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The Dark Side of Comedy

kawaiidaigakusei at 12:00AM, April 13, 2015
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-Art by Gunwallace

There was once an intervention for work-appropriate humour at one of my former jobs where we were asked the question: "A joke told in the workplace can be off-colour or sexually offensive as long as I know that I am only kidding.“ The moderator had the room divide into four quadrants (Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree). The point was to answer honestly and I stood in the Agree section even though two-thirds of my (unfunny) coworkers stood in the Disagree section. While we were standing around waiting for the next question, someone in my section asked, ”Should we all share our best inappropriate jokes?" I looked at the people standing in the Strongly Agree and Agree section, remembered their faces and knew those were the people I wanted to hang out with to have a fun year. I was correct because the people in the Strongly Agree corner ended up being my favourite coworkers.

Anyone who has spent time watching comedians knows that not all comedy is cheerful and carefree. Many of my favourite acts are when the jokes tap into the inappropriate and obscene. But does the prevalence of dark humour in movies or stand-up build a resistance to feelings of empathy when another person is going through a difficult time?

I was listening to a podcast once where a comedian mentioned that his style of comedy was exceptionally dark and it leaked into his daily life where he had to maintain a rather disturbed lifestyle in order to channel inspiration for his jokes. I am not talking disturbing like he killed small animals (at least not any that I know) but he went down his list of movies he fell asleep to and they were all titles that were on the macabre side. I watched his stand-up and I thought it was pretty funny, but it helped me come to the realization that some comedians are unable to create a character for the stage and then hang it up once they get home. In this example, the separation of home and work life was a difficult one to differentiate between.

I believe that the main reason I enjoy dark humour so much is because it is real. The source of inspiration is mostly from personal experience and there is a raw honesty to hear someone say exactly what two-thirds of the population might be thinking, but refuse to acknowledge because they are trying to save face.

In closing, dark humour is hilarious, but from a professional perspective, the next time you have a ridiculously inappropriate joke that sounds like a twelve-year-old boy wrote it, wait until after work hours to tell it in good company or be prepared to face the HR.


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On July 1st, 2014 the comic ‘Grueson’ started online. Every week a page was published for free. Soon there will be enough material for a (large) book.
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anonymous?

ozoneocean at 9:48PM, April 14, 2015

No, it's a myth that comedy comes from depression. Comedians are just the same as the rest of us: depression increases with age and also in society in general, so it can seem to become prominent in that profession, especially among older comedians. Also, working in the entertainment industry where life can be rather trying can lead to those issues rather than the person having them to begin with.

ozoneocean at 9:35PM, April 14, 2015

Hahaha Bravo, you're a comedian! "studies have been done on the personalities of comedians and the majority do suffer from anxiety and depression." So these were from when? Which comedians? ALL of them for all time :D

strixvanallen at 4:47PM, April 14, 2015

Particularly, I think that some jokes are poisonous even for the comedians, because the comedian is not only demeaning other people, but themselves, which just make them even more miserable. Then, instead to use comedy as weapon against their personal monsters, they are giving them the weapon and letting the monsters hurt them instead. I really think that we should call comedians out when they get too offensive (or even prevent them from doing it), not because people are delicate flowers who shouldn't get offended, but because these comedians may be seriously hurt and they just don't know it already.

strixvanallen at 3:52PM, April 14, 2015

This strenght that humour gives us is also what may hurt other people. Since humour as a coping strategy will demean something to give you power, sometimes, instead of demeaning something hurtful (sadness, fear, hypocrisy and such), it may demean vulnerable people. There's a difference between a rape joke that demean the rapist or the thought process that makes rape seem accetable into the rapist mind and a rape joke that demean the victm by implying that all is well and fun if the victim was "asking for it" or "too stupid/passive".

strixvanallen at 3:47PM, April 14, 2015

May I say some boring psychological stuff? I'm an Education grad student and as such, I appreciate looking into people's minds to find the reason for things. Humour is a great psychological weapon for us. It makes scary things look tiny and ridiculous, which in turn empowers us to deal with those things. It's no wonder that comedians are often depressed. When you have to cope with monsters all day, you get good at beating them.

Banes at 7:32AM, April 14, 2015

@maskdt - well said!

bravo1102 at 6:45AM, April 14, 2015

Several studies have been done on the personalities of comedians and the majority do suffer from anxiety and depression. You can come from the most wonderful supportive home and well-adjusted family in the world and still be a miserable, dark souled misanthrope. And if you invite a comedian to dinner ask Mel Brooks. He's bright and funny and well-adjusted. And a noted exception to the rule.

KimLuster at 4:40AM, April 14, 2015

@Ozone: Yeah, if I thought every comedian was really just drawing from the dark side of the force I wouldn't listen to any of them! I think most are well-adjusted and not anymore beat-down by the world than the rest of us! I have wondered, though, if the number of 'dark-souled' comedians is still somewhat disproportionate!

maskdt at 12:13AM, April 14, 2015

I'm all for dark comedy, but you gotta admit some people are just really, really stupid about when they choose to tell an off-colour joke. If the punchline can be summed up as "N****s be crazy," you might want to save that one for when you're not at a protest against police brutality against black people. Also, you should generally punch UP the social ladder, not down. When you're making fun of people who've been dealt a harder life than you, you tend to just sound like a jerk.

ozoneocean at 12:09AM, April 14, 2015

There are just as many comedians who come from well adjusted backgrounds and haven't got something dark and depressing in their lives. But making fun of taboos and "dark" subjects can be funny from the perspective that it's a little bit naughty and subversive to do so- the very idea of even broaching the taboo can tilt the scale in your favour. It's very daring and the shock factor excites people. :D

Shawn_Perry at 8:29PM, April 13, 2015

@KimLuster - That is a very common thing with funny people. Some of the funniest people I know are also some of the saddest. It's like humor is how they cope.

kawaiidaigakusei at 6:15PM, April 13, 2015

@Banes- I would have loved to attend that dinner party. Sounds like it was an awkward train!

Banes at 11:12AM, April 13, 2015

My favorite kind of comedy has some darkness and some bite to it...I've tried not to examine my own attempted funniness too closely, for fear of losing whatever ability I have in that area. I was once or twice called "punny", which horrified me...am I known for goofiness and puns? "AAAAGH! No! I want to be a WIT! not a....a git!" .....again, though...a bit phobic about looking at it too closely.

Banes at 11:07AM, April 13, 2015

I don't remember the source of this story, but there's a tale of a couple who wanted to have a fun evening, full of laughter, so they invited a group of comedy writers over - and proceeded to have the most depressing dinner party they'd ever experienced.

bravo1102 at 8:13AM, April 13, 2015

Comedy can be dark because life can be dark. Monty Python's Life of Brian song Always Look on the Bright Side of life being sung while they're being crucified? Great contrast of light versus dark humor. As for off-color I was in the Army for 10 years and worked in a service station what do you think? But it is all in fun, except when the people in question really are that messed up. The less they can take it the more they'll get ragged on behind their back. Gotta roll with the punches and have a good sense of humor.

tupapayon at 7:57AM, April 13, 2015

I enjoy comedy, I am told I am funny (not sure if in the "haha" way)... I live in a dark place... maybe I should turn the lights on... but, yes, most humor at work should be kept from those sensitive types that are too quick to tell on you... Wow! Contests!

KimLuster at 6:29AM, April 13, 2015

It is troubling the number of comedians who've died tragic deaths (via suicide, overdosing, and other 'unnatural' ways)... I watch a documentary on Mark Twain recently, and he really lived in a dark place too... I personally know a few hilarious people - they can make an entire room crack ribs... but as I know their personal lives, their failings, their doubts, I don't laugh quite as hard as everyone else... I don't believe this is a price every comedian pays (it wouldn't be worth it if I did), but it does make me stop and wonder sometimes...


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