Ground zero for this beyond-the-pale, over-the-line humor are trading floors in New York. Within a matter of minutes after a celebrity's death comes across the tape, the jokes pop up like Jack-in-the-boxes.
"Hey, news flash: they just found out that Michael Jackson died from food poisoning," a trader shouts over to the sales pit.
"No shit," one of the more gullible sales guys replies.
"Yeah, they say he was eating too many twelve year old nuts."
Guffaws mixed with groans rise across the trading floor. I do have to say that one was a bit below the belt, no pun intended, or a low blow, again no pun intended.
I've often wondered who thinks up these jokes. Are they just spontaneous eruptions or are the jokes prepared ahead of time the way some news organizations have obituaries in the can, ready to be released the minute somebody famous dies?
The latter explanation is supported by the fact that most trading floors do have their "death watch lists," which rank the top two or three celebrities most likely to next kick the bucket. The death watch list often inspires feverish betting, especially when you have a double whammy like two celebs crapping out on the same day, as we had with Farah and Jacko. And Ed McMahon going down just a few days before really scrambles the leader board. As of Friday at the close of business, the odds-on-favorite on my trading floor was Patrick Swayze. I laid some bucks down on Nancy Reagan.
Did you hear about how Farah Fawcett went to heaven and met God? God told her that now that she was in heaven, she could have anything that she wished for.
Farah thought a minute and then said, "I wish for all the young children in the world to be safe from sexual exploitation."
And so God killed Michael Jackson.
Okay, I give that one style points for tackiness but have to penalize it for borderline blasphemy.
McDonald's is coming out with a new burger in honor of Michael Jackson...an all meat patty in a ten year old bun.
I know that some will find these kind of jokes abhorrent; but I can attest that the people making them up and passing them around are not insensitive creeps or morally obtuse jerks. These guys are for the most part decent, upstanding citizens. I attribute these celebrity death jokes to a defense mechanism of sorts. These jesters have the same initial reaction that most do when they hear that someone like Michael Jackson suddenly dies, which is shock, followed by dismay and a tinge of sadness. We have intimations of mortality as we realize that if the rich and famous can so suddenly and unexpectedly keel over, then most assuredly the same thing could happen to us. But we really can't function as working, productive human beings if we constantly ruminate upon our own possibly imminent demise. So what do we do? We makes jokes about death. And trading floors, given that they are the locus of several dozen mostly males who are mostly vigorous and jocular "frat" types, are the perfect breeding ground for this type of gallows, or rather post-mortem, humor.
Michael Jackson reaches the pearly gates and the first person he meets is Elvis Presley. Wow, how perfect, Michael thinks, the King of Pop meets the King of Rock 'n Roll!
But all Elvis can think is, What carnival did this this freakazoid escape from? Is it black or white, a dude or a dudette? Man, how did he last ten minutes on earth without some good-ole-boys tying him to a rope attached to a trailer hitch and taking him for a cross-country fun ride? Whatever this thing is, it must be lucky.
Michael extends his hand to Elvis and says in his nine year old girl voice, "Oh Elvis, I've been dying to meet you. "
"Well, you're dead alright," Elvis snickers with his signature upturned lip as he ponders for a few seconds whether to shake this creature's hand on which it is wearing a glove sparkling with rhinestones. What happened to its other glove, he wonders.
As Elvis finally deigns to shake his hand, Michael says to him, "My name is Michael Jackson and guess what?"
"What?" Elvis replies warily.
"I married your daughter."
So don't be afraid to laugh death in the face, at least as long as the Grim Reaper is not pointing his scythe directly at you.