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Is It Acceptable To Joke About Tragic Things?:

 1 Fantasy Liver, Tue, 28th Jan '14 3:13:30 PM from The Dagobah System Relationship Status: How YOU doin'?
Spidophile
There's a ton of dark jokes out there today in things like Family Guy and Pulp Fiction. We've all heard them and, probably, laughed at them. After all - they're just fictional characters, right? It's okay to joke about them.

But then there are the types of jokes that are a bit more polarizing. These are the jokes that rip on real life tragic events in history or horrible things that are going on right now - topics like The Holocaust, 9/11, suicide, and pedophilia. Now we've all heard the saying that "comedy is tragedy plus time." Understandable but even if a lot of time has passed (as is the case with the Holocaust), are there some events or topics that are simply too terrible to joke about?

I'm personally of the opinion that as long as it's done in a tasteful, comedic matter or, barring that, amongst close friends, anything is fair game in the world of comedy but I'm eager to hear what you guys have to say.
"You're an enemy of art and I pity your ignorance" - Domingo Montoya

Help save the rainforest for free simply by going to Ecosia.org.
 2 Fantasy Liver, Tue, 28th Jan '14 8:22:29 PM from The Dagobah System Relationship Status: How YOU doin'?
Spidophile
Slight bump after the unlocking of this thread. Thank you mod!
"You're an enemy of art and I pity your ignorance" - Domingo Montoya

Help save the rainforest for free simply by going to Ecosia.org.
 3 Quag 15, Tue, 28th Jan '14 8:30:34 PM from Portugal Relationship Status: Chocolate!
Everyone will become one with me (^し^)
If you don't mind, I'm gonna quote George Carlin:

Lots of people. Lots of groups in this country want to tell you how to talk. Tell you what you can't talk about. Well, sometimes they'll say, well you can talk about something but you can't joke about it. Say you can't joke about something because it's not funny. Comedians run into that shit all the time. Like rape. They'll say, "you can't joke about rape. Rape's not funny." I say, "fuck you, I think it's hilarious. How do you like that?" I can prove to you that rape is funny. Picture Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd. See, hey why do you think they call him "Porky, " eh? I know what you're going to say. "Elmer was asking for it. Elmer was coming on to Porky. Porky couldn't help himself, he got a hard- on, he got horney, he lost control, he went out of his mind." A lot of men talk like that. A lot of men think that way. They think it's the woman's fault. They like to blame the rape on the woman. Say, "she had it coming, she was wearing a short skirt." These guys think women ought to go to prison for being cock teasers. Don't seem fair to me. Don't seem right, but you can joke about it. I believe you can joke about anything. It all depends on how you construct the joke. What the exaggeration is. What the exaggeration is. Because every joke needs one exaggeration. Every joke needs one thing to be way out of proportion. Give you an example. Did you ever see a news story like this in the paper? Every now and then you run into a story, says, "some guy broke into a house, stole a lot of things, and while he was in there, he raped an 81 year old woman." And I'm thinking to myself, "WHY??? What the fuck kind of a social life does this guy have?" I want to say, "why did you do that?" "Well she was coming on to me. We were dancing and I got horney. Hey, she was asking for it, she had on a tight bathrobe." I'll say, "Jesus Christ, be a little fucking selective next time will you?"
We are the robots.

Especially you!
 4 Dr Starky, Tue, 28th Jan '14 8:44:08 PM from Corn And Pig Land Relationship Status: Staying up all night to get lucky
Okay Guy
I don't think any subject should be off limits for a joke, but context is very important.

Dark humor is not about making light of people's suffering, but about creating a safe space where you can laugh at how shitty the world can be.

edited 28th Jan '14 11:14:01 PM by DrStarky

Put me in motion, drink the potion, use the lotion, drain the ocean, cause commotion, fake devotion, entertain a notion, be Nova Scotian
 5 Pykrete, Tue, 28th Jan '14 9:10:29 PM from Viridian Forest
NOT THE BEES
I consider being able to laugh at something prerequisite to putting it behind you.

Granted, there is such a thing as "too soon".

 6 drunkscriblerian, Tue, 28th Jan '14 10:08:31 PM from Castle Geekhaven Relationship Status: In season
Street Writing Man
To quote Aristotle:

Humor is the only test of gravity, and gravity of humor; for a subject which will not bear raillery is suspicious, and a jest which will not bear serious examination is false wit.

I believe humor to be the best way to examine tragedy, especially the tragedy of injustice. Often, injustice is perpetuated because nobody's willing to discuss the often silly premise upon which it is based. Humor does that, and does it well. I believe that is what old Carlin was getting at in the quote listed above.

I also don't believe anyone or anything should be considered above mockery. If it can't be mocked, it is too sensitive to be important.
If I were to write some of the strange things that come under my eyes they would not be believed.

~Cora M. Strayer~
 7 Ira The Squire, Tue, 28th Jan '14 11:47:04 PM from No idea. Measuring speed
Phyrexian Dalek
Often, injustice is perpetuated because nobody's willing to discuss the often silly premise upon which it is based. Humor does that, and does it well.

While I agree with this, I have to point out that quite often the comedian in question isn't making fun of the reason why the injustice was occurring. Too often the point of the rape joke was the victim as opposed to the victim-blaming culture when regarding rape. It's "hey look, this woman is getting raped because she dresses slutty/walking out at night/etc" rather than "hey look, this rapist is blaming the victim!"

Also, there is such as thing as "too soon". I doubt anyone here would agree that making a joke out of a dead person being dead or how mournful the family members are when the funeral is taking place is appropriate.

edited 28th Jan '14 11:50:09 PM by IraTheSquire

 8 indiana 404, Wed, 29th Jan '14 12:10:59 AM from Ruritania Relationship Status: Mu
Granted, there is such a thing as "too soon".
Depends on the culture, I suppose - out here, we had our first 9/11 jokes on 9/12: "New offer from UA - now delivering you straight to the office."

Speaking of which, a lot of Eastern European humor (as exemplified here) is based on crass ethnic stereotypes, usually un-Acceptable Targets like the mentally ill, and, on occasion, the Holocaust. Up North, for that matter, tradition seems to be to deflate even the most gruesome of tragedies with a dry, deadpan Understatement. So, overall, I'm left with the impression that the hurdle is not so much about being able to laugh at specific tragic things or touchy subjects, but that eventually, the very idea of a subject being "touchy" gets dropped altogether. It's like the black humor characteristic for soldiers and doctors, only applied universally - when "too soon" becomes "yet again" , it just doesn't have the same punch to it anymore.

And yes, apparently it also applies to funerals.

 9 Ira The Squire, Wed, 29th Jan '14 2:23:41 AM from No idea. Measuring speed
Phyrexian Dalek
Graham Chapman was a comedian and thus jokes in his funeral about his death will be seen as a tribute and thus is an exception rather than the norm.

Would you expect it to go down well if you go out, right now, pick a random funeral and make jokes at the expense of the deceased and their family? Or would you be seen as picketing a funeral like the WBC?
It does depend on who is making the jokes. A family member or friend making jokes about the deceased is not going to elicit the same reaction as a total stranger making the same jokes.

 11 Ira The Squire, Wed, 29th Jan '14 3:18:21 AM from No idea. Measuring speed
Phyrexian Dalek
Not to mention who the deceased is. As mentioned: jokes in a comedian's funeral can be seen a tribute.
Euo will do!
[up]Also, which bit of the funeral. Joking in the church? Depends very much on the joke. You can go nuts at the wake, though (heck, it's bad form not to needle the deceased a little through humour — it's the last chance you'll get for all that friendly one-upmanship and tale-telling about them in such a concentrated way). evil grin

The only consideration at the wake is who you're telling the tale/ joke to. smile And, how much they've drunk. grin

edited 29th Jan '14 3:37:48 AM by Euodiachloris

"When all else failed, she tried being reasonable." ~ Pratchett, Johnny and the Bomb
 13 Achaemenid, Wed, 29th Jan '14 3:44:49 AM from the dear green place. Relationship Status: You can be my wingman any time
Ein kleines Blümelein
[up][up]

Well, funerals are often followed by a reception or a wake, in which people often tell jokes about the deceased. I've been to a funeral where, for instance, the departed specified in his will that no-one was to wear black and he was to be carried from the church to the theme from the BBC's Grandstand sports show, his favourite program in life.

The thing is, a joke should be respectful; airing all the family's dirty laundry isn't on, but cracking a few about that hilarious time the departed and you got pissed in Berlin during your national service...

edited 29th Jan '14 3:45:11 AM by Achaemenid

yarr
Yeah, there's a difference between a joke about the deceased's death and an amusing anecdote about them while they were alive.
It's still possible to joke about the way the deceased died, but it depends on how the deceased lived.

 16 Blue Ninja 0, Wed, 29th Jan '14 7:13:59 AM from The Middle of Nowhere Relationship Status: She's holding a very large knife
Slowly dying on the inside
I doubt anyone here would agree that making a joke out of a dead person being dead or how mournful the family members are when the funeral is taking place is appropriate. - '"Ira the Squire''
Even there, it would depend on the delivery and the phrasing. Putting one or two witticisms into a eulogy isn't a bad practice.

Honestly, delivery and phrasing is usually what makes or breaks a joke anyway, regardless of the topic. Mitch Hedberg (or whatever that stoner's name was) wouldn't be half as funny if he didn't have that deadpan delivery where he sounds like his absurd proposals are completely serious.
Once the avalanche has started, it is too late for the pebbles to cast their vote. - Ambassador Kosh
 17 indiana 404, Wed, 29th Jan '14 8:17:17 AM from Ruritania Relationship Status: Mu
So, overall, it's not so much the subject that matters, but the audience and general context. To that effect, as most of the world's humor wasn't developed for network-safe sitcom jokes or increasingly scrutinized stand-up routines, what's acceptable can hardly be applied universally - if anything, plenty of jokes were downright meant to be offensive... and even those backfire quite a lot. Ironically, it seems it's exactly tragedy that breeds so much comedy, likely as a coping mechanism. And, on a larger scale, since a lot of countries have basically Seen It All when it comes to tragic events, it makes sense their cultural standards of appropriate subject matter would be less than strict.

edited 29th Jan '14 8:18:44 AM by indiana404

 18 johnnyfog, Wed, 29th Jan '14 10:08:05 AM from NYC Relationship Status: They can't hide forever. We've got satellites.
Not entirely a douche
I agree, context is everything.

The epitome of the tasteless comedian, imo, is Joan Rivers. She loves to stir the pot. But she doesn't have much in the way of wit; the schtick is that she's foul mouthed and old. So there is this famous clip of Rivers getting heckled after making a 9/11 reference. Not a joke, mind you. It was an unfunny reference. The heckler had a son who died in the attacks. Joan Rivers might not be much a comic, but she knows a thing or two about spin. She immediately turns on the heckler, swears at him, throws him out, screams at the rafters, paints herself as a heroine using humor to alleviate tragedy.

Some people think that being an insensitive prick is, be definition, really funny shit.
PHD in Thuganomics
 19 Mark Von Lewis, Wed, 29th Jan '14 10:21:51 AM from Somewhere in Time Relationship Status: THIS CONCEPT OF 'WUV' CONFUSES AND INFURIATES US!
KCCO
Way I see if, it depends on the content of the joke itself. Jokes about tragedies can be funny, if the joke itself is actually funny and witty. It's something that requires quite a bit more wit and effort to make funny than a non-tragedy, but it can be done.
There is no Zuul, there is only the Bear Jew.
@Khudzlin: I'd say that the person you're telling the joke to is the most important factor. Joking about 9/11 to your average person is fine, but not to a family member of one of the victims.

 21 Fantasy Liver, Wed, 29th Jan '14 11:10:10 AM from The Dagobah System Relationship Status: How YOU doin'?
Spidophile
Yeah but how do you know who had people die in the 9/11 attacks? If you're telling a joke to a bunch of friends or at a comedy club, you have no idea who's going to be offended. So should you stop the jokes based on a few potential offendees? Or do you keep it going even if it really offends someone personally?

After all - Chris Rock made a Columbine joke and Gervais made a 9/11 joke and they were both warmly received yet they had no idea who might be offended in the audience.

edited 29th Jan '14 11:11:21 AM by FantasyLiver

"You're an enemy of art and I pity your ignorance" - Domingo Montoya

Help save the rainforest for free simply by going to Ecosia.org.
 22 Dr Starky, Wed, 29th Jan '14 12:12:53 PM from Corn And Pig Land Relationship Status: Staying up all night to get lucky
Okay Guy
After all - Chris Rock made a Columbine joke and Gervais made a 9/11 joke and they were both warmly received yet they had no idea who might be offended in the audience.
Maybe they worked really hard on their jokes so they wouldn't come across as trivializing the suffering of real people.

Although it's impossible to avoid offending everyone in anything you do, I think that's a poor excuse to not think about the implications of humor about serious topics.

It's easy to forget that, in a time where you can make a comment on anything immediately as it happens, people like George Carlin worked for a very long time on their material.

There isn't any quick, easy formula for dark humor.
Put me in motion, drink the potion, use the lotion, drain the ocean, cause commotion, fake devotion, entertain a notion, be Nova Scotian
 23 Best Of, Wed, 29th Jan '14 12:45:30 PM from Finland Relationship Status: Falling within your bell curve
FABRICATI DIEM, PVNC!
It really does depend on whether you actually have a joke. Just mentioning something controversial or painful isn't a joke in itself. Ricky Gervais, Jimmy Carr, Jim Jeffries, Tim Minchin, and George Carlin - among others - are really good at this, IMO.

I don't think comedians should justify their jokes or defend them. It should be obvious from context that they don't really mean the shocking opinions they include in their jokes - more often than not, they're making themselves the butt of the joke by adopting a position and character that the audience can laugh at. That sort of thing can make difficult things easier to handle, but the audience has to be in on the joke.
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest to children ardent for desperate glory that old lie: dulce et decorum est pro patria mori
 24 johnnyfog, Wed, 29th Jan '14 1:13:16 PM from NYC Relationship Status: They can't hide forever. We've got satellites.
Not entirely a douche
Celebrity is the only qualifier I worry about. I'm more liable to give a joke a pass if it's some random schmoe.

A thirst for fame blurs the lines between being offensively funny and just being offensive to get headlines. Then it becomes attention-whoring. I think most people can tell the difference:

  • Gilbert Gottfried. He had a sweet Aflac deal, but he just had to net a few more Twitter followers. Now he's embarrassing himself on reality shows.
  • Seth Mcfarlane. Oh ho ho, Peter Griffin smothered some kids to death under his fat ass. And now an extended scene of him puking in grief and horror.
  • Lisa Lampenelli. Compared herself to Don Rickles. Deserves to be eaten by wolverines.
  • Bill Maher. Never passes up a chance to mock the dead.
  • Tracy Morgon. The modern day Stepin Fetchit.

edited 29th Jan '14 1:21:26 PM by johnnyfog

PHD in Thuganomics
 25 Best Of, Wed, 29th Jan '14 1:50:43 PM from Finland Relationship Status: Falling within your bell curve
FABRICATI DIEM, PVNC!
To be fair to Bill Maher, I don't think he's said anything about a recently deceased person that he wouldn't have said if that person was still alive.

I'm not sure if that makes a difference, though - I mean, it does to me because I don't get the taboo about speaking ill of the dead, but I think even if you'd say it's wrong to joke about someone who just died you'd at least be a bit less shocked if the person doing the joke was already joking about that dead person before they died.
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest to children ardent for desperate glory that old lie: dulce et decorum est pro patria mori
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