ForumTouchy Subjects ► Dark Humor
Dark humor is a double edged sword. For some it's a comedic mental relief while for others it is salt in the wound.

Awfully Funny

I was reading this article and dwelling on my past. My lack of social skills was gravey damaging when paired with my sense of humor. I've since kept most of my opinions, experiences and humor private; only allowing a select few friends see that side of me. I have a few questions which may not have clear answers.

What does enjoying dark humor indicate about one's morals, character, intelligence and personality?

What are the ethical boundaries of dark humor?

What about freedom of speech vs. psychology harm and abuse? In other words, the where should the law stand on it?

Apparently there are several pros and cons and I'm not sure what to make of it.
  
> What does enjoying dark humor indicate about one's morals, character, intelligence and personality?

Not much, in my opinion.

> What are the ethical boundaries of dark humor?

I'm not sure there's any universal boundary. You have to know your audience and avoid jokes that are likely to hurt. The smaller and more intimate the group, the farther you can safely push the envelope. Comedians and the like can also push the boundary as long as the audience knows what they're signing up for.

> What about freedom of speech vs. psychology harm and abuse? In other words, the where should the law stand on it?

I'm a fan of the imminent lawless action standard. Speech that is merely offensive or hurtful should not be regulated, in general.
  
I agree with your legal stance but I'm not sure dark humor says nothing about one's character. Sometimes it's at the expense of other people who are distant from ourselves socially. That leads to similar behavior as a bully. Of course, dark humor can also be a harmless coping mechanism.

Maybe this should seem obvious but I've struggled with how I conduct myself around certain people. In some groups, dark humor is welcomed and encouraged. In others, it's seen as shameful, harmful, crude or depending on the nature of the joke, a personal attack.

For example, the scenario used in the article,

"One of these scenarios involved a young girl who knows that her father has lost his job and that her family is having money problems. In response, the girl decides to sell her virginity on eBay. About 78 percent of study participants found that behavior “wrong,” but 45 percent still said it made them laugh. In the paired scenario, the same girl responds to this crisis by selling her jewelry on eBay. Virtually no test participants considered this behavior a violation — but none considered it funny either. Simply put, people were much more likely to find a situation funny if it simultaneously threatened their conventional notions without striking them as too severe."

If something similar happened to someone you care about and a person made a joke about it, that would probably hurt you. However, to someone distant from any event like that, it could be funny. There's an unclear line depending on an audience. Even comedians come under fire constantly for jokes since they become public. You can't simply ask people who have suffered not to be upset by jokes that are funny because they are dark. Dark humor is funny because it violates a moral standard.
  
The reason people find that funny is the absurdity of prostitution on eBay, not the fact that she had to sell her body. It's not at all absurd to sell jewelry on eBay, it's very commonplace, that's why it's not funny. The primary difference isn't that one is darker than the other.
  
It seems like you're conflating absurdity and dark humor. Humor can be absurd and not dark. Dark humor violates people's sense of morality on some level. In this instance, it's the sacredness of female virginity and the wrongness of prostitution.
  
I have to agree with E7 here. To elaborate on why I believe the study succeeds in isolating dark humor:
If the girl tried to sell a forest on eBay, that would be absurd. eBay is not a place you go to sell or purchase woodland. But it's also not funny.
By contrast - if the girl were to sell her body on the street, where it's not absurd at all, the joke would still be funny.

The absurdity of an eBay listing serves to shield the joke from reality, which makes it hit less hard to those who would be hurt hearing about prostitution under duress. It's funnier to imagine an eBay listing because it's easier to parse that as fiction. But the absurdity is not what gives the joke its humor.
  
It's also because it's in the context of paying for her father's funeral; this could be considered a violation of the sacredness of death rites. If she was simply practicing prostitution that would be considered dark but not humorous.
  
amras0000 said:
By contrast - if the girl were to sell her body on the street, where it's not absurd at all, the joke would still be funny.
I disagree. Given that only 45% of people found it funny when it had absurdity going for it, I think it's pretty easy to extrapolate that most people would not find that funny.
  
I was under the impression that the point of this thread was to discuss a genre of humor that isn't universal or widely accepted.

That said, I suppose the jokes you find funny will depend on what you're trying to get out of the joke. For me, dark humor helps me cope with stress and contextualize real-world issues. Maybe for you, absurdist humor has some sort of escapist purpose that I don't find compelling.

I'm only speculating, though.

I've said what I find funny, and you've clarified what you find funny. I doubt we'll agree on that front at least.
  
Going into areas of the internet where dark humor is more accepted, you'll find that all a meme needs to gain popularity is an edgy irony given any relevant situation that is controversial or tragic. School shootings for example.

Gorgon, if you haven't been one to enjoy dark humor, then I don't think you're suited to make extrapolations.
  
I enjoy dark humor sometimes, but I'm with Gorgon that "A man got laid off and his daughter became a prostitute to help support the family" isn't really... anything. There's not a punchline there. It's just "A bad thing happened." It's not even implausible.
  
Claiming to find something funny or not is anecdotal. As an individual, it's your opinion whether something is dark humor. In general, the key element of dark humor is a violation of a moral principle; i.e. something controversial. I already spelled out what it is in this scenario (which is not a joke with a punchline); the scenario is one of comical absurdity where the subject matter is controversial: the combination of "dark" and "humor". It's a matter of mulishness to proclaim your opinion as evidence to the contrary in the face of large numbers. I'm more concerned with what enjoying dark humor may say about a person; not whether the example speaks to you. If the example that worked for a larger audience doesn't work for you, come up with your own example.
  
Maybe you've lost track - we are specifically discussing the earlier claim "By contrast - if the girl were to sell her body on the street, where it's not absurd at all, the joke would still be funny."
  
In retrospect, I disagree with what I said earlier.
The example I gave *was* absurd; a human having intimate relations because of another human's financial hardship is in itself a remarkably convoluted and stupid universe to live in. The reason the joke scans as funny for me (regardless of whether or not ebay is involved) is that the absurdity of a real-world-like situation is highlighted. You're pointing at something realistic and re-contextualizing it as something absurd.

I think this is very similar to the reasons many satirists claim that Donald Trump satirizes himself. He does things that (given his position) are extremely immoral and extremely absurd, like asking covid victims to inject themselves with cleaning products. Personally, I don't find these things funny because they hit too close to home; I can't distance myself from them enough to laugh at them. There are many people who do find the humor in his actions, but I personally need to find a layer of abstraction or fiction before I can laugh at them.

I will, however, insist that absurdity alone does not comedy make, and that I'd struggle to find anyone who would find my woodland example funny. So I'm with E7 regarding violation of moral principle.
  
amras0000 said:
The reason the joke scans as funny for me [...] is that the absurdity of a real-world-like situation is highlighted.
Right. It's not funny because it's dark. It's funny and it's dark. There's a very big difference.

amras0000 said:
I will, however, insist that absurdity alone does not comedy make
Nobody claimed this. The reason that specific example is funny is because it's absurd. It isn't funny just because it's dark. The interpretation that the darkness is what creates the humor is a radical misreading of why people laugh at things. Things can be made funnier because they're dark, particularly depending on sense of humor. But the darkness isn't the catalyst for laughter, it's an ingredient for the type of laughter you get.

To be clear, I'm not saying nobody finds things funny simply because they're dark. But it's extremely rare. Those people tend to show lots of traits consistent with sociopaths . I'll let you draw your own conclusions.
  
I mean, dead baby jokes were something of a humour-craze a decade and a bit ago while I was in school and The Aristocrats is a very long standing joke -- both exist only to cause offence and say the most off-taste thing you possibly can. Sometimes we use the hyper-morbid and intentionally off-taste as a sort of shibboleth to identify a sort of general nihilism and character about the people around us (like amras said, the absurdity of life).

I think it was Ricky Gervais who pointed out that really truly off-colour humour is funny only on the understanding that we all agree the thing is awful; I don't think it marks you as a sociopath to laugh at Nazi jokes, or dead babies or something wicked about 9/11, nor does it imply you condone or agree with killing babies or New Yorkers.
  
I feel the need to make a distinction here: I'm specifically talking about jokes you tell to make the other person laugh. Lots of people tell jokes to make themselves laugh. One of the ways these people might be amused is to make other people uncomfortable. This is called bullying. When we're talking about dark humor, I assume we're talking about dark humor that both the teller and the listener find funny.

Dead baby jokes are, again, absurd. You don't have 400 dead babies in your garage. You can't actually drink dead babies out of a blender. You wouldn't. The entire concept is absurd. It is both dark and absurd. If people thought you were serious, it wouldn't be funny to anybody we consider neurologically typical.

The punchline of the aristocrats isn't the taboo. It references the taboos in the set-up. The punchline is the name of the act (the aristocrats) and it is usually followed by the manager/agent asking why it's so tame. That is juxtoposition between expectation and outcome. The whole joke breaks reasonable expectations. It's absurd. If the joke were just, "The brother raped the sister while the talent agent watched," it wouldn't be funny.

The darkness itself is not the catalyst for it being funny. It is a component in how it is funny. The format of the aristocrats is used in tons of successful jokes that aren't dark. That wouldn't be the case if it was funny because it's dark.

Things are typically funny because they're unexpected or impossible, and that's really where dark humor thrives. But, again, the joke is not funny because the punchline is inappropriate. It's funny because you didn't expect that outcome from the setup. To some people, it can be made funnier because it's dark, but simply "this is dark" is not a typical catalyst for laughter.
  
The structure of a joke is objective, what makes it funny is subjective; it depends on the audience. There's no point in laying out opinions on what makes something funny.

If you feel dark humor is only funny because it's absurd, you can explain why but it has nothing in common with my experience of comedy.
  
@Gorgon. I agree, I used more absurd examples than what we're talking about. The same logic can apply to other kinds of off colour jokes like explicitly sexist or racist jokes, knowing that the teller doesn't actually believe it.
  
Fwip said:
I enjoy dark humor sometimes, but I'm with Gorgon that "A man got laid off and his daughter became a prostitute to help support the family" isn't really... anything. There's not a punchline there. It's just "A bad thing happened." It's not even implausible.
Okay, but can we agree that it’s kinda funny that this is the first example someone came up with and not something like “so he took out a loan with an almost criminally high interest rate” or “so he applied for unemployment benefits”? Kinda makes me laugh and think “bro, wtf is going on in your head”
  
E7 said:
If you feel dark humor is only funny because it's absurd, you can explain why but it has nothing in common with my experience of comedy.
All I'll say to further this is that there is a multi-billion dollar comedy industry and I've never seen the comedian who has the sense of humor where dark things are funny just because they're dark. I've never seen the show where a girl's father gets laid off and she becomes a prostitute and it's awful and billed as a comedy.

Humor isn't objective, but we can make some pretty reasonable claims about what most people in most modern cultures find funny, and one of those reasonable claims is that humor is in subverting expectation. If something is funny because it's dark, it's not the darkness that is funny, it's the fact that you wouldn't expect it.
  
“ where a girl's father gets laid off and she becomes a prostitute”

It’s still really funny that this is the natural course of actions to you instead of taking out a loan or applying for unemployment or selling his house and moving in with a family member or something. I mean, yeah, I know that shit like this does in fact happen sometimes, but man it’s like you’re thinking about some terrible show on Netflix.

Honestly, I could make this funny if you wanted to just by asking you to add more details, but I mean, none of you have ever been keen on dark humor and I don’t want to get banned. Like, if you think dead baby jokes are dark, then, sorry, but you’re kind of a puss. I mean like, tell me more about this girl who’s father (or herself) was stupid enough to think “can’t pay my bills, guess the only thing I can do is pimp out my daughter”.

Speaking of, “pimp my daughter”. Where’s Xzibit at? Like, look at that. You may think that that’s a one liner meant to be a “dark” joke, but I just deleted a whole lot because I’m sure Fwip woulda banned me for it because I’ve never seen any of y’all on the forum able to distinguish dark humor from actual fucked-up-ness.

And you don’t have to defend yourselves. Some people just don’t get or like dark humor. Can you laugh at videos on liveleak because physics? If the answer is “no” you probably would never find this stuff funny and no wonder you think dead baby jokes are dark.
  
Grayseff said:
@Gorgon. I agree, I used more absurd examples than what we're talking about. The same logic can apply to other kinds of off colour jokes like explicitly sexist or racist jokes, knowing that the teller doesn't actually believe it.
If the comedian was known to be racist and sexist, a racist and sexist audience would still find the joke humorous. It depends on the audience. Honestly, if I knew a comedian was racist and made a racist joke, I might still find it funny.

Humor isn't objective, but we can make some pretty reasonable claims about what most people in most modern cultures find funny, and one of those reasonable claims is that humor is in subverting expectation. If something is funny because it's dark, it's not the darkness that is funny, it's the fact that you wouldn't expect it.
I agree but reasonable claims I'm willing to consider must be based on psychology and social science. It seems like there's a lot of logic behind each individual's subjective interpretation of humor.
  
If you're interested in psychology or sociology as a foundation for arguments, I'm not sure why you cited that article from The Observer and didn't cite the study. What you cited is not peer-reviewed nor is it written by an expert, it's written by a professional editorial writer. It doesn't cite studies, but if you dig up the study it references from McGraw & Warren, you'll see that it doesn't argue what you think it argues. What McGraw & Warren look at are how it's possible to find dark things funny.

In their words, how are violations of the norm rendered benign for the purposes of comedy. They're trying to find counter-evidence for existing theories of humor.

What their study does not do is claim or demonstrate that the reason people find things funny is because they're dark. Every joke they use in the study uses subversion from expectation as the key difference between their test groups and control groups.
  
The important thing is the article is based on a study.

It's quite a stretch to conflate "violations" that elicit disgust from the participants with subversion of expectation. Their hypothesis is benign-violations will elicit humor. Those who take the violation more seriously will not enjoy the joke so much. This is the controversial nature of dark humor.
  
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