If Elon Musk has a tragic flaw, it isn’t his temper, or his treatment of underlings, or his refusal to follow securities laws. Musk’s tragic flaw is his inability to accept that he’s extremely, painfully unfunny. At best, his brand of humor resembles dad jokes from the dad who thinks he can hang, as when he hosted Saturday Night Live, tried to start an Onion competitor, or sold novelty blowtorches for no good reason. At other times, the gags aren’t just whiffs; they’re also stunningly self-destructive.
These face-plants are becoming a serious problem for Tesla Inc., one of the world’s most important and innovative companies. For years now, but especially over the past few months, Musk’s automaker has had to reckon with the consequences of his excruciating attempts to tell a multibillion-dollar weed joke. His failed 2018 effort to take Tesla private at $420 a share led to a Securities and Exchange Commission settlement and a shareholder lawsuit that brought Musk to the witness stand in federal court starting on Jan. 20. The second, more successful buyout attempt has led to far more strained bids for lulz. “Comedy is now legal,” Musk tweeted in October, shortly after closing the $44 billion deal that gave him control of Twitter Inc. for $54.20 a share. Since then he’s run all of Twitter with the same kind of needy trolling that animates his personal account.