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33 moments of unintentional comedy that brightened up 2020 (kind of)

Many of the funniest moments in an epically unfunny year came from public figures making accidental spectacles of themselves.

33 moments of unintentional comedy that brightened up 2020 (kind of)
[Image: masha_tace/iStock]
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If ever there was a year in which people could use a laugh, it was this one.

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Unfortunately, the primary factor that drove up the demand for chuckles in 2020 also put a stranglehold on supply lines. We could no longer meet up in person with our friends to get goofy over drinks together. Big screen comedies like Bob’s Burgers: The Movie and Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar got pushed back to 2021. Stand-up comedians migrated to laptops and car parks, and it was kinda funny, but also sad.

So, let us all be thankful that 2020 was also a year over-brimming with laughs of the unintentional variety.

In a time when every day was both its own hermetically sealed terrordome and part of a purgatorial continuum of stasis, the only reliable jolt of novelty was whatever schadenfreude-filled embarrassment had just happened on any given day. Thankfully, there seemed to be more spectacular acts of public embarrassment at play this year than usual.

Here are 33 moments that provided a little snickering levity during some of the darkest days in American history.

1. Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina candle

Way back in the halcyon days of Early January, enough space remained within the daily discourse for some collective head-scratching around Goop’s rather bluntly titled This Smells Like My Vagina candle. On its surface, bringing such a candle to market, with a $75 price tag no less, seems like an obvious cynical publicity ploy. But to make that assumption is to ignore the fact that Paltrow is exactly the sort of whimsical yet savvy influencer to consider such a candle a sincere “punk rock feminist statement.” The candle was funny, but in the end the joke was on us mockers: the $75 sapphic-scented wax-stick sold out instantly.

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2. Eminem inexplicably performing at the Oscars

Why did Eminem perform at Bong Joon-ho’s The Oscars? It doesn’t make a lick of sense. Sure, he was nominated for Best Original Song… 17 years ago (for “Lose Yourself” from 8 Mile) but why now? WTF? It was the year’s dumbest mystery, but what made it funny was how stoked the producers must have assumed viewers would be by Em’s performance, when the actual collective reaction was more like this:

3. Mike Bloomberg is big in American Samoa

Fresh off the viral success of “Moves Like Bloomberg,” the meme-loving candidate dumped anywhere between $500 million and $2 billion on his primary campaign, only to become a laughingstock with highly publicized misdeeds, a murder victim of Senator Elizabeth Warren, and the winner of just one primary contest, in American Samoa. Ouch.

4. Biden’s first livestream

Back when America was still just getting used to both Official Presidential Candidate Joe Biden and the onset of the pandemic, the two concepts collided. Biden held his first-ever virtual town hall, and it was a glitchy debacle. At the time, the funniness of this epic failure was brushed aside by many viewers who were fearful that it was a bad omen for a doomed campaign. Now that the outcome of that campaign is known, please enjoy a guilt-free chuckle at it.

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5. Google rebukes Trump

Early into the pandemic, President Trump tried to reassure the public that America was on top of things, touting a supposed Google COVID-19 site that did not, in fact, exist.

Google essentially responded to Trump thusly:

6. Karma comes for Rudy Gobert

Over the course of 2020, a great many skeptics were brought low by hubris (with an assist from COVID-19, of course.) Up first was Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert, who mocked the threat of the virus in a press conference, only to get infected by it mere days later. Apparently, karma has incredible ball control and a great sense of timing.

7. Nipple ring-gate

Governor Andrew Cuomo became an Emmy-winner and self-aggrandizing memoir author for his daily efforts to keep New Yorkers informed of his belated efforts to contain COVID-19. On some days, he would inject a bit of humor into the proceedings, like this goofy municipal map, or relating ongoing tensions with his daughter’s boyfriend. But the greatest unintentional laugh of Cuomo’s daily briefings came from the much-discussed possibility of secret nipple rings.

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8. The Triggered Father’s Day special

Whether it’s the fact that few father-son relationships have ever seemed more fraught than that of Donald Trump and his namesake son, or because even fewer people are more easily and frequently triggered than the current president, the image advertising this cursed special broadcast was the father of many guffaws.

9. Elon Musk accidentally drops Tesla’s stock price

The enigmatically manic SpaceX genius cracks a lot of dumb jokes on Twitter, and occasionally some transphobic ones. But none of his tweets were ever more funny than the time one of them accidentally tanked Tesla’s stock price, a situation immediately followed by this announcement:

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10. Aaron Paul takes responsibility

To be clear, none of the actors in this video, a PSA urging white people to own up to their racial blind spots in the wake of the George Floyd protests, comes off looking good. Paul’s steeple-fingered overacting, however, is flat-out hilarious. What horrible hate crimes from his own past must Paul have been reflecting on just before the director yelled “action!”

11. Kente cloth summit

Leave it up to the Democratic establishment, though, to make a more embarrassing performance of racial unity than the “I Take Responsibility” video. Days after George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer led a bicameral group to a police reform conference dressed in Kente cloth. In response, the entire internet cringed hard enough to disrupt the balance of several tectonic plates.

12. Finally, some fireworks

After the trend of constant fireworks throughout New York all spring, stemming from a pandemic-inspired need to blow off steam, the second-to-last thing most New Yorkers wanted was a grand July 4th fireworks display—with the very last thing being multiple surprise fireworks displays in honor of American independence.

13. The Death Star tweet

Former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale’s tweet comparing the candidate’s Get Out The Vote mechanism to the villainous weapon from Star Wars is a funny self-own even before one considers his “I’m not mad, I’m actually laughing”-style follow-up tweet once mass mocking ensued, or Parscale’s drunken arrest later on, or the fact that his Death Star, much like the fictitious one, ultimately failed.

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14. Trump’s first rally of the COVID-19 era is dramatically under-attended

Of all the Trump rallies to become a humiliation, this one may have deserved it the most. Against all pandemic safety advice, Trump insisted on a prompt return to jam-packed, mask-optional indoor rallies, and he insisted on doing so on Juneteenth, in Tulsa, of all places, at the height of a tense racial moment in America. (Trump hastily rescheduled the event to the day after Juneteenth, following a pronounced public outcry.) Ultimately, far fewer people showed up than Trump’s team enthusiastically predicted, possibly owing to some RSVP manipulation by TikTok teens. It may be macabre to think about how much Trump cares about his crowd sizes, compared with the ever-rising COVID-19 death toll, but it’s still cathartically funny to see how sad this embarrassment made him.

15. Rocket launcher in a Subway

“Armed citizens rising up to protest COVID-19 lockdown” sounds like a scary proposition—and it certainly was. It was never less scary, however, than when a man brought an anti-aircraft weapon into a popular sandwich franchise.

16. Karen and Ken, the St. Louis gun couple

Right-leaning pundits and politicians attempted to elevate to folk-hero status the St. Louis couple who pulled guns on Black Lives Matter protesters for marching through their gated community, which was very funny considering how much the pair clearly look like folk villains.

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Although they briefly enjoyed their notoriety, which brought them all the way to the Republican National Convention, the couple likely enjoyed it less so in October when they were indicted by a grand jury.

17. Kimberly Guilfoyle shouts to the rafters

Speaking of the Republican National Convention, a relatively restrained Donald Trump was upstaged at the event by his son’s eerily impassioned girlfriend, former Fox News reporter Kimberly Guilfoyle, who turned herself into meme-fodder for the ages.

18. The failure of Quibi

The funniest possible way to flame out for a streaming service whose flawed premise is that people don’t want to watch things for very long is: quickly.

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19. Boat parade sinking

Donald Trump, noted working-class Joe and enemy of elites, never missed an opportunity in 2020 to thank a key demographic within his base: boat owners.

Tragically, Trump’s support for the group seemed to taper off after the great Boat Parade Disaster of 2020, during which several of the boaters’ boats sank to the bottom of a lake.

RIP, boats!

20. Steve Bannon indicted for border wall scam

Speaking of boats, Trump-adjacent scuzzball Steve Bannon was arrested on one for scamming Trump supporters out of a lot of money.

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21. Kristi Noem keeps her distance

The South Dakota governor’s attempt to turn COVID-19 fears into a culture war was meant to be a funny rebuke to wackadoo liberals and their belief in “science.” Unfortunately for her, it came off funnier for the governor’s embrace of cartoon stereotypes about Republicans.

22. Dan Crenshaw’s Avengers ad

One-eyed Texan politician Crenshaw similarly tried to come off like a badass with his wannabe Avengers ad, and its eventual follow-up, but all his efforts did was emphasize how much he reveres the standard-issue Hollywood product he and his MAGA cohort allegedly hate.

23. Ben Shapiro says vaginal wetness is a medical anomaly

It was deeply unfunny when conservative media godhead Ben Shapiro read out the lyrics to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” to mock its tawdriness. When Shapiro attempted to fact-check the song’s premise, however, it was among the funniest moments of this—or any—year.

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24. Trump catches COVID-19 and also boogie fever

Now that the election is over, it is officially hilarious that, upon catching COVID-19, Donald Trump spent the rest of his campaign dancing to “YMCA” at every rally, rather than addressing the pandemic more aggressively.

25. Trump’s mid-hospitalization car ride

Equally funny is the fact that Trump took time out of his convalescence at Walter Reed Memorial to go for a car ride and reassure well-wishers that his thumbs still exist.

26. Emily Ratajkowksi shuts down a cancel culture critic

Back in July, while the country was grappling with the pandemic, mass social unrest, and election madness, many people online still found time to flip out about the greatest threat facing America: cancel culture. A writer named Thomas Chatterton Williams put together an open letter rebuking the concept itself, got a lot of famous writers to sign on, and published it in Harper’s. Months later, the letter’s author got, well, not canceled, but heavily roasted.

It would have been funny enough if Williams only got scorched by some of his fellow writers for his newly surfaced leering 2018 profile of model, actor and activist Emily Ratajkowski, but then he also got lit up by Ratajkowski herself. Ouch!

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27. The honeymoon between MAGA and Fox News ends

Although anyone who goes against Trump instantly becomes an enemy of the MAGA faithful, it was particularly funny to see it happen to Fox News after the network openly acknowledged the reality that Joe Biden won the election.

28. Doug Ducey gets a well-timed phone call

Right as Arizona Governor Doug Ducey was signing off on Arizona’s election results, on live TV, he got a phone call with a particular ringtone: “Hail to the Chief.”

Wonder who that could have been!

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29. Patti LaBelle and the sentient sock puppet

The entire saga of Pennsylvania politician Dean Browning posing as a gay Black man, through a sock puppet Twitter account, is well worth reading and laughing at. If you haven’t got that kind of time, however, the below series of tweets adequately sums up the ordeal.

For further unintentional comedy, here is Patti LaBelle’s response to the whole incident.

30. Biden blames foot injury on dog

It is rumored that the most beautiful words in the English language are “cellar door,” but I submit a close-second set of words is: “President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday revealed that he broke his foot tripping on a rug after a shower as he chased one of his dogs and grabbed its tail.”

31. Trump is counting on, and let down by, SCOTUS

It was a moment of victory for the 81 million Biden voters when the Supreme Court declined to hear a case in the effort to overturn the 2020 election results. It was a victory for lovers of unintentional comedy, however, that earlier that same day, Donald Trump QT’d a tweet featuring an image of Justice Amy Coney Barrett shooting lasers out of her eyes, ostensibly in support for Trump that never materialized.

32. The Donald Trump shofar-blow

Nothing like a good old-fashioned honk of the shofar to celebrate the president who inspired Charlottesville marchers to chant “Jews will not replace us.”

33. Rudy Giuliani becomes an absolute legend

When it comes to unintentional comedy, though, the undisputed king of 2020 has got to be Rudy Giuliani. In roughly the span of six weeks, he was the victim of a Borat prank, held the saddest press conference of all time at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, and both farted and leaked hair dye from both sides of his face. A true glutton for punishment, Giuliani’s penchant for catastrophe made 2020 a bit more bearable, even as he tried to sabotage democracy.

All hail an absolute legend.