Isaac Butterfield & punching down in comedy
Just because you *can* be horrible, doesn't mean you *have* to be horrible
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This week, Australian comedian Isaac Butterfield made a joke in his new standup special about the Christchurch Terror attacks.
If you’re not familiar, in March of 2019 a gunman stormed two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand — opening fire on a Facebook livestream — killing 51 people.
And an Australian comic decided to make a joke about it.
“This Australian extremist stormed this building, this mosque, this room where people were saying their prayers and going about their business…”
His tone is sombre, serious and reflective.
“And for me, the saddest thing about that is not the 52 people who were killed, it wasn’t the countless others who had their lives changed forever because their family members were taken from them…”
And here comes the punchline…
“it was the hundreds of people that night who couldn’t make it home from nightclubs in Christchurch because all the cabbies were dead.”
And there you have it. Cue huge laughter. Yes, there was huge laughter.
To those watching the clip online, with a certain amount of objectivity, the tone was different. It just seemed… kinda awful.
People called him out on it: on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Many went in-depth with their reaction, explaining what the problem was.
People like Almir Colan, who said this in a Twitter thread:
“I think people like Isaac Butterfield argue that there is too much political correctness (and that is a fair point) and that comedians should be free to talk about anything and nothing should be off-limits.
That is also fair enough.
We don't want to live in a totalitarian society where people are scared to demand their rights and live in fear from too powerful government or corporations.
But in his joke about the victims of the Christchurch massacre, Butterfield is not going against some powerful forces, nor is he using his voice to speak truth to power.
Butterfield is bullying the most powerless and voiceless amongst us - he is haunting the survivors and victims who only have memories of loved ones left. It is not brave or honest or standing up for anything. It is just insensitive. Rude. Vile. Low. And for what purpose? A few laughs?”
I’d argue Almir kinda nailed what the issue was. He acknowledges freedom of speech — but the fact we have freedom of speech doesn’t necessarily mean “anything goes.”
It reminds me a little of the MAGA cap wearing dude from the BLM protests here in Auckland, New Zealand. You know, the smug teacher.
But Butterfield wasn’t listening to any of this.
He posted a video called “I’ve been cancelled!” He was revelling in it, like a pig in shit.
I won’t embed his video, because it doesn’t deserve the clicks, and he doesn’t deserve the revenue. He has enough frat-boy items on the shelf behind him. He doesn’t need the cash to buy more.
“I made a horrible joke, and this is my response to what everyone is saying about me right now,” he begins.
He then proceeds to say how he made “a very big mistake” — not for making the joke (and this is him doing another joke, I guess) but by reading his DMs that morning, because they were filled with insults.
He then reads some of the most extreme insults out, so we feel sorry for him.
He then goes on and says things like “It is a joke, it is not real, it is make-believe. I don’t really feel like that but that is what comedy is.”
He then says he enjoys Jimmy Carr, Jim Jefferies and Ricky Gervais. I assume his point is that they also tell “offensive” jokes.
His apology has 248,444 views — and going by the comments, plenty of those watching are his fans:
“People are too sensitive, everyone needs to make light of the shit of this world every now and again or we’d all go nuts…”
That’s the common refrain — and of course, people should be free to say what they want. But that doesn’t mean we can’t call people out on what they choose to say.
And when expressing our freedom of speech — just because we can, it doesn’t mean we should, be default, start punching down.
And just because something is offensive, even shockingly so, doesn’t mean you should say it to get a shocked laugh.
I’d argue most of those in the audience laughing were privileged individuals who had not lost friends and loved ones in a terror attack two years ago.
“Everyone needs to make light of the shit of this world every now and again…”
By “everyone”, I reckon that commenter meant “me”.
I was in Christchurch last week, and that city is still grieving. The killer is still leering at us from newspaper headlines (loving every second), as he costs the taxpayer millions of dollars for his incarceration, court costs and care.
I’m watching all of this unfold online, so I decide to drop Isaac Butterfield a message.
I want to just implore him to stop, and to listen. To stop reacting, and try to take in what people like Almir Colan were saying.
I knew I had an open line to him, because he’d messaged me years ago wanting me to go on his podcast.
I’d left him sitting on “read” for two years.
I knew his brand of “bro” humour, and it wasn’t me. I rarely go on podcasts, unless they’re covering something I am super engaged with, like Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers.
It was time to reply.
In response to this, he first deleted his invitation to be on his podcast. That’s what that big gap is:
Next, instead of entering into a proper dialogue with me, he just went “So it’s a no?” before asking me who my favourite comedian was.
This conversation was both boring, and clearly just him trying to get me to namedrop a comedian, so he could inevitably reply with a bunch off shitty jokes they’d done.
Nice try. My favourite comedian is probably one of my closest friends, and they do comedy sets just for me during our conversations. And they don’t joke about mosque attacks.
So told him to “get fucked” and blocked him. That was me exercising my freedom of speech.
I’m just not convinced Butterfield is what the world needs right now.
Australia isn’t exactly known for its great history in regards to race relations, so maybe the existence of this type of comedy shouldn’t surprise.
But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t disappoint.
And this kind of thing isn’t new for him. Netflix dropped him last year when he emailed a Jewish woman who complained about his set. He told her, “If you can’t stand the heat get out of the oven.”
This wasn’t on a stage to make some kind of “point”, or to get laughs.
It was a private email sent to an individual. She probably read that on her phone in the office, or at her home. He came into her private space and said that shit.
I hope one day Butterfield learns to punch up — on stage, in private, in his own brain. He probably won’t, because he has a bunch of fans telling him he’s awesome.
But I guess I’m a lil’ voice here saying: this isn’t that awesome, brah.