“#NRA: We thank the 20 children who gave their lives in defense of constitutional liberty and the right to bear arms. #GunControlNow,” I tweeted when I heard about the horrific shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Many thought that was outrageous. (More)

Was my tweet crude and offensive? As bad as or worse than The Onion‘s crude and offensive tweet on Sunday night during the Oscars? Probably so, and I apologize.

I will not offer any claim of “comedic immunity.” Quite the contrary. To write comedy is to expose yourself to ridicule, and sometimes that ridicule will be entirely justified.

Comedy is a high wire act. It is, often, the art of the absurd and the outrageous, spotlighting our follies and puncturing our egos. For example, my tweet after Sandy Hook tried to highlight the absurdity of NRA claims about “freedom.”

Much of comedy is “tragedy at a distance,” events that would otherwise hurt or horrify us, portrayed with enough of an artistic buffer that we laugh rather than cry. Comics also take disparate ideas and play our surprise at experience those ideas together. Consider this Ricky Gervais stand-up bit:

I watch hours and hours of the History Channel and the Discovery Channel. Just back and forth, like six-hour stints, History Channel, Discovery Channel. Ask me anything about sharks and Nazis.

Not as bad as a lot of people make out. Sharks, I mean. Nazis, horrible. Sharks, brilliant. Nazis, rubbish. The shark’s an amazing creature. It’s got sensors up its body. It can tell the slightest movement in the water from a floundering fish through electrical impulses and zone in on that. It’s got good eyesight, contrary to popular belief, and it can taste and smell the slightest human secretion of blood and sweat. One part in a billion, from a mile away. A shark would’ve found Anne Frank like that. [snaps fingers]

Did Gervais tell a tasteless and insensitive joke about the most famous victim of the Holocaust? Or did he do a high wire back flip that would make the Flying Wallendas green with envy?

It’s possible to write a funny joke about Hollywood backbiting at the Oscars, and catty gossip about a talented nine-year-old newcomer would be an ideal exemplar. But that joke will, inevitably, require a high wire back flip. The Onion writer failed, badly, and the public response was entirely justified.

Join the club.

Good day and good nuts.