupid, poorly written Whitney Houston jokes I posted this on Facebook and Twitter: “I wonder how people who make fun of a celebrity dying would feel if people made fun of their mother, father, siblings or children dying.”

To which some guy I have never met in real life (he was wearing a shirt in his profile pic, I thought he was safe!) responded with multiple comments about how Whitney was a “crack whore so who cares.” I deleted the comments and him, considering the extent of our cyber friendship had only been this one interaction I decided it wouldn’t be a huge loss to loose him as a pal.

And then he messaged me this:

Wow. And you're a comedian? I was just answering your question. If you can't understand the mockery of another dead coke fiend, you're gonna hate the world for the next few days.

First of all, I already hate the world because of people like him.

Second, yes I am a fucking comedian, that doesn't I have to be an asshole void of feelings.

Have people always been this mean? Because before the Internet I convinced myself that most people were okay. Now, thanks to the ability to anonymously comment, cowards are able spread hate without responsibility. And then there's the unbelievable amount of online stupidity from people who actually reveal their real name (and sometimes phone numbers and addresses, have we not learned?!) I don’t know if people just don’t think clearly before they hit post or if people’s true colors just come out online, but the way that some people talk about other people publicly is heartbreaking.

I think part of the problem is posting something about someone online allows you to disengage in actual human contact with the person you're discussing thus disengaging with the possibility that someone may be hurt. And it's just not celebrities that we do this to, I won't even list all the websites (because I refuse to give them more traffic) created to spread hate: racist sites, misogynistic sites, sites where photos of regular people's faces and bodies are rated. We are so focused on taking down other people that we aren’t building ourselves up. We are obsessed with the mistakes and misfortunes so we can avoid dealing with our own mistakes and misfortunes. It's escapism, it's gross, and it's growing.

I’m especially disappointed with other comics who partake in non-stop senseless celebrity bashing. Sure, it’s a comedian's job to be inappropriate, shocking, dark, and blunt -- but professionals can do so with integrity and grace not spite and hate.

Some people used Whitney Houston's death as a chance to name other celebrities they wished were dead. Yes, people publicly wish other people, who they've never met nor have ever been personally affected by, were dead. What's wrong with you? If someone has a show or a song you don't like, isn't the better option turning off your television instead of, I don't know, wishing death on a stranger?

I'm not even going to get into the "edgy" jokes about rape and molestation jokes, which, incidentally, world -- no longer edgy if everybody makes them. (That's how being edgy works.)

It's all about the intention behind their joke, and you know when the joke is coming from a good place or an evil one.

What I don't know is the perfect protocol for handling death or any other sensitive topic online, on stage or in life. I just know that what I read and heard this weekend seconds, SECONDS after a fellow human being died made my heart hurt. Just as it hurts almost every time I log onto the Internet.

I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way, show them all the beauty they possess inside. ..

I guess we weren’t taught very well because the way this world is being led scares me.