Charlie Sheen: Why #Winning Isn’t Funny

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 9, 2011 – 12:03 AM

Since launching this blog last summer, I’ve written close to 200 articles. All of them are focused specifically on media and presentation training. I’m not sure I’ve earned the privilege of departing from the blog’s stated purpose to express a personal opinion, so I hope you’ll forgive me for straying in this post.

I remember watching Craig Ferguson’s late night CBS talk show in early 2007 when Britney Spears was in the middle of her well-publicized mental breakdown. While other hosts were having fun at her expense, Mr. Ferguson’s monologue brought me to tears.

Among other things, he said:

“Tonight, no Britney Spears jokes. Here’s why: The kind of weekend she had, she was checking in and out of rehab, shaving her head, getting tattoos…For me, comedy should have a certain amount of joy in it…It should be about attacking the powerful — the politicians, the Trumps, the blowhards — going after them. We shouldn’t be attacking the vulnerable.”

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve watched many people treat Charlie Sheen’s break from reality as pure entertainment. I’ve seen journalists I respect, comedians who are usually funny, and many of my social media connections having fun at the star’s expense.

I can’t quite figure out why.

Charlie Sheen ABC News

Mr. Sheen is an addict. He will hopefully get a hold of his downward spiral – which has already cost him his job and the custody of his children – before it results in his early death.

Mr. Sheen’s newly-minted catchphrases (tiger blood, winning) and bizarre statements (Thomas Jefferson was a “pussy,” Alcoholics Anonymous is a “bootleg cult”) should be seen for what they are – the rantings of a troubled man. It’s sickening to watch sycophantic media interviewers gleefully embrace their role as enablers, and it’s equally disturbing to watch media companies joyfully profit from his downfall.

As if we needed another reminder of how sad addiction is, news broke earlier today that former Alice in Chains bassist Mike Starr died of a drug overdose at the age of 44.

Craig Ferguson was right. We shouldn’t be attacking the vulnerable.

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Comments (5)

  1. By Forgetful Man:

    Agree absolutely. I remember Ferguson’s monologue well, and appreciate that he has taken the same stance again with Mr. Sheen.

    I engaged in an argument on this point recently and felt a good compromise was reached when we both agreed that in light of what was known (not speculated) it was best to err on the side of concern and compassion in this case. The downside of such a position, should this end well or ill, is far more defensible than the alternative position.

  2. By Brad Phillips:

    Christopher –

    Thank you for your comment. I didn’t know whether Craig Ferguson was banning Charlie Sheen jokes, and am glad to see he has.

    I don’t mind making jokes at someone’s expense, but my personal rule is that the target should be deserving. That’s a subjective measure, to be sure, but I can’t personally include the drug addicted as a deserving target.


  3. By Luba:

    One nuance: i think one can draw a distinction between making fun of Charlie and finding some of his comments intrinsically funny. He is a bright and creative guy, and SOME of his commentary is amusing on its face. What is happening to him, however, and the reason he’s saying these things, is not amusing. But that’s why this is somewhat different than the Britney case. I think one can chuckle at what he’s saying without laughing AT him. That said, I totally agree that putting a disturbed individual like this on air, for the ratings, is sleazy and opportunistic.

  4. By Brad Phillips:

    Hi Luba,

    Thanks for your comment.

    Your point is well-taken. I’m not sure most people who are joking about this case are making such a fine distinction, nor am I sure most people parse these things so finely. But I certainly hope you’re right and that there’s not as much of a “pointing and laughing” aspect to this story as I think.


    (In the spirit of full disclosure, Luba does some consulting for my firm. As you can see, that’s never stopped her from offering a counter-opinion.) 🙂

  5. By Luba:

    Brad, I totally agree that most people who are joking about this matter probably ARE laughing at him, which is sad. I just wanted to point out that the chuckles aren’t all mean-spirited, and there is some room for levity in this. 🙂
    — Luba

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