Nautilus

When Dark Humor Stops Being Funny

Experiencing small doses of negative emotions, elicited by an offensive joke, may make us more resilient to future, more serious set backs.Photograph by Barry Brecheisen / Getty Images

In either ninth or tenth grade, my friend Dan and I found a book of “Truly Tasteless Jokes” on the cafeteria floor. Our teenage psyches were quickly mesmerized, and we spent the majority of lunch reading it cover to cover. I laughed at one dead baby joke in particular (which I can’t repeat here). It involved a blender.

To see if I was a psychopath for taking delight in dead babies,, Bob Mankoff, for his opinion. He’s had plenty of time to ruminate on what makes a good joke, and he assured me that I was not a psychopath. Louis C.K., he points out, often gets giggles from depraved thoughts. He has a joke where he asks the audience to the love child molesters must have for molesting children, given the punishment if caught. “It asks us to consider what is in the mind of a child molester,” says Mankoff. “He’s asking us to understand the things that drive them.” Watching the clip, you can almost feel the audience’s guilt as they laugh.

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