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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Dying kid's sick joke hits a dead end

the onion prank websiteAn American equivalent of the now defunct Chaser website, The Onion website, wrote a spoof story about a dead teenager having his last wish denied a few years ago.

All the boy had wanted, his father said, was an intimate encounter with actor Cameron Diaz. The father was outraged. Not only Diaz, but Jennifer Lopez, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Salma Hayek had refused.

"We wrote, we rang, we faxed, and every time it was the same answer: 'Sorry, Ms Diaz is currently unable to comply with your request.' I mean, how unsympathetic can you get? We're talking about a dying kid here!" the father said.

The spoof was obviously undergraduate. The dying boy was not a sympathetic figure. He didn't need help, he needed a cold shower. Many readers, given its graphic content, would blanch. But some might chortle at the tweaking of assumed stereotypes. Contrast this with the comedic premise of the already notorious Chaser skit the other night.

What did it amount to? Being mean to dying kids.

The punchline "Why go to any trouble when they're only going to die anyway?" exposes Chaser to several accusations. Comedy offers cover to tackle almost any topic, but the flimsy protection dissolves when the act lacks a clever hook to justify its attack on sensitivities. The skit survived through production processes before being aired speaks of a lack of taste. But it also implies a scorn for the art of humor, which Chaser has so stridently extolled in defense of its bolder pursuits. Nor does it allow Chaser to claim a humorous pretext to explain an ill-judged tilt at a touchy issue.

Norman Gunston, more controversial and funny, shone for plonking himself in the wrong place at the right time. Unlike Chaser, once he had done so, he usually iced the moment with a surprising line or twist.

Chaser's stupid stuff pranks ideas appear to have become more and more extreme in inverse proportion to their comedic value. Being controversial may happen to also be funny, but being more controversial doesn't automatically make it more funny.

A comedian could depict a child, say, whose only wish is to see Melbourne win a football match or a child's parent who plainly wants to cash in on their child's illness must be treated sensibly. Dying kids, treacherous as it is, is no different to other issues, such as terrorism and cancer, in that it offers entry points for a light touch. This was a recorded piece, and it was aired despite an obvious flaw by every reasonable measure, it was doomed to produce more offense than applause.

Its airing showed that on Chaser is prepared notly to trawl for cheap targets but also to ignore, if not urinate on, the craft of comedy. Cynics might identify deliberate intent in Chaser's excursions into the tasteless.

Is being controversial somehow easier than being funny? After all, the hype generated by Chaser antics is more engaging than the behavior itself.

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