This is an easy one. No. By definition, defamation is a false statement of fact, which damages another’s reputation or character. So, telling someone to eat shit, which is nothing but a more colorful way of saying ‘go fly a kite,’ is not defamation. Then why did HBO get sued along with its show host, comedian John Oliver, for saying exactly that about the owner of West Virginia coal mine? This is where the answers get (slightly) more difficult.
Anyone can get sued for doing anything, or nothing at all. That doesn’t mean you’re going to lose, and depending on the level of absurdity of the lawsuit, the court could dismiss the case, and make the person who filed suit pay your attorney’s fees.
By contrast, if you told somebody your boss eats pieces of shit for breakfast, in addition to looking for a new job, you might also want to find a defamation lawyer.
But what about Happy Gilmour? In the situation like the one in Happy Gilmour, however, this was not defamation because — aside it being a movie — the potentially defamatory statement was directed toward the subject of the statement, rather than a third party (i.e. Happy asks Shooter McGavin if he eats pieces of shit for breakfast, so the statement is about Shooter, and the statement is also being directed to Shooter). Hypothetically speaking, if Happy had told the evening news that Shooter eats shit for breakfast, that is more likely to be defamation.
Unfortunately, determining where the line is between the exercise of free speech and defamation isn’t an exact science. It usually depends on the context. As frustrating as that sounds to a layperson, it’s one of the reasons I love my job — I get to help people get justice against their online defamers, and defend the people wrongly accused of defamation when they were simply exercising their right to voice their opinions. Sound like I get to play god? Maybe at first, but that’s not how I see it. I have an ethical obligation to uphold the law as I believe it to be, and when I believe the existing state of the law is in discord, I have a similar duty to advocate for change.