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Is It Ever OK to Joke About HIV?

Is It Ever OK to Joke About HIV?


It may depend on who you ask.

Here’s our thinking on this. Artists will tell you nothing is off limits, and some comics, like Louis C.K., Chris Rock, and Whitney Cummings, have paid dearly for bucking censorship and daring to tackle real-world issues like race, politics, or sexuality. And we can think of a couple of really funny HIV-positive comedians who did make jokes about HIV. Mike DeStefano did a great show called Drugs, Disease and Death: A Comedy that touched on some serious stuff: battling heroin addiction, being HIV-positive, and losing his wife to AIDS complications. Steve Moore—who along with his lesbian green-card wife (former Roseanne writer Lois Bromfield) was Pauly Shore’s guardian while he was in high school — joked often about coming out and living with HIV (and going onstage sweating bullets after a bout of diarrhea). In his famous comedy show about life with HIV, Drop Dead Gorgeous, he even joked about his mother buying him a cemetery plot for Christmas. “And the saddest thing — it’s the only piece of land I’ve ever owned,” he deadpanned. The next Christmas she told him she didn’t buy him anything because he “didn’t use what we gave you last year.” Ba-da-bump!

Both men made HIV and AIDS funny by recounting their own experiences, never making light of the virus or other people who had lived with it. We wanted to ask these two brilliant guys if it was ever OK to joke about HIV, but Moore died last May, DeStefano in 2011. So we offer this advice: If you’re joking about your own life as a way to cope with your status, medical symptoms, or social stigma you encounter and can do so without mocking anyone else, go for it. But beware, you may make some people around you really uncomfortable, no matter how PC you think you are. Oh, and if you are HIV-negative, do not even try this. Just don’t go there.

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