Humor and Taboos
By Ali Berlinski on June 21, 2013
Is laughing at something the same thing as pressing like on Facebook? If so, then under the section where it says interests on my profile, you’d most likely find vegans, racism, and Helen Keller. Clearly, I prefer jokes that are politically incorrect.
Laughing at a racist joke doesn’t automatically make someone a racist. In fact, one of the reasons people laugh at the profane is because they’re reminded of how ridiculous the status quo can be. Other times we laugh because we realize something new about something familiar. Personally, I tend to find the truth more shocking than the extraordinary. Call it a defense mechanism, but when this happens, I usually laugh. So while I don’t believe laughter is necessarily an endorsement, I do recognize the power in humor.
Comedy is a great way to breach taboo subjects. Humor helps people let their guard down and talk about what would otherwise be a tense issue. In my book, I employ comedy to talk about things such as race, divorce, depression, death, heartache, and even cancer. It’s not that I think cancer is funny, but rather, that we should try and find the humor in even the darkest situations.
Admittedly, sometimes I offend people. Either they don’t understand what I’m trying to do, or they just don’t share my sense of humor. To be fair, not all offensive jokes are funny. Some are just gratuitous. Constructing a truly funny joke requires a lot of thought.
Sometimes something as simple as location can affect how we interpret a joke. For example, telling a sex joke a comedy club is generally much more acceptable than say, your local PTA meeting. Whereas the first situation could arguably be professional, the second is how one gets a leading role on How to Catch a Predator. The point being, know your audience. Yet even with the right components, there’s still the potential that certain jokes just won’t sit well with others.
During one of his stand up routines comic Daniel Tosh asked, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys right now?” In Tosh’s defense, this particular joke wasn’t a part of his regular routine. He was just trying to put a female heckler in her place and so for a brief moment, he let his misogyny escape him. Whoops. Understandably, Tosh quickly earned himself a spot on the Internet’s shit list.
Even though this particular rape joke fails, some rape jokes can and do work given the right parameters. However, perhaps a more salient question is why we want them to work? Is it that we want people to be more comfortable with rape? Surely not.
A great question raised by The Frisky is what do rapists think when they hear a rape joke? Are they cringing inside along with the rest of us or have they become desensitized by a barrage of heedless jokes? Although I don’t think Daniel Tosh means to promote rape, I have to wonder what it is he thinks he’s promoting with his various other rape jokes? Not rape? A friendly gangbang? While there will always exist the possibility of someone misinterpreting a joke, incidents like this reinforce why it’s so important to be mindful of how we use and react to comedy.