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The Apology Epidemic
  • July 16, 2014 : 17:07
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Let me begin by saying I’m sorry. I’m truly, deeply, unequivocally sorry. I apologize to the people I offend with this essay, and I apologize to the people who aren’t sure why they’re offended but are pretty sure they should be. I don’t know how I live with myself, and I hope you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me.

You see what I did there? It’s called a preemptive apology. I apologized in advance, before any of you had a chance to demand one. As a celebrity with a public forum for expressing my opinions, the likes of which you nonfamous people can’t even begin to imagine, I have to assume that at least a small percentage of everything I say or write is going to piss somebody off. And those pissed-off people are going to scream bloody murder and demand my head on a spike, or at least an apology. My policy is, why wait?

If you want to survive as a public figure in 2014, you have to treat the entire world as if it’s your wife or girlfriend. Everything you do is probably wrong. If you wake up in the morning and she says, “We’re out of eggs,” don’t even think about asking, “What does that have to do with me?” Your only response should be, “I’m terribly sorry. I am a horrible, soulless person. In the middle of the night, I must have been sleepwalking, made a 12-egg omelet and eaten it on the floor. I am a monster.” It’s your fault. Even if it’s not your fault, it’s your fault. Don’t try to explain or defend yourself. Just accept culpability and hope she lets you fuck her again tomorrow.

Now, when I say “the entire world,” I mean of course the internet. That’s where all the outrage is happening these days. You could slap somebody hard in the face and they’d say, “Well, that was weird. Can we discuss this further?” But tell a joke on Twitter that somebody doesn’t find funny and they’ll howl for your blood. The internet makes me sentimental for old-time lynch mobs. Back then, if people wanted to punish you, they had to leave the house and get their hands dirty. Now it’s all done on the internet. It’s the modern equivalent of ringing someone’s doorbell and running away. We’re more vindictive than we’ve ever been, but we’re also cowards.

The internet gives everybody the illusion of power. Everyone’s a commentator, everyone’s a writer, everyone’s a movie critic, everyone’s a moral activist. And as a result, everyone is a fucking idiot.

I know this from personal experience. I was on the receiving end of a Twitter crucifixion. For about a decade I was the voice of a duck on commercials for Aflac, an insurance company. I had one line—“Aflac!”—so it was hard to screw it up. It was a good gig. But then in 2011 a tsunami happened in Japan, and I made some jokes on Twitter the next day. “Japan is really advanced,” I wrote. “They don’t go to the beach. The beach comes to them.” And then I wrote this: “I asked a girl in Japan to have sex with me. She said, ‘Okay, but you’ll have to sleep in the wet spot.’” And then this: “I was talking to my Japanese real estate agent. I said, ‘Is there a school in this area?’ She said, ‘Not now, but just wait.’” I was on a roll.

For the next three days, every crazy person on the internet came out to punish me. They called me hateful names, screamed for my public execution, all because they didn’t like a joke. People were telling me, “Aren’t you aware of the tragedy and loss of life?” Yeah, I’m aware, and that’s where the joke comes from. Comedy and tragedy are roommates. Some people also claimed it was “too soon” to be making jokes. There’s this old saying: Tragedy plus time equals comedy. But I never understood why waiting makes a difference. A year later, I saw TV weathermen making jokes. “We’ve got lots of rain in the forecast. Tomorrow looks like a regular tsunami.” I was like, Oh, okay, I guess after a year a joke is a joke and no longer a crime against humanity.

I didn’t want to apologize, but I was persuaded that it might be a smart career move. So somebody typed one up for me. Here’s what it said: “I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by my attempt at humor regarding the tragedy in Japan. I meant no disrespect, and my thoughts are with the victims and their families.”

Notice it doesn’t say “I’m sorry my jokes were so offensive and horrible.” It says, essentially, “I’m sorry you were offended, because you are apparently incapable of distinguishing between the real world and the ironic fantasy world of comedy.” I also liked the “my attempt at humor” line. Nothing calms an angry mob like false modesty.

I did make one small editorial change. The original apology said “my prayers are with the victims,” but I decided to make it “my thoughts.” Nobody is going to believe I said “my prayers” are with the victims. Who am I, Pope Gilbert?

The apology went out, and the tidal waves of fury for the most part subsided. A couple of months later, I tweeted my actual apology, which I wrote myself and was much more honest. It read: “Sorry for joking about dead people, but as the necrophiliac once said, ‘Fuck the dead.’” It flew under the radar, which is probably lucky for me.

Neither the fake apology nor the real one made any difference. I still got fired by Aflac. I found out about it on the internet. It was being reported on news sites. No one from Aflac had bothered to tell me. By the time they called my agent, it was old news. It was in many ways a convenient outrage. It worked out pretty well for the company. Aflac fired me, got loads of free publicity and then hired a new guy to imitate me for less money, thus bringing closure to a horrible tragedy.

I did learn something from this. I learned that Twitter is a terribly expensive hobby. I haven’t stopped making inappropriate jokes on social media. Now I just apologize constantly. Made a lesbian joke? “I apologize to Ellen Page.” Made a Thanksgiving joke? “I apologize to stuffing.” Made a snowman joke? “I deeply apologize to snow testicles.” I’ve made Twitter apologies to Bert and Ernie, circus tents, feathers, midget airlines, the undead, terrorists and Anne Hathaway’s vagina.

I also learned that Twitter is not necessarily the world’s moral barometer. Not long ago, I was doing stand-up at a comedy club and an Asian woman in sunglasses came up to me after my set. She said, “I’m Japanese and I’m blind, and you did jokes about both of those things tonight, and I want to give you a hug for making me laugh.” This actually happened! I’m not making it up. Here was a Japanese woman telling me how much she enjoyed my jokes about her nationality. I mean, I’m pretty sure she was Japanese. She might have been Chinese or Korean and just pretending to be Japanese. You never know with those Asians; they’re a sneaky people.

(I apologize for that last joke. It was racially insensitive, and I am a horrible cretin for having written it. I deeply apologize to anyone who is Asian or wore Asian makeup in one of those early Charlie Chan movies. Note to editor: This might be a good place to include a random photo of a girl showing her tits. You have any of those? Maybe an old one of Marilyn Monroe. Or an Asian. Kill two birds with one stone.)

Let me be clear about something. I’m not suggesting that apologies aren’t occasionally necessary. If you’ve actually done something wrong, you should apologize. If you’ve ever taken performance-enhancing drugs, been blown in the White House or in a car on Sunset Boulevard, taken an award away from Taylor Swift or slapped around Rihanna, you owe an apology to someone. Hitler? A simple “my bad” would have gone a long way.

But as a nation we’ve gotten apology crazy lately. Anything that even slightly upsets our gentle sensibilities is grounds for demanding amends. We want famous people to apologize for being famous. Remember when Alec Baldwin left that nasty message on his teenage daughter’s voice mail, and then the message leaked? If you take Alec Baldwin’s name out of this story, what you’re left with is “Guy is tired of his daughter’s attitude.” Or how about when ESPN sportscaster Brent Musburger got into trouble for pointing out during a football game that a girl in the stands, a beauty queen and the girlfriend of a quarterback, was beautiful? That’s literally what he said. He had the audacity to claim that a beauty contest winner was “beautiful.” He also called her a “lovely lady” and joked that quarterbacks “get all the good-looking women.” Twitter went nuts. He was accused of being creepy and sexist. ESPN apologized on his behalf—he “went too far”—but Musburger stayed out of it. Personally, I think he should have apologized. He should have released a statement saying, “I’m sorry I was born with a dick and saw a hot piece of ass and used the most innocuous, noncreepy words in the universe to describe her instead of saying the disgusting things that I and every other heterosexual male in the universe were thinking at that exact moment.”

It’s not just happening on the internet. Comedy clubs aren’t the safe havens they once were. It used to be, if you went to a club, there was an expectation that anything could happen. It might be an evening of inoffensive comedy. Or a comic might make a joke about gang-raping an audience member. (Hello, Daniel Tosh!) Maybe there’d be gags about in-laws and how blacks and whites are totally different. Or maybe a former sitcom star would start screaming racial slurs for no apparent reason. (Michael Richards, I’m looking at you.) It was all okay, and that’s what made it exciting. If a joke crossed a line, you’d cover your face while laughing, like normal people do when they’re trying to conceal their true emotions. Nobody complained to the manager or screamed for apologies. If you want good taste, stay at home and watch PBS. You don’t go to a baseball game and complain about foul balls. If you’re sitting in the stands, you’re well aware that a ball might come flying toward your face at 120 miles an hour.

Imagine if the most brilliant comedians in history were working today. They’d never stop apologizing. Charlie Chaplin would have to apologize to all the homeless people he belittled with his Little Tramp character. W.C. Fields and Dean Martin would both have to apologize to alcoholics. The Marx brothers would have to apologize to Italians, mutes and uptight British ladies. Comedy has been around for a long, long time, and there have been a lot of impolite, unpleasant and jaw-droppingly politically incorrect jokes. Blacks were shuffling slaves, Italians were gangsters, Jews were cheap, gays were queens, white people couldn’t dance and fat people didn’t have dignity. You went up there as a comic and joked about it all and nothing was off-limits. And to this day, nobody has died from a single joke.

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read more: entertainment, Funny, twitter, issue july 2014

22 comments

  • Asked
    Asked
    Thank you for saying exactly how I feel about the Age of the Apology we currently live in.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    I read this whole thing in his voice.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    It's sad to think that the people who need to read this (and that's a LOT of people) either can't, won't, or will be outraged by it.
  • Eric
    Eric
    I think part of the problem is that we're only looking at feedback one way. Celebrities using public platforms like Twitter to send out personal thoughts in perhaps not the best state of mind to potentially millions of followers is a very new phenomena. In the old days that had to be done on live TV, and it would be called a meltdown. And an apology would have been necessary too if say Johnny Carson got drunk and went on a racist rant. But nowadays, Anthony ***ia goes home after a street confrontation and can beam those psycho thoughts directly to my cell phone. It doesn't make any sense to stand on a soapbox like Twitter, say crazy stuff, then act surprised that people react. Someone like Brad Pitt doesn't use Twitter, and you never hear him complaining about the "age of apology" or "the PC thought police". Because it's a two-way street. You get the freedom of interacting directly with your fans, but they can interact right back. You can't have it both ways anymore.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    My favorite Challenger joke was that NASA stood for 'Need Another Seven Astronauts.'
  • Fredrica
    Fredrica
    Thank you for writing this.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    GG is one of the funniest living comedians, second only to Rickles. Check out his roast of Bob Saget and this appearance on Howard Stern:
  • Rich
    Rich
    One of the best bits of brief commentary on the American political and social scene published in the past several years.
  • Jason
    Jason
    Gilbert, can you write a similar article about the downfall of Howard Stern.
  • Craig
    Craig
    Great article, Tracy Morgan stopped being funny to me ever since he apologized for a gay joke about his son as a black man, being pressured by the media. That Don Rickles Obama joke was funny an I'm not a follower of Rickles or a big fan of those type of jokes it just depends on the person saying them an how they say them, I guess it depends on how good the comedian is whether or not he can get away with it by making people laugh instead of sounding offensive, cause sometimes it doesn't matter if the joke was funny or not or the words typed it would be offensive. But yeah Gilbert hasn't really offended me yet cause i know his track record its his lane. Gilbert said "I guarantee you that if Daniel Tosh ever made a joke about Obama being a janitor, he would be chased by an angry torch-waving mob."
  • Mike
    Mike
    the main thing i see in the article (as eric also pts out) is that gg is looking particularly from HIS side, as one might expect, in the name of schtick-preservation, if you will. just b/c it's what he does, and as he says, who he is, he wants to be able to do it any and everywhere- and hearers be damned- don't get to have a reaction to it. while there are many who will pay to go to a venue and listen to HIS brand of funny, there are many more who are turned-off by it and will not. when he and other comedians leave their "work places", they have to be mature and realize that they are a part of regular society who is not paying for their "jokes". and b/c it's a 2-way exchange, if they decide they want to ignore that, then they have to be big boys and girls and deal w/ the reactions to it. and just because many folk have evolved to not having an appetite for certain types of controversial material, it doesn't mean they that have overly "gentle sensibilities".....only that they find the material tasteless and choose to say so. if a comedian or any person wishes to say whatever they want, fine. they just have to realize that the hearers get to do the same.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    The first time I saw Gottfried I recognized what a threat to civilization he was but I held my tongue. Now, since I'm signed in here with Facebook there's no way I say what needs be said about this menace without getting my comment deleted or censored into the nether sphere. If Gottfried apologized once per minute from now until the End of Time there's no chance he could make up for all his perfidy. Thank you very much.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    You know, I don't find a lot of Gilbert's humor funny. Not that it's offensive, I just don't think some of it is all that good. But holy ****, this article had me chuckling and outright laughing through the majority of it.
  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Absolutely spot on... have you heard the one about the hermaphroditic cast away? He never got lonely.
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