Being the warm-up act at a highly-anticipated event is always a high-pressure situation. George Zimmerman's lawyer learned that last week when he opened the trial about the killing of Trayvon Martin with a joke. Was it in poor taste? Was it offensive? Was it poor legal strategy? Did it demonstrate the defense's lack of comprehension of the fact that a young man is dead due the actions of Zimmerman? Well, that's not for me to decide. I just need to determine if it was funny.
The joke, in case you missed last Tuesday's Daily Show episode: "Knock knock/ who's there/ George Zimmerman/ George Zimmerman who?/ Alright good, you're on the jury." The lawyer was then baffled that there was no laughter, upset that the murder trial jurors, judge, spectators, and press didn't come ready to laugh.
To be honest, I think this is pretty funny. It uses a classic set-up technique, but rather than adhere to our expectations of a last name (like the famous Mr. You-Glad-I-Didn't-Say-Banana) or who-based pun (as in the "Jokes for Second Graders" classic "Boo who?" "Don't cry, it's just me!"). No, this joke references the fact that the case was nationally notorious and the only way to ensure that someone didn't know the details of it was for the judge and attorneys for both sides to go door to door and trick would-be jurors. Such an unlikely scenario, it's hard not to find it somewhat humorous.
The problem here is the context with which the joke was delivered. First of all, as noted earlier, it's a murder trial. When people are in the mood to be completely serious, this kind of gotcha joke is no good. Murder trials are a better time for silly puns. (e.g. Prosecutor, holding bloody knife: "What is this?" Defendant: "I'm not sure." Prosecutor: "Take a stab at it." general laughter. Defense attorney: "Your honor, I request a sidebar... a SIDE-SPLITTING sidebar!" general laughter. Judge: "I don't see how the fun in this trial can be SUSTAINED any longer!" silence.)
But there's a more important issue here that the defense attorney failed to grasp when telling this joke. As noted, the whole understanding of the joke relies on the fact that seemingly everyone knows who George Zimmerman is because the story was so huge and it's virtually unfathomable that enough people for an entire jury didn't know who it was. This is a well-known fact, except among the jurors themselves, who ultimately were his audience. So the punchline, which is about the lack of knowledge that the jurors have, could not be apprehended by its audience, because it is about their ignorance and at their expense. This would be like telling a Yo Momma's So Stupid joke to the Momma in question.
The joke was sadly wasted on the wrong audience. The Is It Funny? verdict: Guilty.