June 17, 2007 was Father’s Day. I was at Fenway with my buddy, Brian Liddy, for an interleague game. The Red Sox were playing the San Francisco Giants. Liddy and I, who said disgraceful things to opposing basketball coaches as college students, were especially keen to boo MLB’s reigning antihero, Giants outfielder and alleged steroid user Barry Bonds. At one point, with Bonds directly below our right-field seats, I shouted “Barry Bin Laden!” This seemed to rattle a few stoic Giants fans in our vicinity, so I followed up with “Osama Bin Bonds!” Then I repeated both variations a few times. I liked the way they sounded.
Liddy said, “Damn, Wormwood, I hate Bonds too, but I don’t know how I feel about you calling him that.” (Keep in mind that Liddy once called former Louisville coach Denny Crump an asshole, right to Crump’s face.) So why wasn’t it funny to conflate Bonds and Bin Laden? Nobody could have believed I was seriously equating the two. Osama was a mass murderer. Bonds was ruining baseball’s most cherished record. My comments were jokes, and I have always maintained that anything could be funny if you can figure out the right angle.
But in the summer of 2007, less than six years after the 9/11 attacks that killed thousands, Bin Laden wasn’t funny, I guess. Or maybe I should say, I wasn’t funny. A sharper, more practiced comedian might have been able to make something of the topic, but my wit from the right-field cheap seats was not sharp that Father’s Day. People don’t want to joke about things that still trouble them, and Bin Laden, directing terror networks from hiding (he was in Pakistan by then, we have since learned) was not fodder for ill-conceived jokes, even if Bonds was fair game.
I had been thinking about that Father’s Day game a lot lately, because of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster that hit Japan. When I saw that, to me, all signs pointed to Godzilla’s imminent return, so I wanted to write a (hopefully) funny column about an upcoming grudgematch between old rivals: Godzilla and Tokyo. Around that same time I asked a group of writing students when it was finally OK to joke about a tragedy, and then sketched out my Godzilla idea. The concept evenly divided them, and one girl with friends in Japan stormed out in tears. I thought to myself, Too soon? Yes, too soon. Remembering my failure to get over the funny bar in Fenway four years earlier, I chickened out.
But now, with Bin Laden killed by Navy Seals, that paradigm has shifted and I’m glad to see it. Perhaps his bloody death can serve as a sanguine bookend for a dark, confusing decade, in the same way the stabbing at Altamont seemed to finally close out the 1960s. Bin Laden is gone (Bonds, too, for that matter), and so is the decade he loomed over. Good riddance to all of it.
In celebration, here are a couple of funny ones, straight from the Internet:
Q What color are Bin Laden’s eyes?
A Blue. One blew this way, the other blew that way.
Q Have you heard about the new Bin Laden cocktail? It’s two shots and a splash of seawater. (rimshot)
Deference is the better part of valor, it has been said, and maybe some things are just never funny. I’ve never heard a Pearl Harbor joke. Maybe people tell those in Japan, but if so, that’s OK. Godzilla is returning and he’s totally going to kick their asses, again.
Rick Wormwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.