Is Penny Arcade’s “Guitar Hero: Nirvana” Joke Funny Or Too Soon Or Just Stupid?

Apr 22nd, 2009 // 26 Comments

When a friend of mine sent me today’s installment of the Web comic Penny Arcade, which wants you to laugh at the “special accessories” that come with the still-theoretical Nirvana edition of Guitar Hero, I said, “Oh, ouch.” “Everybody says ouch,” he replied. And why is that?

Well because the “joke” as it were is that Guitar Hero: Nirvana comes with its own plasticized, brightly buttoned gun, you see. Suicide: It can be painless, as long as you’re working in two dimensions! Anyway, as the day has progressed, more people have been sending the comic my way, along with the de rigeur “ouch”-ish commentary. And I have yet to laugh once! Is it because I’m overly sensitive, or is the joke really just that dumb? Or should I just wait a few more years–heck, the comic’s author titled today’s strip “Maybe Too Soon”–and allow the world to progress to a moment when we can all sit back and laugh about the events of 15 years ago? Readers, I leave it up to your collective comedic wisdom to decide.

(Also: Maybe the joke would have been a little funnier with a Duck Hunt reference? OK, probably not.)

Maybe Too Soon [Penny Arcade]

  1. When my brother sent me this (and he sents me bad webcomics entirely too often), all I could muster was “smh.”

    Still, if Frances Bean can have a suicide-themed birthday party, maybe there’s no point left in trying to approach that whole situation with any degree of taste or dignity anymore.

  2. As one of the forwarders: sorry. I didn’t laugh either, for the record.

  3. They could have done it with Guitar Hero: Phish and included a bong. It would have been the same joke, minus the tastelessness. And still wouldn’t have been funny. Its just not a funny setup. It doesn’t matter if its too soon or not classy or whatever. Its just poorly executed comedy on all levels.

  4. Penny Arcade’s humor has always been hit or miss (I mainly keep reading because the art is so good). This is a prefect example why they occasionally miss. You can see a perfectly good joke (specialized Rock Band controller), but then they try way too hard to make it funny/edgy. Plus I guess I’ve heard so many Cobain/Shotgun jokes that it’s lost any shock value.

    Also, I could be wrong, but the “too soon” title could be a double reference to last weeks news on a game about Fallujah . Many people complained that that game was “too soon”.

  5. @SomeSound-MostlyFury

    But it wouldn’t have been the same joke at all. The humor isn’t in the item itself, it’s in the reaction of Gabe and Tycho as well. A bong would be funny to them and thus not to us. A shotgun is horrifying to them, so it’s supposed to be funny to us because it’s WRONG and everyone involved (characters and audience) knows it.

  6. This is the type of humor that Gabe and Tyko specialize in. You either enjoy it, or you never get the point. Obviously, there are tons of people who enjoy Penny Arcade as you can tell my its success, but there are plenty who don’t.

    For the record, I guffawed loudly at this one. Great shock value, great humor!

  7. I enjoyed it when I read it (if looking at wordless pictures counts as “reading”), and I enjoyed it again now. I understand why some people don’t get the strip’s humor at all, and that’s fine, but PA and Toothpaste for Dinner are the only two webcomics I read. I think PA is hilarious, but that’s just me.

    It also helps that I hate Nirvana. (Not that I think the guy deserved to die or anything, just that I have never liked their music.)

  8. i think many of us are a little sensitive about kurt cobain. on a scale where a visual joke involving elvis and a toilet, bottle of pills etc. is perhaps funny or at least inoffensively dumb, and an elliott smith one with a knife is horrifyingly inappropriate, kurt cobain jokes fall closer to elliott because in both cases a lot of people already predisposed to being sensitive have taken ownership of that artist, and have pretty strong feelings about their deaths.

    no, this joke and this strip are not particular winners, but i’m a huge fan of penny arcade. it’s not a comic that goes for shock value often, and if you read the strip regularly, the joke here is more in Gabe and Tycho’s horrified reaction than in the thing itself. it’s a shame that a lot of people will probably see this, rightly call it tasteless, and judge the strip and its authors accordingly. Tycho’s posts (which i hope people read in conjunction with the strip, not that it explains or excuses the strip in this case) can be incredibly thoughtful, and he writes about video games with passion and insight – something pretty much lacking in 99% of online writing about games.

    of course, if you love nirvana (or just don’t think jokes about suicide are funny) and don’t care about video games, this is just a bad joke by an interloper in your community.

  9. Laughter really is the best medicine. Unless you have serious psychological problems, in which case you can only hope to ultimately fuel the laughter of jerks.

  10. Wow. What a fail.

    Here’s a better idea:

    “Hole Rock Band w/ Shotgun accessory”

    Now that would make me laugh, and it’s closer to reality.

    “Nirvana Rock Band w/ Extra Kurt Cobain album “Live through this”

    That was the best Penny Arcade could do? Sad . . .

  11. @we started this Agreed about Tycho. I think he might actually be one of the best writers in America, and he really thinks heavily about video games. I laughed a little at the comic.

  12. I didn’t really think this was funny, and it definitely wasn’t shocking, but maybe that’s because I first heard the “what was the last thing to go through Kurt Cobain’s mind?” joke in middle school. would have been funnier with some reference to courtney love maybe? I dunno.

  13. oh p.s. the answer is “his teeth”

  14. I think a minority of people who laugh never understood what made Nirvana “good” or important until Cobain died, thus making them canon without feeling like they earned it. At least, why they’d deserve their own edition of Rock Band.

    Of course, I’ve never been into them, and never thought they deserved the amount of recognition they got, so from less of a point of view of “ha, he’s dead” and more of a point of view of “ha, this is the only reason people have decided them worthy of a game,” yes, yes I laughed.

    But, I accept that I’m a minority, I accept that may not be the intent, and moreover, I accept that I would not find a joke about an Alice in Chains game coming with X-Box heroin needles, and I accept the hypocrisy in that.

  15. @TheRunningboard7: so what you’re saying is that this is the equivalent of a mama cass / ham sandwich joke?

  16. @Maura: Maybe? I don’t know enough about the Mama Cass business to really speak on it. I don’t know how many people feel that’s the only reason she’s famous, and that also (disregarding conspiracy) brings up the idea of accidental vs. intentional means of dying (unless she meant to choke on a sandwich, and honest to god I’m ignorant enough to the point to include this parenthetical comment).

  17. @TheRunningboard7

    You’re stating that they were granted a game because of his suicide? His suicide has nothing to do with their music.

    Were you even born then when this happened?

    Because – I think they deserve their own game because once the video for Smells Like Teen Spirit came out, all the kids returned their NEW Michael Jackson album (Dangerous) and exchanged it for Nevermind, sending it to the top. It’s call cultural revolution and when it happens you don’t forget it.

    The point of rock band is to encourage kids to not make bands. It’s a way to keep music safe and sanitized via pre approved “hits”. Don’t express yourself, just mimic your idols and be sure to play every note perfectly, because the crowd will boo you if you don’t! Draw within the lines kids and don’t ask any questions, just pretend.

  18. It’s a joke, yes. I kind of chuckled when someone sent it to me, but humor is extremely subjective.

  19. @Vulture.Protein: That’s cute.
    His suicide has, in my mind, a lot to do with their cultural staying power, but I’m not here to debate whether or not they were actually good, I just explained my opinion for its relevance in explaining why I thought the PA strip was funny. So, from my point of view, why I would laugh at it. (and yes, Tycho and Gabe’s reactions certainly added to it). I couldn’t care less if you or anyone else thought Nirvana was good, nor should you care what I thought. That’s just message board flamewar bait that I’m not interested in.

  20. Seriously, guys.

    The problem is that–like most Penny Arcade comics–there’s a vague sketch of a joke, with all the elements of a joke, BUT NO ACTUAL PUNCHLINE. They are usually geekier versions of “we are referencing things” humor–Meet The Spartans for people that have Gizmodo in their RSS feed.

    It’s pathetic and sad for so many reasons beyond the “tasteless” aspect

  21. @17vargas17: Thanks, but I was referring to the rant above me (unless that was you, in which case… wow, you got me). I’m familiar with Penny-Arcade.

    @ Christopher R. Weingarten: It probably defeats the purpose for casual readers (which I guess is their fault, not yours), but the front page posts often, if not explaining the joke (or “joke”) outright, really illuminate the thought process.

    I would call it less “we are referencing things” humor, and more “really, really inside humor tied to gizmodo, kotaku, etc.” Not as bad as xkcd can get with the math and coding jokes, though.

  22. @Christopher R. Weingarten: And I say that as someone who has sat through “Meet the Spartans.”

    In the movie theater.

  23. @Christopher R. Weingarten: I’ve always thought the lack of the punchline was one of the more interesting elements. Seriously! I would never put them in the same ballpark as Meet The Spartans.

  24. i was hanging out at a friend’s place with a bunch of people who didn’t like nirvana. i got a call from a girl i knew who was as obsessed with the band as i was, and frankly i didn’t believe her, or else i didn’t believe whatever news source she heard it from. she told me to turn on 99X (atlanta’s big “alternative” radio station at the time), and since we were on our way out the door anyway, we switched it on in the car. and there it was. song after song by nirvana, peppered with somber discussions by the jocks. i got no sympathy from my ‘friends’. i kinda needed some, too. incidentally, kurt’s obituary appeared in my paper on april 9th, which is my birthday. so the song “milk it” is always going to be MY SONG. “obituary birthday / your scent is still here in my place of recovery” RIP KURT MY MAN.

Leave A Comment