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Justine Sacco: From one Public Relations Jokster to Another

Justine Sacco: From one Public Relations Jokster to Another

We did it, ‘MURICA!! We ruined a woman’s life! And right before Christmas!! Let’s hope her South African vacation was ruined by thoughts of despair and suicide. There’s too many women in executive positions anyways. GO TEAM GO!

For those of you mobsters who helped destroy Justine Sacco, the words above is what we call “irony”. I don’t really mean them. In fact, I think the exact opposite. I used humor as a vessel to prove a point. And maybe Justine did the same.

We Americans still love to lynch people. It’s our knee-jerk reaction to everything. HANG’EM HIGH!! EYE FOR AN EYE!! THREE STRIKES AND YOURE OUT!! So embarrassing. No surprise we have 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s incarcerated population.

Sacha Baron Cohen was asked how Brits and Americans differ in their reactions to his Borat/Bruno characters. He said Brits will gradually become more agitated with his vexing, while Americans are calm and polite…then suddenly snap. Yup, that’s us!

What Justine tweeted was retarded. And I’m offending mentally retarded people by calling her that, because they’d never say something so stupid. Could she have been using irony and humor to prove a larger point about white people’s ignorance towards AIDS? Would she be in this situation if her tweet was reworded to, “Going to Africa. The racial differences amongst AIDS victims is alarming, and white people don’t care!” ?

Or maybe she’s just a racist asshole.

Canadian-Indian comedian Russell Peters, whose entire act is about race, once said, “Racial jokes and racist jokes are two different things.” And when a racial joke bombs, it just sounds racial.

I too work in public relations and dabble with stand-up comedy. I test out joke ideas on Twitter, and if they get some ReTweets, I turn them into jokes to test on stage. Most comedians do this. And all comedians tweet out some real stinkers. Especially myself. Unlike Justine, I keep my comedy and professional worlds separate. Writing “CorpComms at IAC” in her Twitter profile was almost as dumb as her tweet.

After my sister-in-law lovingly spent hours knitting me a Christmas present, I posted, “I feel guilty when someone knits something for me. Unless that someone is a 10-year old Taiwanese boy.” An idiot would think I’m mocking child slave-like labor. But I’m using observational humor to convey a serious issue. We’ve all felt guilty for receiving gifts. Yet we westerners feel zero guilt buying a child-made $20 sweater from H&M. I felt my humor and tight-editing would deliver this powerful message better than a 500-word rant.

“She’s a PR exec, she should have known better!”

You’re right, she should have known. …Known that “women aren’t funny“! Everyone knows that! Oh, and Justine is pretty. Pretty women DEFINITELY shouldn’t be joking around. It takes away from making babies and writing lame corporate communications materials.

If she was “Justin” instead of “Justine”, she’d still have a job.

Many assume humor is always used to mock someone or something. Humor is much more complex. I joked many times during the eulogy of my father’s funeral. Was I mocking the death of my father? Or was I using humor to cope with a difficult situation? Did I hope that my humor would help others cope with that difficult situation?

Some people cry to cope, some yell, some mope, some people abuse drugs and alcohol. I laugh. I joke. It’s how I’ve instinctively dealt with difficult situations since a child. Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah said about growing up poor, “We survived winters, snotty nosed with no coats. We kept it real, but the older brother still had jokes.”

The world was infatuated with Justine for several days, not because of her words, but because we all feared this could one day happen to us. We’ve all written or said something stupid. But like Jennifer Lawrence’s character in The Hunger Games, her number came up.

She was a nobody at a nobody company. According to her Twitter page she’s “Troublemaker on the side. Also known for my loud laugh”. So she’s a jokester amongst jokesters. She pushes boundaries. She’s no doubt beloved amongst her peers. Labeled by the media as an “executive” (probably for the first, and last time), but in reality she was a “Senior Director”. Middle management.

She worked for the least humorous website on the internet,, so she’s surrounded by wannabe-funny people all day where her lame tweet fits right in. No doubt a sense of humor is a job prerequisite. Her lame joke fits right in there with their website persona.

Little talk of US labor laws were discussed in the articles I read. Shouldn’t personal and professional lives be separate? Do we really want corporations to own us 24/7? Thanks for the US’s freedom of speech laws, no crime was committed here. Pornography is unacceptable in the workplace, but when it happens in your free time, is it your employer’s business?

Turns out Justine, like myself and most other comics, is a bleeding-heart liberal. I doubt she’s racist. Her situation has been compared to the firing of the Duck Dynasty dad for his rants against homosexuals. What’s worse, a joke about gays…or actually hating gays and wanting them banished to hell for all eternity? Big difference.

We’ll never know if Justine Sacco is a bigot or just had a 10-second brainfart. AIDS is a serious issue and I’m happy to see the internet discussing this once more. While I’m upset that someone could mock such a serious issue, I’m more upset at Americans in 2013. How we treat men and women differently. How some random person’s tweet is worthy of national headlines. How we misunderstand humor. How we skip compassion and rehabilitation to go right for the jugular.

Here’s hoping for a better 2014.


Author Description

Phil Schwarzmann

I'm a writer, stand-up comic, and author of “How to Marry a Finnish Girl” (Gummerus Publishers, 2011). Better! Funner! is where I write. Poorly. More of my jibber-jabber at:

Buy my fucking book! (please)


Phil’s debut humor book, “How to Marry a Finnish Girl” is out now on Gummerus Publishers.

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About Better! Funner!


Better! Funner! is a blog written and curated by Phil Schwarzmann. You’ll find funny original pieces, some not-so-funny pieces, plus stuff that made Phil laugh from around them internets. Enjoy!