By Mariana Garces
Scientists and mathematicians were elated earlier this week when a new breakthrough brought them closer than ever to developing a comprehensive formula to determine when jokes about tragedies turn from “too soon” to funny. Though some say the formula is not quite perfect, several scientists have compared reaching this stage to approaching the theoretical temperature of absolute zero.
The Associated Press met with researchers and confirmed that jokes about Julius Caesar’s murder are now officially proven as funny, or they at least have the potential to be. After the press conference, on his show, Conan O’Brien pulled out a dusty cue card from The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien that read “Et tu, Jay?” Crowd member Donald Landry corroborated that the joke was, in fact, “Nowhere near ‘too soon.’”
According to their extensive calculations and focus groups with comedians, easily offended people and everyone in between, researchers determined that the waiting period is dependent on such variables as how many lives were lost, the circumstances of the disaster, the notability of the people involved and, as many comedians have always assumed, whether there has been a bad movie made about the tragedy. It has long been common knowledge within the Humor Sciences field that if a bad movie has been made about the tragedy in question, it’s safe to joke about. Such tragedies include the distant but not forgotten disasters of the Titanic in 1912, Pearl Harbor in 1941 and Michael Jackson’s death in 2009.
The fame of the involved people inversely affects the length of time before jokes about deaths or crimes can be deemed humorous by the general public. This is why scientists have deemed jokes about Billy Mays, Steve Irwin and Greg Giraldo funnier in far less time than the murder of an upstanding local PTA mom, an example they used as their control variable.
This was verified by Gilbert Gottfried’s twitter, in which he joked only hours after the fellow comedian’s death, “If Greg Giraldo is cremated, will that be the Greg Giraldo Roast?” Noble, respected public figures are to receive a longer grace period before cruel jokes about their death, such as Princess Diana or John Lennon.
Another key factor involves the obscurity of a tragedy. If, for example, a Nova Scotian references the Halifax explosion of 1917 in a joke, it would likely not be funny because only a small number of people know of the boat explosion and aftermath that killed more than 2,000 people. In this case, too much time has passed for enough people to recognize the reference and deem jokes about the tragic event as humorous.
Researchers admit that while their equation is nearly flawless, with about a .00000012 percent margin of error, they are proudest of their “Too-soonometer,” a handheld sensitivity instrument that is triggered and emits a loud heckle whenever unfunny issues or events are discussed within five feet of it. The meter is an easy litmus test for things that researchers are usually already sure about, including issues like genocide, 9/11, rape and massacres. Researchers are still debating in journals and labs across the nation the appropriateness of jokes concerning Heath Ledger and death by auto-erotic asphyxiation.
“I only hope that our results can be used to better stand-up comics’ reputations,” said Kyle Richardson, one of the lead reasearchers in the study. “And perhaps save the average class clown from looking like a fool by making a Holocaust joke.”
Mariana Graces is a sophomore journalism major who knows a great Heath Ledger joke but will keep it to herself, for now. E-mail her at [email protected].