The Day The Humor Died

The image is what’s currently running on the Charlie Hebdo website. “I am Charlie” I rarely go serious here and I debated with myself about how to approach this post. I considered not writing on this topic. We all hear enough about tragedy on a daily basis that I thought in some small way the humor on my blog may help others, if only briefly, to forget the headlines and laugh for a minute or two. I wanted to think of a frivolous topic I could poke fun at, hoping to help people mentally escape from the shootings, the plane crashes and the epidemics.

I couldn’t think of anything else though. Twelve people were ruthlessly murdered in the office of the humor magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris because, most likely, they had offended some people with jokes about a religious figure. Although I obviously don’t have the platform they do, I feel a kinship because in a small way I do the same thing as they do. I make fun of stuff in a public forum and hope that people enjoy my jokes. I’ve made jokes about religious figures and other groups myself. I type away blithely, never considering for a moment that I might lose my life because someone didn’t think I was funny. I suppose it’s possible it could happen to me. Thinking about that kind of sucks the fun out of making fun. It also makes me angry. I’m angry at the terrorists who took lives over words or pictures. Seems silly doesn’t it? But is it silly to get angry over jokes?

There is immediate outrage around the world at this senseless killing, but it also makes me wonder; is there a point at which jokes go too far? Is anything really fair game as long as you add the caveat, “don’t worry, I was only kidding. It’s just a joke”? I’ve always made jokes my whole life and sometimes people have gotten mad. Is that their fault for being too sensitive or my fault for being too insensitive? Does making a joke mean that we can exempt ourselves from considering another’s point of view?

Sony Pictures and

Sony Pictures and

The movie The Interview raised quite a ruckus last month. Essentially the movie was one big joke about trying to kill the leader of North Korea. The Americans brushed off complaints from North Korea. What if the roles were reversed? Would we feel it’s acceptable for another country to make a film about attempting to kill our President? I think we all know the answer to that, and I half hope that North Korea does it just to spite us.

There is rarely ever a good or even justifiable reason to take a life, but should those of us lucky to have the freedom of speech in our countries start to wonder if there is always a justifiable reason to make a joke? With that in mind, I have to consider if I should continue on with #ThePhilFactor. I’m sure that among the laughs my blog gets there may also be some people who don’t always appreciate the jokes about religion, geographic areas, or cultural groups. If I need to be responsible with my humor choices I don’t think that I can do this anymore. I guess this is my way of saying that after almost ten years, this is the end of The Phil Factor. In memory of the staff at Charlie Hebdo, I bid you adieu. Je Suis Charlie!

Just kidding. I could no more stop making jokes than I could stop breathing. I assume it’s that way for the people at Charlie Hebdo too and they will no doubt publish again. See you tomorrow! I’d love to hear your opinions on this in the comments. As always, if you enjoyed The Phil Factor, it would be great if you’d share it by hitting the Facebook, Twitter, or re-blog buttons below. ~Phil

26 responses to “The Day The Humor Died

  1. The voices will not fall into silence, just because a few radicals decide to take innocent lives and try to crush freedom of speech. If anything, it will unite those that wish to live in peace, and the chorus will be to say no to fear.

    • I agree. Like I said, I have no doubt that Charlie Hebdo will have a new issue soon.

    • I’ll be following their website. I checked out a bunch of their previous covers and they definitely are not afraid to mock anything and anyone.

      • Political satire and cartoons aimed at world events are part and parcel of western society. It’s one of the things I love about the daily news. Shows like Jon Stewart’s, and Aussie comedy The Chaser; allow us to find humor in what really is a very mixed up world. Taking things too seriously or not being able to have a laugh at the ridiculous makes us seem afraid to not be ourselves.

  2. Phil, I’ve just tagged you on a cartoon from Australia on Instagram. A picture is worth a thousand words. Which doesn’t stop me from babbling on…’s a slippery slope when the satirists, (the truth tellers,) start questioning whether they should edit themselves a bit to avoid potential offence. You ask if there is ever a justifiable reason to make a joke? Yes. Because it’s funny. Don’t like it? Don’t read it.

  3. Wow – you actually had me at the quitting part … and yet, I wouldn’t blame you.

    This kind of stuff goes well beyond the pale. Up until yesterday, I for one, took freedom of speech for granted. I’m not a cartoonist, a humourist, or an opinion writer … yet this shakes me to the core.

    Today I question what hope there is of ever finding peaceful ground with an ideology that grasps at any reason to terrorize and kill.

  4. So glad to know you’re not packing it in. We all need to laugh about something. Perhaps the world would be a better place if more people did just that, instead of picking up a gun to say their piece.

  5. I agree that if we can find humor about subjects that frighten us, or people who threaten us, it gives us a sense of proportion. However, if we feel it is too “over the top,” perhaps we should use a little common sense. If I walk into the tiger’s cage with a prod and start irritating him, I should expect to get clawed, maimed, or killed.

  6. I don’t know if you’ve read Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose. Apart from having a gothic detective story element that might appeal to you (and medieval history which may or may not 🙂 ), a major element of the plot is finding a lost manuscript by the Greek philosopher Aristotle, in which he wrote about comedy. Not to give away the ending, but the subversive power of laughter definitely plays a major role in this novel’s ethos and it’s been a revisited favorite of mine for over 15 years now.

    As for if and when jokes go too far, my personal take would be that power should always be questioned, tested, and yes, ridiculed. The more power a person (or an institution) has in a given situation or society in general, the more their status should be kept in check, and humor is one of the ways of doing that. I guess the crudest version of this would be “dictator jokes good, rape jokes bad”. Unfortunately, freedom of speech is not a universally defined principle, and humanity has a long way to go… Loved this post, thanks for writing about it.

  7. Ha, you really got me at the end there. I was ready to send you a million emails as to why you should continue blogging. Obviously, there are times when I have to ask myself if I, or other humor writers/comedians go too far. Personally, I never think so, although I see there are times when others might be offended. In general, the time when we see someone’s life being threatened, or terrorist threats being made over something intended to be funny, that is not the humorist going too far, it’s the terrorist.

  8. I’m a spiritual, non-religious person, but more and more I want to live in a secular world.

  9. Personally, I think Charlie Hebdo went too far and consider them to be needlessly provocative. However, I have the greatest issues with the phrase “Don’t worry, I was only kidding. It’s just a joke” when it’s directed at someone face to face after a personal and usually offensive comment. “Joking” about someone’s weight/gender/colour/personality etc etc in a hurtful way and then somehow thinking that “Don’t worry, I was only kidding. It’s just a joke” is going to prevent that person going away hurt (possibly for years) is no joke. Oh dear, have I come over all serious?

  10. Losing the Plot

    Commenting from Throwback Thursday. This atrocity shook me to the core. Bear in mind that I grew up through the Northern Ireland Troubles, it takes a lot to shock me, but this did. It’s only with the passing of time that I can now start to look at why this out of all the brutal acts mentioned on the news, this one affected me in the way it did, but I guess it has to do with my relationship with art and in particular political satire.

    I don’t think the cartoonist’s role was/is just to create a joke or a laugh, I’ve always viewed it as a way of holding a mirror up to society. The ridiculousness is often in the honesty or exposing of a brutal truth in a sketch, and I’ve always had a deep admiration for their talent.

    I was familiar with at least some of their work, humour is sometimes the last weapon we have against terror. If someone is trying to terrorise you, they will never win while you are laughing at them. I believe the Cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo knew that, and knew the risks they were taking, and continue to to take.

    Excellent post.

    • Thank you. As someone who in my writing tries to hold up a mirror to show the ridiculousness of many things in the world, It really gave me serious pause to think. And that’s why I brought this post out again today. I don’t want people to forget what happened and why it happened.

  11. Even thought this is an old post, it hit home with me. In a bid for individuals to feel their voice is heard in the crowd, we seem to be resorting to stronger and stronger messages. “Je Suis Charlie” , “Me Too”, and other call outs are now used by the masses. I wonder how movements like these really effect society.

  12. Never to be forgotba super post for #ThrowbackThursday

  13. My heart went into my stomach when I thought you were no longer going to write! It was a terrible thing that happened to the people at the magazine. I do think that humour is one important way of examining the events that go on in this world, because some of the events are so ironic. That’s why I like Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipe. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him but he has done a number of shows at the end of each year (not 2017 though) reviewing what went on. He picks up on the tragedy, stupidity, and absurdity of it all. How can you not? Glad you’ll keep writing!

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