August 19, 2013

"Comedian Amy Schumer says that Comedy Central steered her away from making a suicide joke on her TV show."

"This prompts Emma Garman to wonder whether suicide is the last taboo in comedy. But Michelle Dean suspects Schumer’s set-up just wasn’t funny enough."

More here, with examples of suicide humor in pop culture, including:
Oh my gosh, you can’t consider suicide humor with Joan Rivers, who began making jokes about her husband Edgar almost immediately after he took his own life. She has continued to so, and it was a theme of her roast.  Not too long ago, she made Terry Gross almost speechless with her comic references to it.
And let me add the original movie "MASH." On the TV show, they used the theme music without the lyrics, which were:
Through early morning fog I see
visions of the things to be
the pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see...
that suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
and I can take or leave it if I please....
It goes on. Read the plot summary if you don't know sequence about suicide:
Walt Waldowski, the unit's dentist... tells Hawkeye that he suffered a "lack of performance" with a visiting nurse and now believes he has latent homosexual tendencies. He wants to commit suicide, and asks advice on a reliable method. Hawkeye, Trapper and Duke suggest that he use the "black capsule," a fictitious fast-acting poison. At a farewell banquet that apes The Last Supper, Walt takes the capsule (actually a sleeping pill) and falls asleep in a coffin. Hawkeye persuades Lt. Maria Schneider to spend the night with Walt and cure him of his "problem."
I think suicide is an especially apt subject for comedy, and not just because it's a release to be frank or even mean about something serious. I think it's helpful as a deterrent to the suicidal logic that says this will punish those who hurt me or everyone will see how sad I was and feel so sorry for me. If suicide is sacrosanct, it leverages that logic. I know, no one wants to hurt the family and friends of those who have already committed suicide, but on that reasoning, we should never joke about car crashes, cancer, and murder.

11 comments:

Deirdre Mundy said...

The movie Heathers had plenty of suicide jokes... including a scene about the ineffectual high school guidance counselor who was actually encouraging the kids to kill themselves by being overly non-judgmental.

Matthew Sablan said...

If you want to do comedy on touchy subjects, it is imperative you do it -well.- You can have gallows humor ("Besides that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?"), but it needs to be executed well. Or, you have to be talking about it self-referentially (like in the Rivers example.)

A drug addict might be able to get away with jokes about how hard they find it to get over the addiction; it might just be gauche for me to joke about it.

Scott M said...

Love Amy Schumer's stand up. The show, not so much, but that's to be expected. Outside Dave Chapelle's one notable exception, the stand-up's don't translate to good sketch comedy shows on Comedy Central.

Amy's comedic style is another in a growing line of white comics that don't seem to have any problem whatsoever giving the last four decades of black comics the same medicine.

Half the comedic value is the unease of the audience, born and raised, by now, at the PC trough.

Mark said...

My experience with that show suggests it would be going for the lowest common denominator and I am not surprised they failed to be funny.

Sullivan's example of Heathers is excellent, as it found a lot of humor in suicide and seems to follow a the very point you make. Like other things, suicide needs smartness to make it funny. That Comedy Central show is quite far from inintelligent humor.

Stephen Reynolds said...

Once you exhausted all the Holocaust jokes, suicide is the last frontier that's for sure.

Richard Dolan said...

"I know, no one wants to hurt the family and friends of those who have already committed suicide, but on that reasoning, we should never joke about car crashes, cancer, and murder."

Amen. In part this plays on the emotion vs. reason divide, in part on persuasion vs. 'feel your pain' as the objective of the exercise. Those aren't either/or choices, and in the end, it's all a matter of context, timing and deft execution (oops!). Humor is often a key part of a funeral, lightening the mood, focusing attention of the good that a life accomplished. But it can be out of place. Try imagining the Gettysburg Address if Lincoln had tried to toss a joke in the middle somewhere. Probably wouldn't have made it better.

CatherineM said...

Heathers was spawned from the news. Kids committed suicide when they saw how much attention the dead kids got for doing it. Google Plano Texas Suicides. Big news story when I was a kid.

HJA said...

Charles Addams cartoon: the caption is pretty hard to make out, but it reads, "for heaven's sake, can't you do anything right?"

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_hvV0JHPYX_I/Sh8-xVwYYnI/AAAAAAAAFS4/O2eB2w3LQoA/s400/23_monsterrally_addams_mangman.jpg

There's also a whole "Curb Your Enthusiasm" about a kamikaze pilot.

Auntie Ann said...

On M*A*S*H you never heard the lyrics to the theme song. (But, doesn't everyone know them anyway?)

Mountain Maven said...

You can pretend to be as open minded as you like. However, some things aren't funny and should not be joked about e.g. suicide, holocaust, and rape.

betamax3001 said...

Re: "You can pretend to be as open minded as you like. However, some things aren't funny and should not be joked about e.g. suicide, holocaust, and rape."


Two Concentration Camp Survivors with Terminal Cancer Walk Into a Bar.

The First Tells the Bartender: I Can No Longer Stand the Pain, I Am Going to Kill Myself Tonight. Make This Special: Give Me My Last Drink on Earth.

The Bartender Pours the Man a Rather Weak Gin and Tonic, Bottom Shelf Gin.

Really? Says the Man: On My Last Day on Earth is That All There Is?

The Bartender Replies: the Quality of the Gin or the Drink Itself Does Not Matter, it Is The Life Lived Up to This Point.

The Second Concentration Camp Survivor Nods, Agrees: Those Are Wise Words.

The Bartender Then Adds: Besides, I Added the Best Quality Rohyphenol to Your Drink so That Your Friend Can Rape You in Your Sleep.

The First Man Says: What? You Can't Wait Until I Am Dead?