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A Quick Rant about Comedy and Billionaires
Is it okay to laugh? Yes.
Writing jokes is just about my favorite thing in the world and I have a few rules of ethics that go along with it. Most of them can be summed up by saying that comedy should always punch up. When it goes wrong it’s usually because someone’s trying to use it to advance the perspective of the powerful.
For example, it doesn’t make sense to make fun of people for stuff they didn’t pick or can’t do anything about. That’s why so few people make jokes about cancer.
With all that in mind, I read an opinion piece in the Washington Post this week titled, “What internet jokes about the submersible disaster say about society,” by Molly Roberts, here, and I just want to take a few moments, as a lifelong comedy writer, to give some context and to explain why people shared so many jokes about the dead billionaires.
The Onion, for example, had a field day:
A Quick Thank You
First, though, let me say thanks for reading. There are a few more travelogues to come. There might or might not be a Medieval HOA post this week if my friend and co-writer’s work schedule and dad schedule gives him time to write.
Once those are done I have some new ideas, mostly inspired by’s experiments with CYOA style writing. If you haven’t yet, check out his Questball series here:
I’m looking forward to all that. Thanks for all the likes, shares, comments and so forth. That kind of thing means a lot to artists.
Okay, let’s rant.
Is It Okay to Laugh About Dead Billionaires?
Roberts’ opinion piece starts thus:
Is five people missing 12,500 feet under the sea something to laugh about? The answer, obviously, is no, and the very question is ghoulish. Yet we have to ask it all the same — because too many onlookers to the tale of the lost OceanGate expedition didn’t seem to think the answer was obvious at all.
If you want to advance the views of the powerful, the first thing you have to do is remove context. People do it all the time and it’s why a lot of people are so hard to talk to.
For example, it could be considered relevant context that the Washington Post is owned by, and thus Molly Roberts employed by, billionaire Jeff Bezos. You may recall Bezos as the hypervillain who destroyed literature forever and crushed the livelihood of authors worldwide so that he could deliver patent-sidestepping trash with fake reviews.
We live in a world completely owned by, and utterly fucked up by, billionaires. All they do is fuck around and, because they also own the regulators, never ever find out.
You can play that game all day on Wall Street. It works very well in Congress and in the US media. But you cannot fuck around in the ocean. It is made of 100% findoutium.
It appears that the owner of the company running the tours down to the wreck of the Titanic was a very big fan of fucking around and also of refusing to listen when people warned him that he might find out.
I am sorry, particularly for the families, that those people died. I wish that there was some similarly public but painless and non-lethal way for their excesses and hubris to be on the world stage.
I’d also like it very much if fewer people in the US died due to lack of access to healthcare. Five people have probably died for that reason while I was typing this sentence. I could do with fewer once-in-a-lifetime economic crashes for which the elites never seem to pay. I’d like to see fewer Americans held in for-profit prisons. The list is long.
Here’s another question: is it possible to be an ethical billionaire? I’ll answer that one. No.
I think, on balance, it’s a pretty natural reaction to laugh when a bully gets served. You wouldn’t normally find violence funny per se, but in this case…
Certainly those people in the submersible and their families deserve dignity. But thinking about who they were, how their families are feeling, and what it means to lose someone… all of these carry weight because they are context.
If we’re adding that context, we have to add it all.