Note: I’m a columnist for the Reader Weekly, an alt-weekly newspaper in Duluth, MN. Every Monday I post a new column.
The rules for offensive jokes have just changed. With the horrendous Virginia Tech shootings last week, 9/11 jokes have now been downgraded to “completely inoffensive”. For a while, 9/11 was our hottest tragedy, the edgiest way for comedy writers, stand-up comics, and general miscreants to easily offend people. But thanks to this new nutcase from Virginia Tech, the “offend with 9/11” trend has officially passed.
So if you’re drunk at a stuffy party and looking for the most horrific way to be thrown out, don’t make a 9/11 joke. That’s no longer a faux pas. Make a Virginia Tech joke instead. I guarantee you won’t just be asked to leave, you’ll be physically dragged out to the street and thrown in front of a moving vehicle. That’s how hot this new tragedy has become.
However, please keep in mind that you only have one to two years to offend people with Virginia Tech jokes until they also become an accepted, or even outdated, joke topic. Remember the Columbine shootings? If you made a joke about that today, people would probably just roll their eyes. They probably wouldn’t even be offended, because that equally horrendous tragedy is so 1999.
Sadly, that’s how society works. It’s not that different from the business or fashion world. There are trends and crazes, fads and flavors of the month. As offensive joke tellers, we must follow these trends closely. When the Columbine tragedy got stale, people had 9/11 to revive their outrage. Now that the flavor of 9/11 has become as bland as a wad of Dubble Bubble, the Virginia Tech tragedy has given people something new to chew.
And chew they will! This is a golden period for offensive comedy. Make any joke about Virginia Tech, no matter how bland it is, and people will throw a fit. You’ll be called a traitor, scoundrel, coward, and anything else that rolls easily off the tongue during an emotionally charged moment. You’ll be able to offend people without even trying.
“Why don’t you think about the victims!” they’ll shout at you, their faces turning a deep red. This emotion may cause you to momentarily feel regret, but stay strong and remember that their umbrage will pass. In a few years, Virginia Tech will just become “That shooting that happened a while ago.” Some new horror will have taken its place.
That’s what makes offensive comedy so difficult. If people were truly mad about a tragedy, they’d stay mad about it forever, giving us a never-ending supply of material to offend them with. But no one ever stays mad about tragedies. They weep, then get angry, then talk about how it should never happen again, and then become indifferent until it does happen again. And because no one bothered to stop talking and actually fix something, we have to write a whole new supply of offensive jokes. It’s a real pain.
Here’s some tips to help you transition into the Virginia Tech offensive joke era. Begin with something simple, like a joke about how kids will be more willing to fight in Iraq next fall than enroll at Virginia Tech. Add the punchline, “At least the teenagers we send to Iraq get body armor.” If your poor overworked editor doesn’t strangle you to death after being dug out of the avalanche of hate mail your joke caused, move on to deliver the closing line.
The best closing lines turn the tables on the angry audience at the last possible moment. A closer should still offend people, but this time by presenting a serious statement that rightfully fingers the people you’ve angered as the problem. In this case, a statement showing that the real joke is their ineffective process of dealing with these tragedies. Try something like, “Never forget Virginia Tech. Blah blah blah. The only thing we’ve changed since Columbine is the color of the ribbons.”