Honesty in Comedy

Yesterday I intentionally lied to you. I posted an AI-generated picture of a tattoo, claiming to have received this tattoo while drunk in Bali.

I have never received a tattoo, nor have I been drunk in Bali. I lied because it was April First, the only day out of the whole year when non-malicious lies are more than accepted: they’re celebrated.

I’m currently writing a personal-history one-man show that aims to be honest, to entertain, and to have impact. Honesty is tough when speaking to a diverse audience. New Yorkers will take your words at face value unless you indicate exaggeration via a clear tonal inflection. (Does this make New Yorker a tonal language? I say yes.) Brits and southerners prefer a deadpan that allows them to employ their own bullshit detector. One cannot satisfy everybody’s requirements for honesty while preserving the level of humor I desire. In my upcoming show, I will need to choose between being a comedian (entertainment) and being a journalist (honesty). I will need to have a defined stance, if only to maintain my ability to sleep well in the face of twitter criticism. John Oliver threads this needle by claiming comedy, which allows him to have the impact of a journalist without the industry’s behavioral constraints. Is this cheating? Absolutely. But it’s also an elegant way to win. So here’s how I define my stance:

These distinctions are absolute tosh. They’re like saying “a comedy ends with a marriage; a tragedy with death.” When was the last time a romcom ended with the marriage of all significant characters? Or a modern tragedy ended with a Hamlet-like bloodbath? We’ve been mixing genres over the last few years because they’ve always mixed. And April Fools is a holiday to remind us the ability to impact truth through lies. Is Amazon’s 2013 Cyber Monday claim that they’d have drone delivery in two years any more of an April Fools hoax than the 2019 April Fools joke of an Amazon delivery blimp? Many people even treated the April Fools one more seriously while ridiculing the the Cyber Monday one as a joke! Impact-wise, isn’t the main difference publication date, enabling Amazon to be the most-discussed retailer on one of the most profitable retail shopping days of 2013?

Approximately 50% of the people who received my tattoo message recognized it as an April Fools joke. The other 50% were hoodwinked. I debated over telling these hoodwinked people “April Fools!”. I’ve concluded I’m not going to. Because at some point most of them will realize that it was an April Fools joke. And doesn’t the fact that the joke lasted months or years make it even funnier?

And for those who never realize it, I’ll take solace in the fact that I’m not a journalist, nor a comedian: I’m an axolotl that regenerates its skin every few months, which is why the tattoo has already vanished. But I’m sure you already knew that.