Offensive Humor: Where Do You Draw the Line?

10 11 2009

cavemen

“The secret source of Humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven.”  -Mark Twain

Every time a very funny person tells a very funny joke about a serious, offensive topic, somebody feels the need to say, “That’s not funny. You can’t joke about that.”  Racist jokes, rape jokes, dead baby jokes, Holocaust jokes, Hurricane Katrina jokes, cancer jokes– these are all off limits to some people.  They get uncomfortable, they get offended, and they feel the need to scold the joke teller for crossing into off-limits territory.

It occurred to me the other day that my sense of humor doesn’t heed any of these limits.   A friend recently said to me, “I’m glad they found Balloon Boy, it was like Michael Jackson was ordering takeout from Heaven.”  BAM, a joke about child molestation and a recently deceased celebrity all rolled into one!  Too soon?  No, why would it be too soon?  I don’t think child molestation is funny, nor do I think Michael Jackson’s death was funny in the least.  But that joke was damn funny, and I’d laugh at it even if MJ was my brother, because the ability to find humor in a sad, awful situation is an important and healthy coping mechanism. 

A week after Hurricane Katrina, while there was still a search & rescue mission out for my grandmother, the galoshes jokes started rolling in.  People would shut other people up in my presence, saying things like, “Shhh, she’s from Louisiana! You can’t tell that joke here!” 

Well why not?  Katrina was a devastating tragedy.  Being able to laugh about it relieves all of the awful emotions surrounding it for a few minutes.  Why is it preferable to limit ourselves to a state of sadness and reverence?  When David Cross makes anti-gay, anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic, anti-everything jokes in his stand-up routines, the whole audience roars with laughter because we all know that these jokes do not reflect his character or beliefs.  He’s not mocking gay people with his gay jokes, he’s mocking the homophobic people who actually take those sentiments seriously.  

And this brings me to the one exception to the above stated rule: racist people making racist jokes is never funny.  Dave Chappelle or Sarah Silverman can tell a very ballsy joke about slavery and make me laugh, albeit slightly uncomfortably, but as soon as that guy with the rebel flag tattooed on his arm starts to make that joke I’ll punch him in the face and call the authorities.  I don’t ever want to hear an anti-Jewish joke from the Neo-Nazi across the street.  Jokes that come from a real place of hatred or ignorance or intolerance are not acceptable.  

Otherwise, hit me with your best shot.  What, you think my momma’s fat?  Well yo momma’s so fat she has smaller fat women orbiting around her.  You got a Catholic priest joke? I’ve got 20, and my whole family’s Catholic. 

America really needs to loosen up, don’tcha think?

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14 responses

10 11 2009
Josh

I’ll agree with your post and also show you what WordPress is telling me is related:

Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)

* Incest – Let’s talk about it

10 11 2009
गेब्रियल

Jokes are great! Hell yeah, the WHOLE WORLD needs to loosen up a little. But, to be honest, good jokes are better than bad ones. Offensive or not, some jokes just aren’t funny and, likewise, some are. I think that delivery makes up more than half of a joke’s impact. (Why else would some people be funnier than others? We could all tell the same jokes…)

What if you’re so used to offensive jokes that timid/non-offensive jokes become funnier…is that even MORE offensive??

“So a nice christian boy calls his mother to tell him that he won’t be making if for dinner because something has come up and his (non-jewish) mom says, ‘oh, that’s okay. I’ll see you another time.'”

or

“So a guy says to his friend, ‘Did you ever notice how we Jews always answer questions with other questions?’ to which is protestant friend says, ‘yeah, that’s interesting.'”

oh…and my favorite dead baby joke:

What’s the difference between a dead baby and a trampoline?

(You have to take your boots off when you jump on the trampoline.)

10 11 2009
Edward Dandyhands

Q: What do you say to a room full of battered women?

A: Nothing, they obviously can’t listen.

10 11 2009
districtramblings

HAHAHA I was half expecting a domestic violence joke from you, Dandyhands, and you delivered.

10 11 2009
bros

im with you 100%. nothing is offensive unless it comes from offensive people. but i also think being able to pull off offensive humor involves a big dose of third-order processing: my understanding of your understanding of my understanding.

10 11 2009
Geof Boyle

Bros, your observation of the third order processing is brilliant and concise! To tie this to the Twain quote above, I think both fear and sorrow can generate humor, and, as you say, it is the listener’s processing of the origin that makes it offensive or not. A desire to bond with like-minded others can emerge as laughter, as long as the fear or sorrow is shared. I also think it’s how different people are wired/raised, which is why some people can laugh at anything and others must draw a line. If you are able to access the pleasure circuits by adding that humorous twist, you’ll do it to balance against the pain circuits. This is why a Schrödinger’s grandmother can be funny to some people.

10 11 2009
bros

a recent example: tracy morgan’s act gets people walking out on him.

http://www.celebitchy.com/79703/tracy_morgans_comedy_act_shocks_audience_people_walk_out/

10 11 2009
Ian Prichard

Dig the post, LB. Here’s one everyone probably knows, but is still funny:

What’s worse than eight dead babies in a bucket?

One dead baby in eight buckets.

10 11 2009
Geof Boyle

Tthe baby on the bottom is alive and eating its way to the top.

10 11 2009
CB

aaaaagggghhhh…gross! Good one.

11 11 2009
graber

clearly i was a fan of this post. great point bros, about you knowing that i know that you know that you don’t really f babies on the weekend (or at least thats what i percieved)

100% clean comedians are far and few between. bill cosby is a great example, but i would bet lots of money that in the privacy of his friends, that dude says some pretty fucked up shit. hysterical shit too! sure we can make funny jokes about going to the dentist, but making light of something so dark can be even funnier.

the classic example of blurring the line between funny and offensive is the aristocrats. the whole point of the joke is to come up with the most offensive scenario one can think of at any given moment and end it with an awful punchline that doesn’t even matter.
(if you don’t know what i’m talking about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tw10xa_xtNg)

11 11 2009
Damion

Always safe to know your audience. It’s also probably more important for them to know you. You’re right, laughter helps people deal with issues but if your audience knows nothing about you they’ll probably take whatever you say at face value……. It’s probably a good idea to add a smile or laugh after you make the lude or outrageous comment as it usually tips people off that you’re joking also.

2 05 2010
Green Trampoline Plea

Slightly off topic perhaps, but a plea for people to think about the ethics of buying cheap trampolines. Do try and consider, for example, the materials your product is manufactured from, the conditions of the factories where they’re manufactured and the ethics of the retailer. And try to repair your trampoline rather than throwing away. Thanks!!!!

13 04 2011
Donny

Fuck that! I happen to enjoy sandy vagina!

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