Why you should never apologise for being hilarious: The thin line between humour and offence

Why you should never apologise for being hilarious: The thin line between humour and offence

Anybody who has felt the scorch of a hurtful comment that was meant as a joke but cut too close to the bone, would probably agree with me when I say there is a thin line between humour and offence. Stand-up comedy usually takes lots of practice, preparation and editing but at times the performers still get it wrong and have to give awkward apologies or mock the audience for being over-sensitive. We all want to be funny, but there are no rules and guidelines to comedy, so it becomes a great source of controversy and conflict.

In our generation where social networking is part of our everyday lives and our tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts  are published to the world wide web without a hint of a thought to who the audience might be; it is inevitable that a couple of people would get into a bit of trouble for inappropriate attempts at humour. My intention is not to inflict even more misery on the poor souls who have learnt these lessons the hard way, but to share their stories so that many of us won’t have to.

Case 1: Has Justine Landed Yet?

Some time during 2013, the hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet popped up on twitter and in no time started to trend worldwide. The hashtag referred to a tweet posted by a young lady who was travelling to Africa that day. Before boarding her plane she logged onto her personal twitter account and tweeted, “Going to Africa, hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding, I’m white!”. Her tweet went viral and immediately received scorn and retaliation from many disgruntled users as she tried to explain that it was sarcasm and was meant to mock herself as a blonde white woman travelling to Africa. Obviously, this did not sit well with many and she eventually had to delete her tweet and then her entire twitter account. I watched in awe as people insulted and attacked her character; others debated her innocence and some even shared pictures of her, her alma mater and other personal details that all formed part of the twitter scandal. The woman had offended the world.

That same day, the stock of the company she worked for began to drop and eventually they saw a need to relieve Justine of her position at the company. What I’m saying is: she got fired. For a joke. On the interwebs.

Lesson 1: The bio clause

The twitter bio is the second thing anyone looks at when arriving on a person’s twitter profile (after the avatar picture). We usually fill it with a vague description of ourselves, our interests or something witty, funny or deep that will attract people to us and make them want to follow us. What the really smart users do is add a short clause or statement such as “opinions are my own” or “parody account” that sort of protects them from whatever inappropriate humour they use thereafter. This is because these statements change the tone in which the tweets are read so readers take them far less seriously.


Case 2: Bambi

It is true for almost all of us that we love to make fun of the ones we love. I am one of those people who comes from a family that will make fun of anything and anyone. It gave me such thick skin that I don’t ever get offended by anything my best friend Anitha says (she can be so mean sometimes, LOL). When I first met her in my first year at University she was in the process of bestowing nicknames upon certain individuals in our class. Amongst those that were named there was “Bambi”, our guy friend who was implied to have the weak legs of a newborn deer. Five years later and all that can be said for that nickname is that it is completely ironic. Bambi is one of the buffest guys in our class now! Awkward.

Lesson 2: When it comes to mocking, consider your subject

This is contrary to the way I have been raised (we had a firm ‘give as good as you can get’ approach to teasing and mocking in my household) but from my experience I have learnt that the more caustic/vulgar/crass forms of humour (blue/mordant/dark) are seldom appropriate when your subject is a stranger or acquaintance. To avoid pissing off strangers or hurting close friends or family, use this type of humour very sparingly and only when you are sure the person can handle it.

Case 3: The tale of an expelled SRC president

More recently this year the University of Witwatersrand’s SRC president came into question due to his facebook comment that said he loves Adolf Hitler and admires his leadership. He also said that every white person has an element of Hitler in them. These comments got him a first-class ticket to the stripping of his precidency and possibly even expulsion. My reaction? Wait, so out of all the billions of amazing people in this world he chose to love Adolf Hitler, a dead man, who had no sanctity for the value of human life? That’s kinda weird. Like you love him weird.

Lesson 3: You shouldn’t make jokes about admiring people like Hitler, unless you do it like this:

jipsteradolf ca4f7c5f9e207b9d196ae16017ccdc52a6026261fb088feffe2a48da7b5c9b2e adolf-hipster 73740ffca1d8f4a831dc1a6f195f0858_400x400

Photocredits go to @HipsterAdolf on twitter.

Other lessons I should probably add to this list are:

  • Treat others the way you’d like to be treated. (The golden rule)
  • You can protect your accounts if you do not want your content being shared in newspapers, online publications and the seven o’clock news (yes, the twitter terms allow your tweets to be displayed on the news).
  • It’s okay to miss sometimes. Comedy is a ‘different strokes for different folks’ type of thing and you may not always get the laughs you expect. That’s alright.
  • Tickling is a WAY more effective way of getting people to laugh.
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3 thoughts on “Why you should never apologise for being hilarious: The thin line between humour and offence

  1. Great post. I’ve grown up in a similar sort of family where jokes seem to carry on for months and strangers think your insane when a family member refers to one and you collapse laughing. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

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