There's a saying in the entertainment industry that comedy equals tragedy plus time.
Obviously Gilbert Gottfried has a strange sense of time, as he proved last weekend in a series of tweets shortly after the Japanese earthquakes and tsunami hit.
"I just split up with my girlfriend, but like the Japanese say, ‘They'll be another one floating by any minute now'" he wrote on Twitter. And: "Japan is really advanced. They don't go to the beach. The beach comes to them."
Did anyone laugh at these? Or, like me, did you just feel sick and embarrassed - for Gottfried, for social media, for humanity?
Understandably, these "jokes" - since deleted from the stand-up's Twitter account (@RealGilbert) - got him fired from the insurance firm Aflac, which used his whiny voice for their spokesperson duck.
Since then, comics like Joan Rivers, Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg have come to his defence, saying that comics have always been inappropriate. Rivers even said, "That's what comedians do!!! We react to tragedy by making jokes to help people in tough times feel better through laughter."
Um, who feels better after reading those jokes, Joan? The Japanese people who have lost family, friends and homes and are now huddling together, many without power, wondering what's going to happen next?
Yeah, I'm sure they chuckled over those tweets while checking their smart phones at Starbucks.
Last Friday, actor Ellen Page tweeted from her account (@EllenPage) that she would block anyone who joked or delivered any "snark" about Japan. She has since deleted that tweet, but it was a bold move.
I myself unfollowed columnist Phil Rosenthal, who tweeted this on Sunday:
Irwin Allen was the producer of disaster films like The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno and the made-for-TV films Flood! And Fire! To me, this tweet captures Twitter at its worst: smug, snarky irony.
Don't get me wrong. I write about comedy and regularly laugh at things that are totally inappropriate. The best comics make light of those things that no one dares to talk about - and sometimes they take a hit. Local comic Boyd Banks famously was criticized for cracking jokes onstage shortly after 9/11. I guess you just had to be there - at that specific time.
Take a look at this photo concerning another natural disaster.
It's dated, yet I still find it funny. But there's a difference between this and what Gottfried and Rosenthal have done. We're not laughing at the victims, or trivializing their plight, but rather directing our anger at the bozo who twiddled his thumbs while a disaster went on and on.
It's also far in the past. And that makes a big difference.