PC Culture

Reaction to Dina Hashem’s Joke Was Horrific — and Proves People Don’t Understand Comedy

Dina Hashem (Comedy Central via YouTube)
We need to take a hard turn away from how our culture treats comedy now in order to save it.

Comedian Dina Hashem made a joke using the death of rapper XXXTentacion — only to have Comedy Central pull the clip after she received extreme backlash, including death threats, from his fans.

The joke went like this:

Is anyone still mourning XXXTentacion? He’s a rapper, who was murdered, he’s dead now. He was shot, he was on his way to buy a car with $50,000 in cash and somebody shot him and took the money. Which is very tragic, but I also think it would be a very good Venmo commercial. That’s the first thing I thought when I heard that. Like, ‘I don’t have Venmo, I should get Venmo.’

The backlash that Hashem received got so ugly that her team made the decision to have Comedy Central pull the clip, and she herself apologized and set her Twitter account to private to avoid seeing all of the abuse. (Note: Some others have reported that it was Comedy Central’s decision to delete the clip, however, according to Hashem’s friend and fellow comedian Corinne Fisher, it was “her team” who made this choice.)

Let me start with the most basic, obvious of points: No one deserves to get death threats over a joke, and it happens to women too often. I know this because I’ve lived it. Back in 2015, I myself received a barrage of death and rape threats over a joke I made about Star Wars. It got pretty bad — I had to get the police involved out of fear for my safety and had to contact Apple about instituting extra security measures for my account over threats of hacking.

Worse, Hashem and I are not alone. In fact, when I was talking to Fisher about Hashem, she told me that she had her own experience to share: She herself had faced threats of beheading, which a man posted on his Facebook page, which she said were in response to her being “a powerful and empowering feminist voice in comedy.” This same man, Fisher said, also posted “a general threat that he would gun down female comics on Memorial Day,” and had personally threatened another female comic seven months earlier. (Fisher said the man was ultimately arrested, but that it took diligence on her part.)

Make no mistake: This is something that happens too often, and something that not enough people are speaking out against. Comedy Central, for example, made absolutely no statement in Hashem’s defense. This is wrong. When I went through my own barrage-of-death-threats experience, I myself chose to write a piece in response — one in which I refused to apologize. Why? I did not want to fold to the online outrage mob, because I believe that the only thing scarier than death threats is the potential power of this mob to destroy comedy completely.

Let me be clear: Jokes about everything and anything are okay, and more people need to realize that. Anyone who would say that my joke being about a movie, while Hashem’s was about a murder, should make absolutely any difference in terms of the kinds of reactions we could expect to receive would be wrong. I’ve seen a lot of people defend Hashem by saying that XXXTentacion should be fair game because he beat his pregnant girlfriend, but they’re wrong. Yes, what XXXTentacion did to his girlfriend was horrific, but the truth is, that’s not why he’s fair game. No — he’s fair game because everything is.

Few things have the power to heal like comedy; I know this from experience. I lost my mother suddenly to a rare illness almost five years ago, and I can say for sure that there’s no way I’d be getting through it if it weren’t for my ability to make and hear jokes about death. Many people, of course, say that death is a “taboo” subject for jokes — but the truth is, all they’re really doing by saying that is taking a healing mechanism away from some of the people who need it most.

Now, there are of course those people who might say that they agree with me, but only on one condition: That the “dark” jokes really do have that healing power, or that they are at least funny. These people also misunderstand comedy. Think about it: How do you think a comedian finds out whether or not one of his or her jokes are funny? By trying it out. That is the only way. Will they fail sometimes? Sure. Will they sometimes make dark jokes that are nothing but dark, that don’t add any light? Of course they will, but the truth is, comedians need to retain the power to try and then fail — because otherwise, they’ll never get the chance to try and then succeed. I personally thought that Hashem’s joke was funny and smart, but even if I didn’t, I would still have her back for that exact reason. See, anyone who understands comedy also understands the fact that cancelling someone over a single misfired joke would be akin to firing a baseball player for striking out once. We need to take a hard turn away from how our culture treats comedy now in order to save it — and to protect its unique ability to help people find laughter in their pain.

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