Don Rickles, Mr. Warmth, died last week. He was known for zingers like
“When you enter a room, you have to kiss his [Frank Sinatra’s] ring. I don’t mind, but he has it in his back pocket.”
“Oh my God, look at you. Anyone else hurt in the accident?”
“You know, every night when I go out on stage, there’s always one nagging fear in the back of my mind. I’m always afraid that somewhere out there, there is one person in the audience that I’m not going to offend!”
While he was often referred to as an insult comic, he did not like the term. Rickles insisted that, “If I were to insult people and mean it, that wouldn’t be funny. There is a difference between an actual insult and just having fun.” Instead, he understood his comedy as poking fun at our assumptions about the world and our selves.
This helped me to understand the flood of humor that followed the terrible trifecta of Pepsi, United Airlines, and Sean Spicer.
After Pepsi released an add where Caitlyn Jenner diffused a potential conflict between protestors and police officers by handing the latter a Pepsi, the dark hilarity began.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, video surfaced of a passenger on a United Airlines flight that was forcibly removed from his seat. Once again, people turned to humor.
Then, in a press conference on Assad’s use of chemical weapons, Sean Spicer said, “You had someone as despicable as Hitler didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” The reaction of these reporters quickly went viral.
the journey in this gif is unbelievable pic.twitter.com/lanp2TvruQ
— Seb FoxAllen (@purpledocket) April 11, 2017
Then came the inevitable combinations on Twitter:
Pepsi: How will we get the spotlight off us?
United: Hold my —.
Spicer: No no, step aside boys. I’ve got this.
Pepsi: We own the biggest PR disaster of the year.
United: Hold my —.
Spicer: NOT EVEN HITLER GASSED PEOPLE.
Why laugh in the face of events like these? Today is Good Friday, not a day of laughter but sorrow. If Good Friday were the whole of the Easter story, there would be no reason to laugh, only reasons to weep. The messiah came to us as a sign of God’s love, and, instead of welcoming the Christ in joy, we crucify him. We see a world where evil triumphs over good, might makes right, and death is stronger than love.
On Easter though, we celebrate the resurrection. It is a surprise, startling and unsettling. It reveals that death is not the last word, that God’s love is stronger than human sin. Jesus rises, and we see a world that can be better and different. We see a world were love does, in fact, matter. In our surprise at the risen Lord, we sing in celebration and laugh with joy.
Why laugh? We laugh because we have hope. The humor above exposes the superficiality of the worlds of marketing and political spin and so suggests a different, better world. Our struggles and conflicts – like those highlighted by Black Lives Matter, Women’s March on Washington, and the Muslim Ban Protests – shouldn’t be co-opted and rendered inane just to sell soda. Basic kindness should be extended even in stressful situations. Politicians should seek the common good and not subordinate everything to partisan apologetics. We can make fun of the wrongs of the world because we know that they are not the last word. We laugh because we have hope in a better world, a world that is to come.