The Death of Michael Jackson: Funny?
The only sure thing in life is that one day we will all die. The next sure thing is that if you happen to be famous, jokes about your death will be zooming across the internet while your corpse is still lukewarm. Though in this 24-hour newsiverse, it’s not the dead famous folk that will be mocked, it’s the media representation of that person’s life and how it is informing their death that will be pilloried. In the case of Jade Goody, the hypocrisy of the tabloids was shown right up, their horrendous treatment of her (not always undeserved, mind) during her lifetime contrasting neatly with her quasi-deification after a slow, lens-happy death.
With the semi-shocking news that the King of Pop was fading fast, it’s uncertain who was first off the mark with the gags, but you can be fairly sure that Frankie Boyle was not far off the pace and scribbling like fury for his Record column. That his bosses there didn’t enjoy the material simply puts into sharp relief the peculiar decision they arrived at in hiring him in the first place. Why trumpet your new columnist for his edginess then censor him when he stomps his way through the first universal news story of his tenure? ‘This just demonstrates the Record don’t understand their readership,’ believes stand-up Austin Low. ‘Post-death day I was sat next to a group of Record readers whose phones played a veritable text disco receiving dozens of MJ jokes. It was hard to tell if they were offended as they didn’t stop pissing themselves laughing.’
Maybe this outpouring of hilarity squares itself with that hoary old chestnut that rather than such situations showing humans up for the sick beasts they so often are, it’s simply our grand old way of dealing with the grief. Scottish Comedian of the Year Scott Agnew agrees: ‘I remember when my granny died, we cracked out the beers and had a good old gag session over her rotting corpse. It’s not a way of dealing with personal grief but more a mechanism for blokes in pubs to acknowledge something tragic has happened and they’ve been moved by it, but showing that they’re strong enough to shrug it off when in actual fact it struck a cord of some kind. It’s machismo is what it is.’