Comedy, can it go too far? Over the weekend Bill Burr joked that “when Tom Hanks doesn’t die, everyone is gonna chill” about coronavirus. Tom ...
Comedy, can it go too far? Over the weekend Bill Burr joked that “when Tom Hanks doesn’t die, everyone is gonna chill” about coronavirus.
Stand-up comedy, can it go too far?
With characteristic bluntness, stand-up comedian Bill Burr tweeted over the weekend:
I think when Tom Hanks doesn’t die, everyone is gonna chill.
Judging from the movies he’s been in, Tom Hanks would seem like the worst person to travel on a plane with. In “Cast Away” his plane crashes. In “Sully” his plane crashes. And in “The Terminal” he gets stuck in JFK Airport.
But it turns out his wife, Rita Wilson, traveled on a plane with Hanks to Australia recently. There she and Hanks contracted coronavirus, and are currently under quarantine. While in isolation, Wilson created a quarantine themed Spotify playlist.
And Hanks’ post announcing they had coronavirus included a joke referencing his classic line in “A League of Their Own” from 1992:
Remember, despite all the current events, there is no crying in baseball.
So joking isn’t entirely inappropriate in challenging, even dangerous situations. But did Bill Burr’s provocative coronavirus joke take comedy too far?
With family, friends and fans hoping for Tom Hanks’ safe recovery, was it wrong for Bill Burr to write off the danger he’s in?
Dividing the number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths by the number of confirmed coronavirus infections yields a mortality rate of 3.7%. However that doesn’t necessarily mean Hanks faces a 3.7% chance of dying from coronavirus.
That’s because the real number of cases is probably much higher than the number of confirmed infections:
A medical professor at Johns Hopkins University urged Americans not to believe low numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States, warning the actual number of people walking around with the virus could be ‘between 50,000 and half a million.’
Even if we take 50,000 at the low end of the range, and divide the current 57 U.S. coronavirus deaths into it, we get a mortality rate of 0.1%.
Divide by half a million, and that rate is 0.01%. Moreover, that’s still not actually Tom Hanks’ odds of dying from coronavirus. Just like it’s not the odds of someone who is 80 years old, a life long smoker with chronic lung disease, and had a heart attack last week.
Their odds of dying from coronavirus are much higher. Tom Hanks’ are probably lower. So maybe Bill Burr has a point. But in his 2010 comedy special “Let It Go,” he did say:
I am so pro swine flu it’s ridiculous. I want it. We need a plague. I’m telling you we need a plague. It’s gotta happen. And don’t be afraid. It’s only going to kill the weak. You know?
The audience laughed, but he said he was being serious:
Seriously. Put on a sweater. Take some vitamins. You’re gonna be fine. You gotta let mother nature do her thing man. She keeps trying to help us out and we won’t let her do it. She keeps trying to thin the herd.
So when he tries to downplay the coronavirus, that could just be Bill Burr giving mother nature cover to “do her thing man” and “thin the herd.”
This article was edited by Sam Bourgi.
Last modified: March 15, 2020 3:53 PM UTC