You’re never “just joking.” Nobody is ever “just joking.”

Jason Steed’s tweet storm has gone viral, and with good reason. He tackled the idea that Trump was “just joking” about that whole 2nd amendment people taking care of Clinton.

But in a certain sense, it doesn’t really matter what Trump intended. This tweetstorm, from Dallas lawyer Jason P. Steed, explains why.

Before becoming a lawyer, Steed was an English professor. He wrote his PhD dissertation on “the social function of humor” and found something important: Jokes about socially unacceptable things aren’t just “jokes.” They serve a function of normalizing that unacceptable thing, of telling the people who agree with you that, yes, this is an okay thing to talk about.

This, Steed explains, is why “it’s a joke” isn’t a good defense of racist jokes. By telling the joke, the person is signaling that they think racism is an appropriate thing to express. “Just joking” is just what someone says to the people who don’t appreciate hearing racist stuff — it shouldn’t matter any more than saying “no offense” after saying something offensive.

Likewise, Trump is signaling that assassinating Hillary Clinton and/or her Supreme Court nominees is an okay thing to talk about. He’s normalizing the unacceptable.

This is very much the same as the standard you walk past is the standard you accept, but people are always trying to exempt humor from that, and it is not exempt, in spite of all those who wish it to be.

Vox has the whole tweet storm, and Think Progress has an in depth article and interview with Steed.


  1. says

    Another way of putting it is “if you’re just joking, I guess you won’t mind if I apply it back to you?”

    Hey, 2nd amendment nuts, if Trump’s not the republican you want, you know what to do!

    Perfectly OK right?

  2. samihawkins says

    As someone who devotes a lot of time to thinking about the concept of comedy and what makes something funny I absolutely loathe the ‘just joking’ excuse. Saying something horrible and offensive doesn’t magically become not horrible and offensive just because you phrase it as a joke, though a lot of them don’t even bother trying to phrase it that way. Countless times I’ve seen someone say something horrible and offensive in a completely serious tone, get called out on it, and then retroactively declare that their comment was a ‘just a joke’ despite the total lack of any context or phrasing that would make it funny.

    And then there’s the cousin of ‘just joking’, ‘it’s satire’. You know those witty types who satirize horrible and offensive beliefs by agreeing with and defending them in total seriousness right up till the moment they enter a space where it’s socially unnaceptable. Then it’s totally just satire that they totally don’t genuinely believe while still regularly trying to imply or hint that those horrible and offensive people make some good points.

  3. Siobhan says

    This was a brilliant read. Better still was how Steed closed with a joke to demonstrate the point he just made--that the in-group to Trump’s joke should be tiny. Like his hands.

  4. says


    Better still was how Steed closed with a joke to demonstrate the point he just made–that the in-group to Trump’s joke should be tiny. Like his hands.

    Yes, that was such a shiny finish, especially as people who didn’t like his tweet storm seemed to be somewhat limited to a lame “you must be fun at parties” response. Those were funny, because Steed’s humour was evident throughout, and on the rest of tweet stream.

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