Too Soon? Why Comedy Plays Well On Twitter After Charleston Shooting [OP-ED]

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Abbi Crutchfield, a Twitter comedian, has spurred on a good controversial topic for today after the events of a mass shooting in Charleston, SC: Is it ever “too soon” for comedy?

Nine people were murdered at a mass shooting at a church on Wednesday night, including the pastor of the Emanuel AME congregation during a bible study. The shooting at the predominantly black church, allegedly perpetrated by a 21-year-old white kid named Dylann Roof, was believed to be racially motivated. Roof had more than a passing interest in white supremacy, according to Slate who points out that he wears a tiny apartheid-era South African flag in a random Facebook photo.

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Roof was caught this morning, some 250 miles away from the shooting site, up in North Carolina after a motorist recognized his car as being one identified in conjunction with the attack.

And that brings us to Abbi, who seized on the opportunity to paste up on Twitter a collage of nine different individuals with goofy bowlcuts, mocking the hairstyle of Roof in his now-infamous Facebook photo.

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Playing off his stuck-in-the-’90s hairstyle, Abbi wrote: “The #CharlestonShooting suspect is in custody and will go to court where he will be judged by a jury of his peers.”

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Some laughed, some didn’t. Other posts by her (or that she retweeted) on the matter were:

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It begets the age-old question: is it ever too soon to joke after a tragedy? After all, Rudy Giuliani had to go on Saturday Night Live after 9/11 and proclaim it “okay to laugh again.” South Park did an episode tailored around the announcement that “Aids was finally okay to joke about.” Is there a timetable for such things? An hour? A week? Five years? Never?

It’s a matter of perspective. Threatened to be lost in our occasionally overly-sensitive culture, humor means different things to different people. For some it’s a confidence builder, for others a defense mechanism, for others still, a job. There’s a danger of losing edgy “gallows” humor that continues to grow in our current climate though.

But that’s why I love, love, love these posts by Abbi. For her, they’re just part of her daily barrage of funny tweets born out of current events. For me, her tweets are brave. I probably sound like a nut here, but hear me out.

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Increasingly, comedians have come under fire for joking about sensitive subjects. Daniel Tosh caught a lot of heat for making rape jokes, Gilbert Gottfried was fired for his Japanese tsunami comments (even though they were tame by comparison of his other stuff), and Louis CK has been singled out for allegedly masturbating in front of women. Okay, the heat on that last one is probably deserved (but this exact issue makes the strongest case for the other side — where do you draw the line on what comedy is? Louis was probably laughing the whole time, even if those girls weren’t).

There’s a real danger to joking about tragedy in public because it offends factions of the population. But many of us certainly joke about it in private. I think that kid’s bowl cut is hilarious and made references to the Three Stooges before I ever saw Abbi’s post. But I mostly wouldn’t post stuff like that myself because of this sensitivity from others. I am in a job where I am required at times to be sensitive to issues and so I have to be somewhat mindful. Abbi is too — she, as a comedian, stands to lose out on endorsements or future opportunities because of this sensitive culture.

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Take for instance the people who wanted to unhire forthcoming Daily Show host Trevor Noah because of some edgy tweets he made years ago. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and the whiners were effectively tuned out. It seems like the exception more than the rule these days though.

You don’t have to like offensive or edgy humor — it’s offensive and edgy for that reason after all. But considering that you’re most likely an American, you should respect someone’s right to a differing opinion. Some of us just need to laugh in the face of tragedy even while others cry.

For some reason, the hardest thing for certain people to do is just ignore what they don’t like. I hate seafood, but that doesn’t mean I think it should be banned.

So you don’t like the jokes Abbi Crutchfield made? Take her out of your feed and you never have to hear them again. But don’t try to ruin it for people who feel differently than you.

Share this because I am genuinely curious what you and others think.