Ever since Steve Carell brought NBC's The Office to national fame with his cringe-inducing, insensitive jokes as Michael Scott, it's been clear that the American public finds awkward situations absolutely hilarious.
Now, The Office has finished its farewell season, but luckily, a new source of cringe-worthy entertainment has filled the void. No, I'm not referring to 30 Rock or Parks and Rec or even Community.
I'm talking about the murder trial of George Zimmerman, which is now approaching the end of its second week and would be well on its way to earning a spot on Comedy Central's evening lineup if it weren't for the fact that it's a freaking murder trial.
For better or worse, the American public has embraced the George Zimmerman trial as the latest form of episodic sitcom entertainment. With so many classic wince-provoking moments, it's hard not to peek even as you try to avert your eyes from the train wreck.
Florida prosecutor John Guy kicked off the trial with a bang when he began his opening statement with a barrage of profanity.
Guy's very first words to the jury were, "Good morning. F*cking punks. These a**holes, they always get away."
After pausing to appreciate the collective shock of the courtroom, Guy spun to point an accusatory finger at George Zimmerman, and explained, "Those were the words in that grown man's mouth as he followed in the dark a 17-year old boy who he didn't know."
Forty-five (45) seconds into Guy's opening statement, MSNBC interrupted its coverage of the trial in order to insert a 7-second delay. You can just imagine the distressed broadcast technicians saying, "We knew this trial was going to get graphic, but who knew it was going to happen this soon?!"
Not to be outdone by the prosecution, defense attorney Don West attempted his own shock-and-awe tactic in his opening statement. His brilliant defensive maneuver? To tell a knock-knock joke.
I'd give you a transcript of the joke, but it probably wouldn't make sense in written form. In fact, as the multiple dumbfounded faces in the courtroom footage suggest, West's joke didn't really make sense, period. If you haven't already watched the above video, go ahead and hit play.
As I wrote in my previous article on the subject, you can tell that Zimmerman's attorney knew he was cruising for a bruising (no pun intended) when he prefaced his joke by saying, "I'd like to tell you a little joke. I know how that may sound a bit weird, in this context, under these circumstances..."
Judging from his chilly expression as he watched the train wreck unfold from his seat, Zimmerman probably wishes his attorney had stopped right there. Yet West charged on, imploring the jury to not hold it against his client if they didn't appreciate the humor.
Jelani Cobb of The New Yorker put it best, "If you have to preface a joke by asking a jury not to hold it against your client, perhaps it's a joke that ought not be told."
After a recess (during which Don West doubtless received a couple of "What was that?!"s from his co-counsel) West returned to the courtroom and apologized for his knock-knock joke.
The only problem? Instead of putting down his shovel, West just kept digging himself a deeper hole. After promising the jury that there would be "no more bad jokes," West semi-jokingly stated, "I'm convinced it was the delivery though, I really thought that was funny."
West's "I'm sorry you feel that way" non-apology was probably one of the few moments during the entire trial in which everyone in the courtroom felt the same exact way.
When Rachel Jeantel, Trayvon Martin's friend, was questioned on the stand about the circumstances of Martin's death, she had a few choice words for defense attorney Don West.
In response to a question implying that Martin had attacked Zimmerman and didn't want Jeantel to know about it, Jeantel replied in a low tone, "That's real retarded, sir... When you don't know the person, why risk it? Trayvon didn't know him."
Jeantel's use of words like "retarded" and "creepy-ass cracker" were picked up on social media sites like Twitter, where Jeantel was called "hideous" and "dumber than a box of bricks" and was subjected to racially-motivated ridicule.
Jeantel also received a great deal of media criticism from pundits that called her "disrespectful" and an "ineffective witness." Uchechi Kalu wrote an excellent article on PolicyMic about the media's negative portrayal of Jeantel.
In the end, part of what makes this moment so cringe-inducing is the underlying racial tension between a white lawyer and a black Dominican/Haitian witness.
That, and the fact that West literally had no idea how to respond.
Okay, this one didn't actually happen during the Zimmerman trial, but given the amount of media attention it has received, it might as well have taken place in open court.
For those of you who aren't initiated, a picture from the Instagram account of Molly West, the daughter of the one and only Don West, recently surfaced on the internet.
The photo featured the West family posing with celebratory soft-serve cones from Chik-Fil-A (oh, Florida) after the first day of the Zimmerman trial. The image is captioned, "We beat stupidity celebration cones ... #dadkilledit."
What an unfortunate choice of words. As Miami Herald reporter noted sardonically, "Keep in mind: Dad is representing a man charged with murder."
The state has filed a motion in court, calling the picture "inflammatory" and asking Judge Debra Nelson to conduct an inquiry into the posting.
There's nothing to suggest, though, that Molly West meant to convey anything other than her pride for Daddy. The notion that the comment "We beat stupidity" refers to West's cross-examination of prosecution witness Rachel Jeantel is dispelled by a careful analysis and cross-comparison of the different ties West wore to trial.
Still, the ice-cream-licking picture comes off as arrogant at best (Buzzfeed tagged their article about it with "Trashy" and "Fail") and, coupled with the knock-knock joke, secures Don West's place in history as the most juvenile attorney-at-law since Sally Jenson: Kid Lawyer.
John Good, an eyewitness to the tussle between Zimmerman and Martin that occurred before the shooting, testified that he saw two figures locked in what he described as an MMA-style "ground and pound" position.
Good's use of Mixed Martial Arts terminology sent the trial on a detour as lawyers for the prosecution and defense attempted to determine what exactly a "ground and pound" is.
Rather than do a quick Google images search, which would have produced an answer in about 10 seconds, prosecutor Bernie De La Rionda attempted to re-enact the fight using the water bottle that Good had brought with him to the stand.
As if that weren't enough of a farce, Zimmerman's attorney Mark O'Mara also simulated punching sound by getting on his hands and knees and slapping the courtroom floor.
Someone needs to show the state where the "Do Not Disturb" button is.
On Wednesday, as Zimmerman's former college professor was testifying remotely via Skype, several internet users decided to chime in by calling prosecutor Rich Mantei's Skype username, which was visible to anyone watching the trial on TV.
The episode delayed proceedings and revealed, once again, that the government doesn't understand how to use technology. As PolicyMic pundit Bianca Facchinei put it, "Hopefully this can be a lesson to the prosecution and courts everywhere that if you're going to use Skype to get testimony, you should learn how to properly use the settings."
Conclusion: Murphy's Law Applies
The numerous cringe-worthy moments from George Zimmerman's trial prove that the we as Americans are capable of turning even something as seemingly serious as a murder trial into lowbrow entertainment.
In doing so, it has created a sort of special extension of Murphy's law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and when it does, America will laugh at your expense.
Gabe Grand is an editorialist for PolicyMic and a fan of "The Office" and "30 Rock".