What Mel Did
What Mel Did - black woman laughing

No laughing matter?

After 911, it was said Americans had lost their will to laugh. The comedy circuit stopped revolving and comedians were loud in their silence. The future was frightening and uncertain and there was no certainty America would ever laugh again.

Then time and distance did its thing and recovery made its way onto the stage. Psychologically, The Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor tells us that people immediately affected by crisis or disaster will be unable to separate their inner emotional selves from the emotional pain of the event. However, the more time and distance, the more the emotional overload dissipates, people become more receptive to humour. That when people feel shock, horror or disgust, it is difficult to laugh (but not impossible).

This week, social media showed its teeth, as it is wont to do, at the ‘idiot’ Sky News reporter, Mark White, who joked with a boy rescued from the terrible Grenfell Tower fire in London.

“So, no school for you today then… it has a plus side, I guess.”

Social media were apoplectic with outrage at this comment to a boy who had just lost everything in a fire.

Those who dared to defend the reporter felt he was talking to a small child and, taken in that context, the remark was fine (in their humble opinion).

Certainly, I have used humour in some dark times, and relied on dark humour in the darkest of times to feel some light on my face. Is it different though because, usually, I am the butt of the joke?

I ask the question because this week I felt unbearably uncomfortable that Grenfell Tower jokes should be circulating so freely and quickly, even whilst a building burnt in London and men, women and children were in the midst of losing their lives. I witnessed the same phenomenon, again in the UK, during the recent Manchester and London Bridge atrocities.

For sure, I own and have no right to real estate on the moral high ground, but sometimes I wonder if we shouldn’t find a bench and sit there awhile. Sit and acknowledge that maybe jokes in this situation, on this day, right now, is simply not right.

Although Bernard Shaw might disagree, who urged us to remember:

“Life does not cease to be funny when someone dies any more than it ceases to be serious when someone laughs.”


  • I have pity for the Sky reporter. It was a flippant remark but not terrible. As you say, he was talking to a young boy who I’m sure had not even yet realized the enormity of what he has lost personally and certainly not of the tragic proportions of the loss of life. It might even have helped the boy to have moment of light heartedness in the midst of the trauma.

    However, jokes about the event are in extremely bad taste and I agree with you totally that people need to think of others’ grief before they make fun.

    • For certain, I know when my children were small and we lost Bronnie, anything that showed them a glimpse of who they were and what life was before (and maybe could be again) was welcomed. As a family we loved to laugh. Like you, I don’t feel too badly towards the reporter, especially since we all know how easy it is to make a remark that a nano-second later we regret. I do take pause, however, with jokes whilst human tragedy is being shown to us.