Jokes in the Time of Coronavirus: Funny or Offensive?

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Spreading Faster Than The Virus

March 17th, 2020 – We like to think that we’re the ones in control of our lives, but natural disasters and sickness seem to wake us up from that thinking. Pandemics also have that effect. As the Coronavirus spreads across the globe — causing the market to tank, schools to close, states to implement curfews, and, so far, killing 75 people in the United States — so has the use of humor to tackle the virus in a way that the CDC cannot.

In our world today, we also seem to not have control over our meme-making brains. It’s now almost too easy to merge a current event into a meme format. We see a headline and instantly know how we’re going to input it into the “Spiderman pointing” meme or the ol’ reliable “guy checking out girl.”


There are endless memes out there that have provided some levity during the pandemic and reminded us of our social connection despite our social distancing. But some people have taken issue with joking about a deadly situation; from the seemingly silly to the more edgy material.

The question becomes, or rather, still is: where do we draw the line with this type of humor? Are the jokes acceptable until we reach a certain number of cases or deaths? Are they funnier if you haven’t been affected? Are they actually helpful if you are sick by providing a distraction? And, can jokes negatively impact life-saving information that needs to be relayed to the public?

Unsurprisingly, sites like The Onion and The Beaverton have delivered quite a few Coronavirus hits over the past month. Also unsurprisingly, Snopes had to debunk one of their stories after some people believed that Vice President Mike Pence introduced a program to cure coronavirus carriers with conversion therapy.

The article “quoted” Pence as saying:

“No-one is born with coronavirus, so the key is making them hate everything about themselves. Then and only then will they reject their unhealthy attachment to this so-called respiratory virus. God made Adam & Eve, not Adam & Covid-19.”

The Onion has run headlines such as:

“Woman Tries To Spark Casual Chat In Long Grocery Store Line As If She Not Desperately Attempting To Outrun Death”

“Porn Industry Leaders Announce Immediate Closure Of All Orifices”

“Trump Advises Americans Worried About Coronavirus To Just Get Doctor Who Always Tells Them They In Perfect Health”

From the world of Twitter — which often feels like real life but isn’t necessarily a perfect representation — people most angered by the Coronavirus jokes are those who know someone who has tested positive or those who will be heavily affected financially now that the majority of service jobs have been shut down. There has also been polarizing reactions to memes that further cultural stereotypes or are outright racist.


Covid-19 is an ever-changing pandemic that has made our daily routines into an ever-changing schedule. The more serious it becomes, the more precautions state officials and individuals seem to be making. In turn, more jokes are crafted and the reactions are more split. With people communicating to their loved ones through windows at nursing homes, jokes either seem more distasteful or more necessary.

Twitter has also responded positively to other joke material such as song parodies, satirical standup, and solid one-liners. With such a high number of people under mandatory or voluntary quarantine, “content creator” isn’t just a job title for 23-year-old contestants on The Bachelor anymore. Everyday people have provided lots of laughs in addition to the professional comedians we look to for a smile when times are tough.

Paul Lewis, author of Cracking Up: American Humor in a Time of Conflict, spoke to Wired about the connection between humor and tragedy. He predicts that as the virus, and the reporting, intensifies so will our collective humor.

“This virus is a terrible scary thing, and, therefore, we should expect joking,” he said. “It’s not happening despite that, it’s because of it.”

How do you feel joking about the Coronavirus? At what point, if any, will it cross a line?

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