Comedy hurts, almost always. It’s just that people get angry when they’re the ones feeling the sting. We don’t care when we’re the ones laughing, only when we’re the ones crying. Too bad. So sad. But nothing is off-limits. And everything is, at least potentially, funny.
This week’s outraged comedy victims are the children of former President Ronald Reagan, Michael Reagan and Patti Davis, over reports that actor Will Ferrell would play their father in a potentially tasteless film he was planning to produce. Under a cascade of pressure, Ferrell said Friday he would pull out of the project.
The plot revolves around the idea that Reagan, as he falls into dementia during his second term, is taken advantage of by a plot to convince him that he is still an actor who is merely playing the role of president in a movie.
In an open letter to Ferrell, Davis said, "You intend to portray my father in the throes of Alzheimer's for a comedy. ... I watched as fear invaded my father's eyes – this man who was never afraid of anything. ... Perhaps for your comedy, you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have – I didn't find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you're a decent human being, you wouldn't either."
Michael Reagan tweeted, “#Alzheimers is not a comedy to the 5 million people who are suffering with the decease, it first robs you of your mind and then it kills you.”
And both these things are true. But neither means the movie shouldn’t be made.
Practically all humor has its roots in the pain of someone, whether it be the bruises of a jester who falls on a banana peel, the emotional agony of being a blonde who never gets the joke, or someone who suffers from a physical challenge or ailment. Like a four-eyes. Or that perfect spouse, the deaf, blind and mute one who owns a liquor store. But I digress.
One of the funniest shows running is the Netflix comedy “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” about someone who was one of the “mole women,” abducted and held hostage for years underground, and subjected to horrible treatment by a religious fanatic, before being freed and moving to New York City to start a new life. Does the fact that women are abducted and held hostage mean this isn’t funny? That’s up to you to decide … but the show is pretty hilarious.
Another hilarious Netflix offering is “Orange Is the New Black,” about women in prison. Women, of course, actually do serve time, sometimes unfairly, and those women probably don’t find the topic so humorous. But that doesn’t mean it’s off-limits.
And what about war? Nothing’s more serious than that, but “M*A*S*H” was funny, and so was “Catch-22,” and “Hogan’s Heroes,” and the movie that inspired it, “Stalag 13.”
I understand why Patti Davis and Michael Reagan wouldn’t want to see a movie about Alzheimer’s, and particularly wouldn’t want to see such a movie take a farcical look at their father’s struggle with the disease. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be funny. And it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be made. It just means they shouldn’t go see it.