RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Events in Japan have been followed by a string of tactless comments about the tragedy. People who've drawn attention to themselves run the gamut from the press secretary for Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour to the rapper 50 Cent. Comedian Gilbert Gottfried lost his job after tweeting a number of inappropriate jokes. NPR's Neda Ulaby wonders if something about Twitter makes it easier to cross the line.
NEDA ULABY: Gilbert Gottfried was the voice of the Aflac duck.
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Mr. GILBERT GOTTFRIED (Comedian): Aflac.
ULABY: Aflac is an insurance company and you'd think they would've known about Gottfried's liabilities.
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Unidentified Man #1: And some people need to - I guess need to be reminded every now and then that, you know, not everything is funny.
Unidentified Woman #1: Right.
ULABY: Gottfried became news himself after tweeting jokes that mocked Japan's tragedy. Most were vastly more vulgar than the ones anchors at ABC News read aloud.
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Unidentified Man #2: Japan is really advanced. They don't go to the beach, the beach comes to them.
ULABY #2: Tweeting almost begs for trouble, says James Poniewozik of Time magazine.
Mr. JAMES PONIEWOZIK (Time Magazine): It's immediate. It's unmediated. If you're a celebrity it's very easy for you to just get on and thumb something out without it going through your publicist.
ULABY: Poniewozik even invented a word for the consequences twimmilation(ph).
Mr. PONIEWOZIK: Twimmilation is the phenomenon of losing a job or becoming publically disgraced over a quick ill-advised tweet or a series of tweets.
ULABY: But Gottfried was not ill-advised, according to another person in the business.
Ms. LISA LAMPANELLI (Comedian): We as comics, I think, make those remarks deliberately.
ULABY: Lisa Lampanelli falls squarely in the same hardcore insult comic camp as Gottfried. And she defended him on Twitter.
Ms. LAMPANELLI: With comics like Gilbert Gottfried, Sarah Silverman, myself, anyone who has sort of a shock element to their comedy, it's almost even better, because you get an immediate reaction out of people. And I think it's great. I think it makes our brand stronger.
ULABY: This kind of comedy taps into the id. It's unfiltered, impulsive, all about immediate gratification. And what's Twitter but a sort of mass id? Much like standup. So you may be surprised to hear comedian Paula Poundstone say Twitter actually involves editing.
Ms. PAULA POUNDSTONE (Comedian): One of the things I do with Twitter that I certainly don't do verbally - I think of a joke. I write it up on the thingie, and I don't know how many characters it is until I write it up. Well, if it's too long, then I have to start hacking things away.
ULABY: Of course she struggles to keep the meaning.
Ms. POUNDSTONE: I try to make punctuation the last thing I throw out.
ULABY: So a comedian's tweets may be more thoughtfully processed than their off-the-cuff onstage jokes.
Lisa Lampanelli says Twitter is deceptive. It feels like a big shared experience, but it's not like a comedy club where performers respond to audience reaction.
Ms. LAMPANELLI: When you're on stage there's the facial expressions, there's the tone of voice.
ULABY: Lampanelli says there's one line - one - she refuses to cross. She will not say anything she doesn't think is funny. Neither will Paula Poundstone. She works for NPR, so she's practically by definition not an insult comic. But she's given this thought too.
Ms. POUNDSTONE: It's funny, because I, in fact, put up a tweet that said due to the tragedy in Japan, CNN has had to discontinue their Charlie Sheen coverage until the end of hour. And somebody tweeted me back and said, oh, too soon.
ULABY: That annoyed Poundstone. She was mocking CNN - not Japan. Poundstone says she has nothing to say about Japan that's funny.
Neda Ulaby, NPR News.�