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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.

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Comedy and Loathing in San Francisco

Thirty seconds after writing my name on last night’s open mic list, I scratched it off. I can’t go 25th. I can’t wait until 1am to perform six minutes in front of the last three comics waiting to go on. I need to find a better Wednesday night mic. At 33 I’m feeling way too old for this. I don’t have time for that shit.

If I ever had a catchphrase, it’s that. “I don’t have time for that shit.” I say that a lot. So much that my old comedy buddies in Northern Europe say the phrase and attribute it to me. I first coined it when I did some shows in Sweden. The other comics took the boat from Helsinki to Stockholm while I flew. Boats? I don’t have time for that shit. Why don’t I pack my monocle, top hat, and telegraph machine for that meandering trip back in time.

Maybe I should register that phrase as a trademark. My California sweatshirt did. Don’t you dare write “California” in a yellow font or else you owe someone a lot of money.


San Francisco is a magnet for America’s most insane people, and open mics are magnets for these people. The city has a long history of attracting artists and counterculture. Artists and counterculture have a long history of attracting mental illness. The mentally ill have a long history of attracting drug abuse. Mental illness + Drug Abuse + No Healthcare x 20 years = San Francisco.

Crazy people on stage is funny for about fifteen seconds until you realize they’ve prepared nothing and will not abide by “the light”. The host always has to rip the mic from their hands as they waddle back to their seat, often screaming the rest of their “material”. But to give them props – they have the stage confidence of a young Eddie Murphy. They have a unique voice. They work “clean”. And they’re still funnier than this blog.

Im writing this at 5:30am because my body no longer allows me to eat a heavy meal past 10pm. My body says, “You’re enjoying a good night sleep while I have to digest this slop?? Fuck that! We’re in this TOGETHER!” At age 27 I started losing my hair, at age 31 I could no longer eat late, at 32 I began to just “smell”, and at 33 I saw my first gray hairs. Can’t wait see what life brings me next!

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Do Canadians have their own sense of humor?


Per capita, Canada is funniest country in the world. Sure, there may be more funny people in the US or UK, but on average, Canadians are the funniest. But let’s be honest, Canada is just the 51st state of the United States, the humor is one in the same. Vanity Fair’s January 2013 Comedy Issue investigates.

There are actually funny Canadians alive today, but all nine of them moved into the U.S.A., and once they got here they renounced their Canadian cultural heritage, the way Mick Jagger renounced of his English accent.

Canadians, if you’re still reading, I mean that “51st state” thing with the utmost respect. You may be the 51st state, but you’re in America’s Top 5 comedic states. Right there with California and New York. Props!

Q: How do you get 26 Canadians out of a swimming pool?
A: Yell, “Everybody out of the pool!”

Canada is cold and dark, and so is their humor. If anything, their comedic styles are aligned with Scandinavia. The more miserable place you grow up, the funnier you are. Minnesota is funny, Florida is not. Finland is funny, France is not. Neither is French-Canada. It must be the language.

The world may not be watching, but Canadians can make other Canadians laugh. It makes sad sense that while Canadian humor entertains the native population, it will never flourish outside the country, because nobody outside of Canada feels any urgent need to read or hear about, or even be ware of, Canada.

Will Arnett, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Jim Carrey, Rick Moranis, Dave Foley, Tom Green, Lorne Michaels, Phil Hartman, Eugene Levy, Norm Macdonald, John Candy (again), Mike Meyers, Martin Short…all funny, all American. Quick – name a funny Canadian female! Other than Catherine O’Hara. Other than Samantha Bee. Leslie Nielsen? Close enough.

Canadians are, by history and temperament, the opposite of aggresive, and so, unsurpirsingly, their humor is defensive; they beat up on themselves before anybody else – i.e., Americans – can do it.

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Top 10 Things Only Americans Find Funny

Americans are confident they are the funniest people in the world. I mean, have you seen something funny from another country? Of course not. So many great comedic Americans like: John Candy, Jim Carey, Russell Peters, Sofia Vergara, Ricky Gervais, David Brent…all Americans. All funny.

But sometimes the American sense of humor doesn’t make home runs abroad. Here’s ten things only hilarious Americans find funny…


A Christmas Story
Nothing captures America’s childhood innocense more than A Christmas Story. While being a box office flop, it experienced a resurgence thanks to media mogul Ted Turner, who, during Christmas, repeats this movie 24 hours straight on his network. Americans have literally memorized every line of this, while the outside world has never heard of it.


License Plates
While European plates are way more James Bond, Americans are more Austin Powers. Who doesn’t love a cryptic joke during morning rush hour?


Saturday Night Live
A staple of American television since 1975, SNL has launched the illustrious careers of gabs of comedic actors. The live show is written and recorded in the span of just six days and lampoons American politics, people, and culture, leaving the rest of the world saying, “huh?” and “I do not like this Adam Sandler you speak of”.

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Buy my fucking book! (please)


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

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!