When Jokes Kill (Post 9)

The story goes like this:  An Australian radio show calls up a British hospital because they hear that Kate Middleton has been admitted with a severe case of morning sickness.  The Australian DJs impersonate the Queen and her husband (I believe) and tell the phone operator that they, “want to check on Kate’s status.”  An unknowing nurse puts the call through to another nurse.  The second nurse gives confidential medical information to a radio show impersonating the queen.  The story doesn’t end there, however.  Days later, nurse #1 COMMITS SUICIDE.


australian radio djs prank call


It’s a sad tale.  It has also got me thinking.


Are we too mean as a society?  Do we no longer think or care about meanness?


Of course, there are a couple of things at play here.  For one, the Australian radio DJs are devastated as far as I can tell.  Their show has been pulled from the air.  A lot of the radio advertisers have pulled their money from the station.  It may be the case that these two radio personalities will never work again.  They both look fairly young.  They also seem to be expressing a few things that you rarely see from morning show DJs in any country – compassion, empathy, downright regret, heartbreak, and absolute sadness – and it all seems rather genuine.  In other words, I feel bad for them.


I think a lot of you know from reading Sweet Mother that I usually take a side and I take side pretty strongly.  But, this one is tough and I’m not totally sure where I stand.  On the one hand, I feel bad for the DJs.


On the other hand, I also feel bad for the deceased nurse and her family.  I mean, we’ve all had a moment in our lives (or many) where the joke is on us.  That can feel horrible.  You can feel bullied.  Perhaps, even utterly traumatized.  So, I feel for this woman.  It’s hard not to.


nurse who committed suicide after prank call

All photo credits below…


I read a comment on an article related to the incident that took a strong stance against the DJs:


“I suspect that the DJs, who clearly don’t take anything or anyone else seriously, can not possibly imagine that there are people out there who see their positions as ones of responsibility and duty.  People like that, who mock everything, can not imagine that there are those in the community who live their lives with a sense of honor.  My heart goes out to her family.”  – Liz, Washington DC


Okay, maybe that’s a bit strong, Liz from Washington, but I do understand the idea of someone wanting to live their life peacefully and honorably without being pulled into some entertainer’s stage act.  Yet, at the same time, I think it’s an awfully small thing to take one’s own life over.  After all, this woman had two kids.  Even if you are badly traumatized and humiliated, don’t you think about your kids before you do something hysterical like this?  It seems extreme, which makes me think that maybe -just maybe- the nurse wasn’t all that mentally stable to begin with.


Now, that doesn’t necessarily make it right.  I’ve been on this morning show/ shock jock/ prank call type programs and there’s always a moment where I go, “Really?”  “Are we really going to do or say that right now?  Is it really that interesting or gripping to discuss putting a condom on a banana at 7am in the morning?”  But, anything, ANYTHING, to shock or titillate is what drives morning radio.  Anything to provoke and hopefully get more ratings.  That’s the number one goal.


You might say at what expense?  To which, I’d say there really is no expense that’s too high anymore for radio shows and podcasts out there.  If you think it can’t be said or done, you’re just not listening to the right program because trust me, it’s been both said and done, twice over.


radio morning shows shock jocks

It’s say anything/ do anything radio.


I’ve been a comedian for a very long time, but I will say that I rarely do comedy at the expense of others.  I just don’t find it to be necessary.  Unless someone acts like an outrageous a-hole, well, then, I don’t really go after them.  I figure they’ve come and spent their money, now they just want to enjoy.  That’s my job.


I suppose pulling the chair out from someone has never really been interesting to me.  It just seems mean.  It also seems unskilled.  Almost anyone can deliver a sucker punch.  In fact, all you need is the element of surprise.  Delivering an intellectual sneak attack, that’s what takes skill.


I am all for edgy comedy.  I’m all for jerks being put in their place.  If you can do so with humor, all the better.  While at the same time, I think we’d all flourish (as a human race) with just a little more kindness.  Just a little more kindness per person and maybe we’d have a tsunami of joy.  What could be bad about that?



Sweet Mother is updated daily-ish on the quest to 365 posts.  If you’d like to follow this blog, you can do so by clicking the “follow” button at the top of the page.



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nurse, aussie djs, radio mic



61 thoughts on “When Jokes Kill (Post 9)

  1. It’s DRAMA squared Down Under SM. What a nightmare for what was a great idea that went horribly wrong. Anywhere along the line if they had been busted this would have been hilarious, also if the nurse or people in charge of same had been able to see an ounce of humour in it. Imagine thinking QEII and Prince Phillip were on the line, I’d fall over myself to help them too. Nobody has won here.
    Portia xx

    1. ‘nobody has won here’ is the quote of the decade around this issue. i mean, really, it was a common prank, maybe even a funny prank, and it all went to hell in a hand basket. so, unnecessary. truly. sigh. xo, sm

  2. I don’t think it’s so easy to dismiss the nurse’s suicide. From what we see how the British press behaves, I’m sure she was hounded by them after the prank was revealed. It’s tough to stand up to that kind of scrutiny. The DJ’s however, a bit too late to learn empathy. Seems like a Princess Diana killing all over again thanks to the press- if we even deem to call them journalists.

    1. i agree with you about the hounding. i think the brit press hounded her far more then we are hearing about. i also think the job reprimanded her in some way and we’re just not hearing about it. a very sad story… xo, sm

  3. It also seems to me that there must have been something else going on in Nurse #1’s life. I can’t imagine commiting suicide because of transfering a call without other things happening at the same time that would have made the situation seem insermountable.

    I feel sorry for Nurse #1 but I also think it is unfair to put all the blame on the Oz DJ’s. I don’t think they ever thought they would get away with it and certainly weren’t being malicious.

    It is a stupid situation that just spiralled out of control.

    1. yeah, i’d agree. i know of much more severe pranks where the people have survived and moved on. this one was sort of lighthearted, albeit a breach of privacy. she had to have been severely depressed, i think… sad. sm

  4. I agree that it seems that the prank call unfortunately was the straw that broke the camel’s back for this nurse. As many people have said, it is unlikely that a mother of two children would commit suicide over that. In my own blog I have talked about this. I considered suicide at one time in my life. What kept me alive was the thought of the damage my death would cause to my children. If this prank had happened to me then, maybe it might have pushed me over the edge too.

    The unfortunate thing here is that the consequences on this occasion were far worse than anything the DJ’s could have imagined, as far as I can discern, they didn’t even expect to get through.

    The fault, if there is blame to be apportioned for such an unfortunate series of events, lies with the Radio Producers who decided to go ahead and broadcast the pre-recorded programme knowing that the Royal Family would be outraged and that the staff in the hospital who had put the call through would be severely reprimanded and could have even lost their jobs over the incident!

    1. yeah, it’s a difficult for one. i just don’t think anyone could’ve foreseen how far this would go. i think it would be very difficult to know that. i mean she wasn’t even the nurse who gave out the info, only the one who put the call through. regardless, it’s a sad story. and let me add, barbara, that i, for one, am really glad your still here. much love, moms

      1. Thank you moms. 🙂 I realise in hindsight I was seriously mentally ill, but at the time I just thought everyone would be better off without me. A very sad place to be.


  5. Thank you so much for breaking down the complexity of this extremely unfortunate situation. The thing that keeps ringing in my head whenever I hear coverage of this story is that it all began because Kate Middleton had morning sickness, something that is so, SO insignificant in the history of the world. Talk about the butterfly effect. (BTW, I’m not blaming it on her, by any means; it just makes me sad that such little things can stem such tragic events.)

    1. “such little things can stem such tragic events…” — i read today about a fla man who killed his roommate over an argument about the proper way to cook a pork chop. i’m not kidding. i wish i was… sigh. sm

  6. When I heard the call on TV I think that I, like a lot of people laughed. Who knew something so tragic would come of it? It’s sad all around for the nurses family and the DJs. It seems like our obsession with celebrity knows no bounds – yesterday there was a top google search about a Kardashian kitten dying – makes you wonder.

  7. It is easy to speculate when I don’t have all the facts. Mistakes were made, some rather dire consequences seemed to have occurred. Instead of the why’s and wherefore’s, let’s see where we can grow. That nurse’s suicide can no more be blamed on those DJ’s as my relapsing can be blamed on an ex girlfriend. You are right SM…it is a rather grey area and many people have gotten hurt. A reminder of how powerful words can be

  8. Sad situation all around. There are lots and lots of good people feeling really badly about this: DJs, Kate/Wil, Hospital adm, radio station and more than anyone, the family of this nurse. I too believe there must have been a little bit more to this, only because it would take so very much more for most of us to leave our kids behind. That said, I do agree that none of us know how things really went down (what kinds of job threats were made, what kind of chastising from family/friends/MEDIA, and previous emotional history)… Sad situation all around.

    Ironically, I’m working on a post about meanness in our society… a slightly different approach, but same thought. Great minds and all, or great moms and all. 😉

    1. i look forward to that post, second mother. yeah, i think two things – 1. there had to be something else going on and 2. it would be very difficult to stand up to that kind of INSTANT scrutiny. it would take a very strong, well adjusted person. here you are perfectly anonymous one day and completely not, the second. people underestimate how intense that is… xo, sm

  9. Unfortunately, joy doesn’t sell. Drama does, and that’s what it boils down to. I don’t even think sides need to be taken in this tragic situation… to feel compassion and empathy for all parties involved, the proverbial both – and might be best. Some poor choices were made all around, and as for Nurse #1 taking here own life… no one knows anything about her, her family, culture, or sense of honor/fear/doom/impulsive “fight or flight” reaction to those feelings that might have inspired that terrible act. To immeidately wonder about mental instability doesn’t seem fair, either.

    1. a lot of truth said there, laura. really none of us can ever know, except for maybe her family. i won’t say much more about your comment, as it is a good one, and deserves to stand alone. much love, mother

  10. This was such a horrible tragedy all the way around. Yes, what the DJs did was dumb, but in the world of pranks, it wasn’t as horrible as it could have been. And how sad that this woman thought things could never get better, so much so that ending her life was the only means of escape she thought she had. I suspect she had more going on in her life than this, and perhaps this tipped the scale. Very sad. We have to be so careful of what we put out there. Perhaps I need to quit making fun of The Donald. On the other hand, I suspect he can take it…

    1. “we have to be so careful about what we put out there…” indeed, in some ways we need to, indeed. however, NEVER stop making fun of the donald. i’ve never seen a more deserving target. i consider what you do a public service… loooool. xoxo

  11. Sweet Mom, i knwo what you mean….i cant take one side either..though it is sad how mean people can get when looking for pranks but i wish the lady would have thought about the step she took…
    but again im in no position to judge her…i mean i think she should have not taken a step so extreme…but then i dont know what triggered it, i dont know how it feels to be someone who became a victim of a prank that got so much coverage worldwide…i think maybe the nurse was already having hard time and this prank just became the push…it is sad
    i feel bad for the DJs too…what started as a joke as turned their life into a sorry story…

  12. I do not condone this kind of radio “humour” at someone else’s expense but I am with you. It is a no brainer. There had to be more going on in this woman’s life and mind than the prank. You just don’t kill yourself because you are made a fool of if you are a happy, well adjusted, wife, mother, human being. If she was indeed only the person who passed the call on and not the one who gave out the info then I don’t even get a connection. It is very sad for her family but she obviously was not thinking of them at the time. So many lives touched in such a negative fashion for a quick laugh. Very sad.

  13. All they did was get put through. They weren’t even mean! Just asked about how Kate was doing. I don’t even know how you can call that a prank, the nurse didn’t even get reprimanded at work! I believe this is another case of the media trying to create drama. the fact that she patched the call through probably had nothing to do with her suicide. People who actually go through with it have usually thought about it for a while. And these DJ’s? It was their job to do stuff like this. Again, no malice. If it had been a couple of teenagers who called and got through, would we blame them? People are always looking for someone to “blame”when someone takes their own life. Looking for a villain. A reason. so much we don’t know. but surely you can’t blame the DJ’s. Get a grip people!

    1. very interesting, girls. i think no one has brought up that point that maybe the suicide had nothing to do with the call at all. literally. maybe she was thinking about taking this action all along and couldn’t have cared less about the call. it’s unlikely, but it is possible. i also don’t hold the djs at fault. this was really mild on the scale of things. truly. xo, sm

  14. I laughed along at the humour of the Australian radio DJ’s prank. I also wondered how the nurse would NOT know it was the royal family — would she have been chastised for asking the ‘caller’ to prove they are who they say they are?
    But the tragedy of the situation exists, and there must be more to the nurse’s story than this one precipice. To leave behind a family is a true tragedy indeed.
    The callers could not know that their humour would push someone to such extreme. It’s hard to know where humour sits when we are attacking a group or a culture, but in this case it was not directed at any one person. It was just the genuine surprise and shock that their prank actually got them to someone willing to give out information.
    Everyone has now been inadvertently and sadly affected, and no one is laughing at the results.

    1. and i listened to the call… the accents weren’t even good! npr did this great thing where they compared fake queen voices to the actual queen voices and even i – a yank – could pick out the real queen. so, i have no idea how this call got through! clearly an innocent mistake before one has had her cup of coffee and now the prank heard round the world. sad, indeed. xo, sm

  15. I too find it hard to take sides in this situation. What had happened was a horrible tragedy, and I feel for the Nurse’s family. At the same time, I do not believe at all the DJ’s thought this would be the outcome. As much as I don’t enjoy this type of Morning Radio Humor, the DJ’s didn’t even think they would get through.

    As a society though, people need to take into consideration the feelings of others and how a prank like this can effect them. If there is a lesson to this tragedy, I hope that is the one people will take with them.

    1. “as a society…ppl need to take into consideration the feelings of others.” i find we do this less and less and less. i mean waiters and customers alike are writing ‘fat b*tch’ on receipts. what in the feck has happened to common decency? i think it has been lost. truly. ay yay yay. sm

  16. I thought and thought about this situation, but I’m unable to take a side. Sometimes jokes go too far, but we only realize that once a joke has gone too far. So there is only so much we can blame the radio jockeys. As for the nurse, she was probably embarrassed at being taken and horrified at failing in her duty in even a small way.
    As you say, it’s just an awful situation—not much more can be said.

  17. This is a tragic example of why I don’t like “prank” humor. Maybe as a child I saw too many people hurt by it. Or maybe it’s because I know “pranks” are sometimes a cover for darker motives. In this case, there may also be a cultural divide that the DJs crossed unknowingly. Some cultures place a strong value on honor and duty. Even a perceived “failing” of “minor” consequences can be devastating.
    The radio station has claimed nothing illegal was done. I don’t know. False claims were made in an attempt to obtain information that is confidential—whether as a joke or not. Try yelling, “HI, JACK!” to someone in an airplane as “a joke.” The law won’t be laughing. That’s where I believe the station should not have allowed the call.
    Obviously I’m not a fan of shock radio or anything like it. And my one opinion won’t change anyone’s mind. But actions have consequences, no matter how much people want to deny it. And three families now have to live with the consequences of these actions.

    1. jm, the ‘cultural divide’ point is very, very interesting. truly. no one else has brought that up and i think you could be right. if someone’s highest value is honor and duty then a prank like this just about destroys it. i don’t blame the djs, but it is a case of not seeing the consequences to a gag. not good at all. xo, sm

      1. Another possibility that has begun to worry me is what if she was pressured to “take the honorable way out” by some family members? Again we are looking at cultural values that may vary from our own. And in some cultures, to bring shame on the family is one of the most serious crimes that one can commit.

        The DJs, of course, would have no way to know this. But that is one of the potential problems with our now-global communities. We don’t understand where our neighbors, colleagues, coworkers, service providers, or innocent bystanders are coming from.

  18. I think the prank was a bit too mean, but if the nurse hadn’t killed herself we all probably wouldn’t be having this conversation and I do not believe those DJs are in any way responsible for her death.

  19. I must agree with you Sweet Mother. For someone who had the respect and honour to take her life over such a small thing, something is amiss. Perhaps, now we all should really be mindful of who we are pulling the prank on. Not everyone takes it well.

    1. i think you’d have to outlaw pranks in general. because there’s no way of knowing who can roll with it and who can’t. and lord knows we can’t outlaw jokes. such a sad situation. sigh. sm

  20. Two words for you, SM: Royal Family. The royals, especially the popular ones like Will and Kate, are like gods over there. She probably felt like she’d betrayed the confidence of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. And no matter what they’re saying now, I’d lay good money on the hospital threatening to fire her for falling for such an obvious ploy.

    This is why I hate practical jokes in general, and the cruelty of “shock jock” DJs in particular.

    1. I have the same thoughts as purplemary and JimM. The hospital was trying to get hold of her, and couldn’t. She probably thought she was in horrible trouble, even if she wasn’t. We just don’t know. I used to think only “unstable” people committed suicide, but now I wonder if many of us don’t have some thing, some value so important to us, in the workplace or elsewhere, that can push us over the edge. I hate prank phone calls, and especially when played on someone in a job. Jobs are no joke these days. We may think this was a “small” thing, but the nurse’s job was her career. Prank calls are stupid, mean, and not even funny. This is an extreme result, but the fact is, you never know what will happen when you do something like this.

      1. spec, i so hear you. i’m not much for the ‘shock’ tactics of morning radio and podcasts. i just think most of it is lacking real creativity and thought, to be honest. as for why she did it, we may never know. but, i feel for her kids. i truly do. xo, sm

    2. purple, i so hear that. as a yank, i don’t totally get the hysteria around the royal family. i can only compare it to if the kennedys and tom cruise had a baby, something like that. our hysteria is man-made where as that hysteria is born, which gets more tied up with ‘honor’ and ‘duty’ then any celebrity we have here in the states. it’s very interesting and very goddermned sad. xo, sm

  21. When I was 16, a friend took his own life because a girl rejected him. He had obsessed over the girl for a year before he finally asked her on a date. She did nothing more than turn him down. For that reason, or so he said in his note, he killed himself. Can we blame the girl for his death? Can we say she should have said, “yes” to his date offer and then he would have never killed himself? I know she felt terrible about it and wondered if she was to blame. Of course, she wasn’t. You see, I knew he was unstable in many areas of his life. I was too young to know what to do about it, but the signs were there that life was too big for him to cope with. As to this nurse, she very well could have embraced what happened and seen it as an opportunity to gain some fame and maybe even some financial reward. She could have gone on the DJs show and poked a little fun at herself. She could have written a story for her children to read in the future about “the day” their mum became famous. In short, she had choices and the fact that she chose to do what she did tells me there is much more background to the event than a simple prank call. I don’t mean to sound mean, but I do believe that shit happens to all of us. How we react to that shit is what determines our future. Shit happened to this nurse in the form of a prank call. Call the shit, “shit,” if you want and say the DJs were wrong. But to imply that the nurse’s reaction to the shit was appropriate or that the DJs are to blame, would be wrong.

    1. harper, there a great memoir that i think you would enjoy by darin strauss called, ‘half a life.’ it’s about him as a 17 year old boy. one day, he’s coming back from the movies, and he runs over a classmate of his with his car, and kills her. for most of his life, right up until he has a baby of his own, he feels guilt and responsibility for that death. even when it turns out that the girl may have run her bike into his car ON PURPOSE. it’s just a beautiful read about guilt and life and acceptance. one of the best books i’ve read this year. much love, sm

  22. Hi Mum, hi all. This tragedy is even more complicated than it seems. Apparently the prank call and the nurse’s response were /pre-recorded/. Then the radio station was supposed to get permission to air it. They said they tried but could get no response… so they made the decision to air it anyway.

    So, quite apart from the compassion factor, the decision to air the segment was also unlawful. Those two young DJ’s may have come up with the idea and run with it [no doubt expecting to be caught out very early in the prank], but it was the station who decided the unexpected goldmine had to be exploited.

    I agree that pranks have become incredibly nasty but in this case I think we are also looking at greed, pure and simple. I hope the authorities here throw the book and the bloody toilet bowl at the decision makers because, clearly, self-regulation is nothing but a convenient myth.

    As an aussie I’d like to add my personal apology to the family of Nurse Jacintha Saldanha. We’re not all heartless jerks. 😦

    1. you don’t need to make an apology, meeks. i don’t blame any of this on australians and it very easily could’ve been a shock jock over here as well. we certainly have our share of them. truth be told, i think their prank was mild. AND i think those young djs are going to live with this nightmare for the rest of their lives. truly. and i’m not sure it was their fault. it’s a sad story all around, indeed. xo, sm

  23. I tend to want to make a joke about any and everything, but there is a line between funny and mean. I’ve crossed the line and had to tuck my tail and apologize. It’s definitely safer to keep the mocking pointed squarely at myself!

    1. i have a rule in comedy for myself, personally, that i try to adhere to and i call it, ‘never draw first blood.’ so, i never do. i feel that my audience is there to enjoy themselves and not to be ridiculed. therefore, i never do it. unless, of course, it’s done to me or some other innocent victim (and i have a pretty thick skin, so it has to be pretty rough). once it’s done to me or someone else who i feel is innocent in the situation, all bets are off. but, i never draw first blood. i find it unnecessary and it’s a rule i try to live by. much love, sm

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