Home Entertainment Examining The Onion’s Tweet, Quvenzhane Wallis, and Comedic Tact – How Do You Know When Your Joke Has Gone Too Far?

Examining The Onion’s Tweet, Quvenzhane Wallis, and Comedic Tact – How Do You Know When Your Joke Has Gone Too Far?

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Quvenzhane-Wallis-85th-Annual-Academy-Awards

Pretty rough day for The Onion. I don’t want to give the story too much more play because I think it was actually a publicity stunt that they knew would incite this reaction and drive a ton of traffic their way. I’ve always said, the best way to treat situations like these is to completely ignore them. If nobody retweeted The Onion’s stupid ass tweet or started talking about it at the rate of a reality TV viewing party on Twitter, we would have never heard anything about this story and it would have just went away.

That said, I can’t pronounce that girl’s name or tell you what she does. I do know one thing, you can’t just be calling little girls names like that. As a man, I only took offense to it because if someone had said that about my daughter, I’d punch them in the face. It’s not because she’s Black, it’s not because of the word that was used, it’s solely and only because it was because she’s a child. And the proper punishment should be a punch in the mouth – nobody was oppressed, nobody lost any money, that’s it. In fact, (and again, I don’t know how to pronounce that girl’s name, that’s important), Quvenzhané Wallis just gained more exposure than she’s ever had in her life in 24 hours.

Also, in a few years when this girl is a star, nobody will remember this even happened.

Lastly, when are people going to learn that when you make jokes about Black girls they EXPLODE into stardom! (See: Gabrielle Douglass)

I started thinking about comedy, jokes and what the actual line is associated with comedy. We’ve all seen comedians’ careers completely end because of a bad joke. Tracy Morgan’s soon-to-be gay son comments, Michael Richards joking about stringing negros up on trees, or the infamous “nappyheaded hoes” fiasco. I began to wonder, how do you know that the joke has gone too far?

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Not too long ago I was watching a documentary on Patrice O’Neal and they brought up the time when he went to bat for a fellow comedian who had recently made some jokes about rape. They were talking about how in addition to being funny; Patrice was actually very smart and intelligent.

This is the background: Radio shock jocks Opie and Anthony were recently suspended from XM Satellite Radio “when they broadcast May 9 the rantings of a character they call Homeless Charlie, who fantasized about having violent sex with Laura Bush, Condoleezza Rice and Queen Elizabeth II.”

This is what happened: On Monday, “stand-up comic” Patrice O’Neal appeared as a guest on John Gibson’s Fox News show, The Big Story, and defended Opie and Anthony. He said they were just “trying to be funny.”

This is an excerpt from the conversation:

GIBSON: How can you — Patrice so here is my question — how can you justify a bad joke, a joke that isn’t funny — wait a minute, that isn’t funny, doesn’t get any laughs, and is about raping the first black woman to ever become the secretary of state of the United States?

O’NEAL: Don’t throw that at me.

GIBSON: Well why not?

O’NEAL: The attempt is what I’m trying to fight for. The joke may or may — funny jokes and unfunny jokes come out of the same birth. You don’t know if anything is going to be funny. You should attempt to be able to make anything funny.

GIBSON: Don’t you think a joke about rape is doomed to be not funny?

O’NEAL: It’s possible, but I’ve heard them. I’ve heard them.

Later…

OSSORIO: No, no. He said a violent act of hitting her in the back of her head, her body freezes up, which will then –

O’NEAL: It’s called the donkey punch.

OSSORIO: Which will then –

O’NEAL: Why are you laughing? She’s outraged. It’s called the donkey punch, its called humor that she has no clue what it is.

GIBSON: We have the same problem that Opie and Anthony does. You can’t say just anything on the air.

O’NEAL: You can say anything you want. It might not be funny, you might get in trouble for it, but you should be able to be attempting — and plus, when is a crazy bum going to get an opportunity to rape the president’s wife John? It was trying to be funny.

And then after I watched that clip, which you can watch right here, I concluded – Patrice was actually right. While it’s troubling that Patrice O’Neal was able to defend a joke about rape, he was spot on about a few things:

  1. The issue was whether it was funny or not. Patrice stated that you never know which jokes will be funny or unfunny. That’s true, they are all birthed out of the same place.
  2. It’s important to note that there was no possible way that Opie & Anthony could ever follow through on what they were saying; it’s obvious they were just trying to be funny.
  3. People laugh about things that are allegedly not funny all the time. (Example: Donkey Punch and Gabrielle Douglass’s hair.)
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I guess I kind of walked away from the experience and the thought process thinking that Patrice was right but that you’ll never know where the line is until you cross it. I typically give people a pass when I know they’re only trying to make a joke. It wasn’t meant to be hurtful, but I hold out chance that someone may get hurt. When i’m hurt I always make sure to note the person’s intentions to determine my reaction and actions.

To end on a lighter note, I used to love Bad Girls Club that show was so dope. I think there was this episode where two of the girls got in a fight because someone got called a “Black b*tch” by a white lady. When they panned to her private interview she exclaimed, “What’s wrong with that? She’s Black and she’s a bitch!” I died laughing because she was right but it wasn’t going to fly. You can call a Black woman, “black” and you can call one a “bitch” (not really, but I’m saying if you were a woman) but if you ever put them together it’s fighting words. That’s how jokes are. It’s a confusing matrix and mixture of rules and guidelines to making jokes. It’s completely confusing. You have two choices, don’t make jokes or accept that at some point you’re going to offend some people.

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– Dr. J

What are your thoughts on The Onion’s tweet about Quvenzhane? We all know it was across the line, but do you think The Onion was trying to be satirical or tell a joke that failed miserably? How do comedians tow the line of funny and not funny? Appropriate and Inappropriate? Is it wrong to attack them when their jokes fail? Place your thoughts in the comment section.

Comment(28)

  1. I generally see no problem with the Onion. This is one instance where I think they crossed the line. The target of the joke was a 9 year old. It's generally bad taste to go after minors, especially if there are high chances that the joke wouldn't possibly be understood by the target. They could have made other jokes about her dealing with her age or something but calling her a cunt was over the line to me.
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  2. Hmmm…there was a time when I was weirdly obsessed with comedians and comedy. To the point that I watched a lot of randoms do their standup acts on Comedy Central and wanted to open a Comedy Club.

    I think most comedians or people who are funny know what it takes to get a basic laugh. But those who are committed to their craft want to do more than that, go deeper as it were. This is where I think things break away from what's "funny" to a matter of taste. Once you get past what is humorous, it becomes all in the delivery. Is it hit you on top of the head, obvious comedy? Is it physical comedy? Subtle and sarcastic comedy? Is it looking at the everyday things of life and making them funny comedy? There are so many ways you can do it, and there is an audience for every way you try to play it. Because somebody whether we like it or not laughed at that Onion tweet. Someone doesn't think it was inappropriate because their taste meter sees nothing wrong with it. But their taste meter might reject a high brow type comedian. This doesn't excuse the Onion tweet, that ish was not cool, but they know they have an audience and up until now things had been working in their favor. They overplayed their hand. But such is the case when you are providing "funnies" for the masses.

    I think any time you put something out for public consumption then you will have to deal with the accolades and the criticism. If you don't want people to talk badly about your jokes then keep doing stand up in your living room. But I think it's those who aren't in the industry who are the most offended and quick to call it "hating." People who create know the work they produced has the potential to be loved, praised, critiqued, barely considered, picked apart, hated or ethered. And right or wrong, if it's what they're meant to do, they get up the next day and create again.
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    1. To follow up on your point. When I found out about the tweet, the first thing I said was, "I've heard white people say that to kids before." My homegirl was like totally astonished when I said that. But I was right… it's also in a movie too and a lot of people just laughed. They probably forgot all about it last night because groupthink took over and everyone wanted to take a stand.

      13-Year-Old Girl in Jewelry Store: You're weird.
      Annie: I'm not weird. OK?
      13-Year-Old Girl in Jewelry Store: Yes, you are.
      Annie: No, I'm not! And you started it.
      13-Year-Old Girl in Jewelry Store: No, you started it! Did you forget to take your Xanax this morning?
      Annie: Oh, I feel bad for your parents.
      13-Year-Old Girl in Jewelry Store: I feel bad for your face.
      Annie: OK… well, call me when your boobs come in.
      13-Year-Old Girl in Jewelry Store: You call me when yours come in.
      Annie: What do you have, four boyfriends?
      13-Year-Old Girl in Jewelry Store: Exactly.
      Annie: OK… yeah, have fun having a baby at your prom.
      13-Year-Old Girl in Jewelry Store: You look like an old mop.
      Annie: You know, you're not as popular as you think you are.
      13-Year-Old Girl in Jewelry Store: I am very popular.
      Annie: [sticks tongue in cheek and mimics fellatio] Oh, I'm sure you are… very… popular.
      13-Year-Old Girl in Jewelry Store: Well, you're an old, single loser who's never going to have any friends.
      Annie: You're a little cunt!

      That's from Bridesmaids.

      I didn't find Bridesmaids to be that funny at all but a WHOLE BUNCH of people laughed from beginning to end. But trust, and I agree, somebody laughed at that shit last night. Probably the people who really follow Onion, the first 100 or so who RT'ed were shocked and chuckled.

      1. To me, I feel different because the comment was made about a real child, not a movie character. If people are having trouble separating reality from fiction, yikes…

        1. Also, the little girl in the movie actually WAS acting like a c*nt – or at least like a disrespectful brat.

          The tweet about Quvenzhane seemingly came out of nowhere and attacked a child who had done nothing wrong. (yes, I know that it was satire and there's a "story" behind the tweet which provides context, but most people didn't/don't understand this.)

      2. This is a quote from a comedy… one where you expect everything to be over the top. That's number one. Secondly, this just further proves the point that we're making in defense of Quevenzhane. When Annie ran out of clever things to say, she reached into the bag of extreme ugly and pulled out the most vile and offensive thing she could think of.

        1. Interesting perspective… but it makes absolutely no sense. I can understand the argument that you expected the quote in Bridesmaid to be comedy. But why would you read anything The Onion produces as anything but comedy. That's 100% of their material. That's what keeps getting lost in confusion. The joke just wasn't funny, but it was intended the same way the other was intended to be a joke.

          I think that people think that the mode of presentation matters, but I would just argue that movies like Django are meant to be comedies, but it doesn't make the jokes any less offensive, racist or sexist. People should remain consistent is all i'm saying.

          I'm not saying I agree or support The Onion, I am just saying that people who attack them are inherently flawed in their argument. All that to say, some inherently flawed arguments are not always dismissed.

      3. Now I have watched Bridesmaid and thought that movie was hilarious. However, when you are looking at comedy, I guess you have to compare it to beauty and art. It's all in the eye of the beholder. I think for the young in my opinion it is disrespectful but with that press may come additional opportunities and keep her in the spotlight for a little bit longer for other roles if that is what she choses to do.

      4. The difference is SETUP. You are very aware why the fictional character was being called out their name. Without context and setup, it is assumed they called a real life child out their name simply because they thought they can.

        1. Addressed this several times already and I posed the counter that regardless of setup, offensive is offensive. Django was racist and offensive but it was setup as a comedy. It didn't make it any more or less right or wrong. A lot of things have to do with your sense of humor. I think the key takeaway is that it just wasn't funny to you You didn't find it amusing and that's all.

          So that's why someone can see that scene in Bridesmaids and say, "hey that's just a movie." But that same person can see Django and say, "hey this is really messed up material." There's people out there who didn't think the comment by The Onion was all that serious, some people did. It is just what perspective you come from.

        2. when people make a comment like this go into the negative it lets me know that we really have trolls on this site… there really wasn't anything wrong with what I said. it takes away from the validity of our conversations when we have childish games like this going on. when we stop responding to our readers because they act immature and silly, it ends the culture we try and breed here. but i'm chilling.

  3. Over on MN, most of the women over there got up in arms because they felt like it was another attack on black women and our overly sexualized image. I was just thinking — really? I'm pretty sure the person(s) who wrote that wasn't even thinking that deep this time around. But the crude name-calling was totally uncalled for. Leave the kids alone for goodness sake.

  4. I don't recall anyone ever coming at Dakota Fanning this way. Or McCaulay Culkin before her or even Raven Simone for "fairness." A VERY small sampling but those are names that were very well known. There was something about this dark skinned girl who made a brilliant and gritty movie that evoked an UGLY emotion in a person that had a platform too great. What is "cunty" about her? Let's entertain the idea for the sake of argument. Have you seen her interviews? The girl is a complete darling.

    This was over the top. It came from a subconscious place soaked in white privilege that sincerely thought that the statement might be funny. The sincerity of "I wasn't trying to be hurtful." does not trump the reality of it being incredibly disrespectful and based in darkness and not humor.

    I can not imagine thinking that line up and saying to myself, "I'd be totally cool with this if somebody said it about my child."

    1. Oh please! It has nothing to do with her skin color. This little girl has a rude mouth and a very disrespectful, sassy, diva-like attitude, which I'm certain she gets from her mom. Have you seen her give an interview? Nothing but snide comments and a lot of neck shaking. She needs to behave more age appropriate and learn to respect her elders. Stop pulling the race, skin color card.

      1. Rude mouth… do you have anything to back this up? Links to videos? Every interview I've seen of her, she's been friendly, pleasant and respectful.

        Also, in case you didn't understand, the tweet was meant to be SATIRE, meaning that even though the Onion called her a c*nt, they really meant the exact opposite.

        1. Satire? Oh really? They knew what they were doing when they made such a comment. Don't fool yourself. Any yes, she has a rude mouth. But of course her speech and behavior is nothing out of the ordinary for you because you most likely speak in the same manner and think it is "cute".

  5. Of course, how immature. Whenever someone differs in opinion, they are always called a "troll". I would bid you a goodnight as well, but I simply do not care for you or your night lol. Good riddance.

    1. Nope, it's not that you had a different opinion. It's that you a) twice refused to back up your claim with any sort of proof, and b) attacked me by calling me "rude" when you know absolutely nothing about me. In fact, I was the opposite of rude in my original response to you. I engaged you in a respectful manner yet you felt the need to hurl personal insults. These are the signs of a troll in my opinion.

      1. Ma'am/sir, I am entitled to my own opinion, which is clearly stated in my first comment. She is a rude and sassy little girl. You can do your own research by looking up many of her interviews (either through google or youtube) and read many of the comments made about her starting from months ago by others. Even John Legend's girlfriend called her "cocky". If you feel that I am a troll, that is your own personal delusional and belief. Again, this is my own opinion of this girl, and if you don't like it, so be it.

  6. I personally don't know anything about this strange named child…I saw the comment and well I just don't care….who knows maybe the little girl is a c*nt maybe she's not. Yes the comment is in bad taste, but it was said, get over it…there are worse things happening right now than a little strange named child get called out her hard to pronounce name…..I really can't with her name though…how in the h*ll do you pronounce that sh*t, is she from another country?? smh

  7. Simply, the backlash was warranted. We need to let other people know that insulting our children, regardless of the intent will not be tolerated.

    I ask myself how would a Jewish react if we insulted their children & that is the proper response.

  8. They called a 9-year old child a c*nt….Whoever pressed "Send" on the tweet needs to be identified, met in the parking lot of the The Onion's headquarters, and dealt with….that's the only appropriate action here…Period.

  9. There are several opinions floating around and I can't choose one:

    1. The tweet was extremely offensive because Quvenzhane is a child and/or black (for varied reasons).
    2. The tweet was meant as satire and The Onion actually meant the opposite of what they said.
    3. People need to stop being so politically correct and sensitive all of the time.
    4. People are so passionate about killing the ant on their living room floor and there is a tiger in their basement.

    Mostly four for me- Yet here I am typing a comment. So definitely 5. Human beings love distractions.

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