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I fear for the national sense of humor.
Two recent bits of news brought us tales of enormously embarrassing, insensitive, and just plain stupid gaffes committed in alleged attempts at "joking."
The first comes out of North Carolina, where Sean Harris, Pastor of the Berean Baptist Church, gave a sermon in which he encouraged parents to beat the gay outta their kids.
"Dads, the second you see that son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give them a good punch. OK?" He also preached that if people notice their daughters "acting too butch," they must make them "walk like a girl and talk like a girl, and smell like a girl."
Nice, right? That'll learn 'em.
Not surprisingly, these comments—which had been videotaped and made their way across the Internet — drew a strong reaction from a large number of people.
Is it all just a silly misunderstanding? Harris has clarified to the angry mobs that he was only kidding. He doesn't really want anyone to hit a child. No! Oh my, did you think he was serious? That's so funny. It's a joke, get it? It's like, your kid is acting effeminate, so you beat the sh** out of him until he stops. Get it? You're supposed to laugh. It's kind of like . . . well don't you see, it's . . . you know what? Never mind. Jokes die when they have to be explained. You obviously don't understand sophisticated humor. Whatever, man. He test drove it the other night at a meeting of the brotherhood of violent homophobes and it killed.
Ha-ha funny, right?
The next story is from Watkinsville, Georgia, where a steakhouse got in a little hot water for naming a menu item after pop singer Rihanna. It's a bleu-cheese smothered steak sandwich (it is Georgia, home of Paula Deen-brand type II diabetes, after all), and here's the marketing copy, via Facebook:
"@chrisbrown, @rihanna and us teamed up for a (sic) award winning celebrity sandwich. Put your hands on this caribbean black and bleu sandwich. Chris Brown won't beat you up for eating this unless your name starts with a R and ends with A."
Clever. Pithy. Memorable! Such wordplay. It's like something out of a fan-generated Mad Men webisode uploaded to YouTube in the hopes that it will go viral and Funny or Die will pick it up. You must understand this one. You see, it's funny because Rihanna is Caribbean, and she got the crap kicked out of her by her then-boyfriend until her face was black and blue. Just like this meal! It just goes to show, there's no situation so dire that it can't be used in a humorous sandwich analogy.
The company pulled the "black and bleu" from its menu, made a formal apology, and acknowledged that domestic violence is no joke. They've also promised to donate to a domestic violence charity six times the money they made on the sandwich, which is -$100,000 after you take out legal fees, menu reprintings, staff sensitivity trainings, requisite CYA firings and new hirings, and the six tons of spoiled bleu cheese which had to be ditched.
But a great joke, well-executed and well-received? Priceless.
Aren't you glad you're from New York?
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I'm always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.
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