Is there any subject which can't be joked about? : LUSENET : like sands : One Thread

In the pimps and 'hos discussion, Lohr stated that he didn't think that any subject should be off limits as far as humor is concerned. Do you agree? Or are there some topics too sensitive to be joked about?

-- Anonymous, February 17, 2000


It depends--some things work as humor if the comic is talking about his or her own condition or situation (black people can call each other niggers, for example), but not if the comic is making fun of somebody else--incurable degenerative fatal diseases which children get, for example. I've heard of kids being able to joke with people about their illnesses, but you don't see people on Comedy Central doing routines on spina bifida or ankylosing spondylitis.

Also not a great deal of humor in various currently un-PC situations--deadbeat dads joking about their wives whining about child support.

-- Anonymous, February 17, 2000

What is funny is so contextual that I doubt there are any unfunny or too sensitive topics that should never be joked about; certainly not in any absolute sense.

Nurses making jokes about severe burn patients is probably tasteless, but I'd bet that severe burn patients make jokes about themselves. Humor is part of dealing with whatever the situation is.

So what about dark humor? Isn't there sort of a guilty pleasure in finding humor in things that at some level you know you shouldn't? (Or maybe you should and it is just another way of dealing with life. Thinking a lot of dark humor stuff ends up being about death.)

Jokes do make such great tools for discovering where the lines are drawn on someone elses psyche. (Thinking of the Lohr's urge to tell jokes on 'forbidden subjects'.)

Do you think 'South Park' is funny?

-- Anonymous, February 17, 2000

Reading this thread reminds me of a bit from the movie "My Blue Heaven," with Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, and Joan Cusack.

Steve's character tells Rick's character that the way to tell if a person has a sense of humour is with the following riddle:

Q. What's the difference between a burned-out light bulb and a pregnant woman?

A. The light bulb you can un-screw.

Anybody else see that movie?

Anybody find that riddle funny?


... anybody?

-- Anonymous, February 17, 2000

That was funny, Michael, but it wasn't very offensive! You'll have to work on that part.

-- Anonymous, February 17, 2000

Anyway, I still think the issue fundamentally comes down to respect.

A couple of people have mentioned that it's OK to make fun of a group if you're a part of it, but I can think of a few examples where people haven't felt that to be the case. Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor have both been widely criticized by African Americans for using the word "nigger" in their comedy acts. And in Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint, one of the characters, a young Israeli woman, puts forth the theory that the self-deprecating Jewish humor tradition is indicative of actual self-hatred by Jews--the legacy of hundreds of years of persecution.

Of course, it's a matter of debate whether these people are just a bunch of blowhards who can't take a joke, or people who are legitimately belittled by others' humor.

-- Anonymous, February 17, 2000

No offense, Jen, but this question would be much more interesting as: "Does NOT setting limits as far as humor is concerned lead to problems?". As it stands, it's really asking, "Do YOU set limits as far as humor is concerned?".

Wondering whether limits should or should not be set in general is like wondering if people should or should not react angrily to humor that offends them. What's the point? Or am I missing something?

-- Anonymous, February 18, 2000

To me, anything can be funny, and is only unfunny if someone decides to punch you in the mouth for saying it.

And, later of course, telling the story about how you got punched in the mouth could be a funny story.

-- Anonymous, February 18, 2000

My point, Ed, is that different people have different thresholds for what is funny and what is offensive, and I wanted to see how various people would attempt to define their thresholds, and how tolerant they were of others whose thresholds differed.

I think it's pretty obvious that not setting limits as far as humor is concerned will lead to problems, or at least conflict.

-- Anonymous, February 18, 2000

Ah! I see.

I personally find any humor that makes fun of identifiable groups to be completely tasteless. It's just not funny and people who engage in this type of behavior disgust me.

I generally do not find toilet-style humor funny either, but not necessarily offensive.

I really admire people like Bill Cosby or Steve Martin, who prove it is possible to be very funny without stooping.

-- Anonymous, February 19, 2000

If something doesn't strike me as funny, I don't laugh.

Well, that's probably the one rule I follow.

I like people who are cynical, but have a sense of humor. Because that's the way I am. Life can easily become catastrophic at any moment. People that have suffered terribly and don't find humor in their condition, are only suffering more.

And if you're not planning on taking yourself way too seriously, there is no reason to extend that honor to others.

But I suppose timing is everything. Sad one day, funny tomorrow.

-- Anonymous, February 19, 2000

But Dave, isn't a large proportion of all humor at the expense of "identifiable groups?"

"The Cosby Show" made fun of children and teenagers. Steve Martin's movie "My Blue Heaven" was a jab at mobsters and suburbanites, "L.A. Story" and "Bowfinger" made fun of Hollywood types, and his "Wild and Crazy Guys" sketch with Dan Aykroyd on SNL was a joke at the expense of Eastern Europeans.

However, I'm not aware of anyone who found these sketches to be offensive despite the fact that they targeted specific sectors of the population for mockery. I don't think the distinction can be made based on humor which is about specific groups of people vs. humor that isn't.

-- Anonymous, February 19, 2000

I will agree the term "identifiable groups" did not accurately capture what I wanted to say. I also considered "minority groups" or "disadvantaged groups," but neither of those accurately captured what I wanted to say either. I suppose I should qualify it and say, "some identifiable groups." I also hesitated to provide specific examples because it depends not only on the group, but what is being said about them. Examples that are generally never funny include gays, fat people, the mentally ill, people with other illnesses (but certainly not all), etc. I'm actually kind of anal about sexist humor too.

Perhaps we could say I do not like humor that would make the group being mocked justifiably uncomfortable.

I admit it's still kind of grey, but I'm sure you get the idea.

eg. I seriously doubt any Hollywood type watched Bowfinger and felt uncomfortable about themselves. The Cosby show didn't make anyone feel bad about being a teenager.

-- Anonymous, February 19, 2000

I still think the distinction is more subtle than you make it out to be, Dave.

You say, for example, that jokes about gays are "generally never funny." Did you see "The Birdcage?" Did you think it was funny? It played off of practically every stereotype about gay men in the book, and some people were offended by it, but because of the film's overall positive portrayal of gay people, it was not widely considered to be offensive.

A similar example is the "Big Gay Al" character on "South Park."

You also refer to "humor that would make the group being mocked justifiably uncomfortable." But how would you define what discomfort is justifiable? Some people are far more sensitive than others. Some gays found "The Birdcage" made them uncomfortable, and some did not. Where do you draw the line?

-- Anonymous, February 19, 2000

No, I haven't seen The Birdcage, and it sounds like I wouldn't enjoy it.

I'm not trying to pretend the distinction isn't subtle, I just don't want to get into it. It's not all that important, is it? My view seems to be so far out of the mainstream view I consider myself anal for it. Perhaps I'm overly empathic when it comes to demeaning humor. It just makes me sad.

My use of "justifiable" was meant to eliminate those who find pretty much anything offensive. I didn't mean to imply humor was okay if it was only a little bit demeaning.

-- Anonymous, February 20, 2000

I think Lohr is probably right. That is not to say that a given instance of attempted humor may misfire or offend or not be funny, etc., but I don't think anything can be flat ruled out.

This is not to say that there are topics and situations that could prove suicidal on the part of the person attempting the joke... Some topics and situations may be too sensitive at a given point in time for people who have some emotional involvement.

As I was thinking about this I wanted to come up with an example of something far removed from contemporary nightclub off color comedy... and Voltaire's Candide came to mind. Just think of the terrible situations poor Candide is placed in, the pirates, just all kinds of horrible problems and yet we laugh. Or, how about Chaucer? Have you read The Canterbury Tales? They get extremely risque... oh hell, they're downright raunchy! And the raunchiest scenes are among the funniest! Scenes that even Fox or "The WB" would hesitate to broadcast....

I think that the right comedian - author - actor - poet - satirist can find a flash of humor in the most painful, horrible, bloody, gruesome events that can befall us and maybe find something that can uplift spirits (hey, or maybe not, there's no guarantee that an attempt at humor will work)


P.S. Michael, regarding the burnt out light bulb joke: Did you hear about the pregnant woman who jay-walked across a busy street? A cabdriver yelled out "Hey lady! Ya know you can get knocked DOWN too!"

-- Anonymous, February 22, 2000

there's an unfortunate PC thing that happens in limiting humor... we can't tell jokes about *certain* groups... (which always makes me want to tell those jokes all the more...) Steve Martin and Dan Akroyd could do the "Wild & Crazy Guys" thing about Czechs (the Belgians of eastern Europe!); they couldn't have done the bit about Puerto Ricans or blacks. No group, should get a free pass based on political correctness or squishy-feely morality.

I wouldn't mock a quadriplegic to his face, but I have a whole run of Little Johnny-with-no-arms-and-legs jokes. Personal rudeness, Dr. Lecter tells us, is unacceptable. But groups are just...constructs.

My own deep hatred is of course for Belgians (the Czechs of western Europe!)... The Belgos make *chocolate mayonnaise*...and eat it on bread. It looks *exactly* like what you think it does. Where's the Gestapo when we need them?? Also-- Hercule Poirot... A loathsome little Belgo who needs his 'little grey cells' spattered on the wall!

-- Anonymous, February 23, 2000

..i dunno. the whole pc movement thing is really kicking the crap out of fun. pretty much anything can be funny. self-immolation. black people. deformity. setting up cultural no-nos as far as this sort of thing goes is fairly useless.

..i have this routine where id do an impression of a older, totally getto black guy. (i am white) i've got the pimp strut down and everything. it's fucking hilarious - fun to do. thing is, white people hate it. most white ppl, that is. they get all nervous/outraged. even people who know me well enough to see it's just a caricature get uncomfortable. the funny part is - most black people laugh their asses off when i do it. to most of them - it's not an illustration of black people, just one type of character.


!badbot! is not your friend.

-- Anonymous, February 26, 2000

I don't think that any subject is too sacred to joke about. I think the intentions of the joker are what make me uncomfortable in situations where jokes have upset me. If they spend an unusual amount of time slagging on certain groups, it seems to indicate hatred, which isn't very funny and makes folks uneasy. If they don't really invest much into the ideals the joke supposedly represents, they can say anything, as far as I'm concerned.

-- Anonymous, February 29, 2000

At first I was going to write a post about Dave's use of the term "identifiable groups" until I saw that Jen covered that. I mean, "identifiable groups" means that no comedian could ever make fun of the seven castaways on Gilligan's Island or washed-up actors or countless other groups who provide a wealth of fodder for the joke mill. Then, I see that Dave recants and says his statement only applies to "some" identifiable groups. How dare you, Dave! You're discriminating against those other identifiable groups by protecting only "some" while throwing the rest to the wolves. What's the criteria? No jokes about gay Asian midgets, but overpaid coke- sniffing Hollywood stars are fair game? It's not fair, Dave! And, maybe that's because humour doesn't have rules. As such, no boundaries should even be attempted to be set. Laugh at what you think is funny, and let me laugh at what I think is funny. Don't try to control anyone's thought process except your own. Plus, I really don't think it's funny the way all of you White people are using this discussion on humour as an excuse to use the word "nigger." I know it gives you a thrill to say it privately to one another, but there's NO excuse to hide behind the excuse of open discussion just so you can use it in public. But, don't worry. I won't tell the NAACP.

-- Anonymous, March 27, 2000

Well, I for one, am sorry the WHITE people here have used the "N" word in the guise of open discussion, so that they can secretly giggle and laugh and get thrills.

It is so OBVIOUS!

Thanks for pointing this out Sherrod! Once again, I am an embarrassed for the WHITE race and am glad you are a mind reader, or can cleverly grasp the agenda here.

Please, please don't tell the NAACP!!!!

Wait, you're just kidding right!!! I see, you're trying to show how making judgments without facts is wrong! I see! Good point Sherrod! You are wise!!!

-- Anonymous, March 27, 2000

Well, Cory, I'm glad that one of you finally fessed up to the great White conspiracy. You're a real credit to your race.

Here, I'll put a *L* in here for the people who are a little too obtuse to catch the wit. That way it'll be totally obvious that it's meant to be funny.

That's exactly what we need, broad humour that the lowest common denominator can appreciate. *L*

-- Anonymous, March 28, 2000

Can't you see? My flattery was sincere!

-- Anonymous, March 28, 2000

I saw, and I see. Thank you, sincerely. Like I said, the *L*'s were for those whom did not quite get it.

-- Anonymous, March 28, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ