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There have been several different news stories, controversies and facebook posts that recently converged to where I’ve finally decided to write about a subject that I’ve been thinking about for ages.

Dark humour. Especially ‘Don’t go there’ humour.

I confess, as horrible as it sounds, that I had the overwhelming temptation to tweet about the horrific shootings in Colorado with ‘well if it had been the opening of Twilight I could understand…’ Of course I didn’t; I’m not an idiot. There are just some things you don’t joke about, at least not publicly, and especially not to people who don’t know that dark humour is your coping mechinism.

There is little that probably horrifies me more than being in the place where these victims were, watching the same movie I’ve been looking forward to seeing for months (and now plan to watch in the Drive-in if I can, since it’s showing there). How many of us go to a movie and think nothing of what will happen to us in that time? It probably didn’t occur to a single victim that they’d be in the midst of a bloodbath before the second plot point. My heart practically stops when I hear a car backfiring, and making a joke about it is a way of reminding of telling myself it couldn’t possibly happen to me. I wouldn’t be caught d—… No, stopping now. No more jokes about Twilight.

Many people who work in incredibly stressful, traumatic jobs, or occupations where they are constantly dealing with other people’s tragedies also deal with it through humour. The only way you can face really terrible things it to laugh at them; it’s the only thing that takes away their power.

My sister used to run a flower shop and most of their business came from weddings and funerals. For funerals they often dealt directly with the funeral parlours themselves rather than the mourning family members at least. Now, Christmas is a stressful time for many people and Christmas was a busy time for the shop because of the spike in funerals that would happen around that time. Some funeral directors would refer to it as their ‘Christmas clearance.’.

On Reddit not that long ago an anonymous woman posted about her experiences at a crisis center and said she made far more rape jokes ‘than she probably should’. This Reddit thread came out around the same day as the ‘comedian’ who became the center of a social media storm specifically over rape jokes when one member of the audience stood and said they weren’t ever funny. I won’t repeat what he said, not because I found it offensive (I didn’t) but because it was just stupid. Crude. Lame. Time for the Shepherd’s crook to yank him off the stage.

Of course some people cried ‘censorship’ at the calls to take him off the air. The relative merits of that is another subject for another time. Humour and ‘free speech’ shouldn’t have any boundaries! they cry. And it shouldn’t, but in that case people are allowed to react to that free speech the way they choose to as well.

When it comes to the limits of humour, it all depends. It depends on how it’s said (in my own not-so-humble opinion). It depends on the context, it depends on the person telling the joke, whether it’s a defense mechanism or just some macho twit who doesn’t realize it’s no longer the 80s and that Andrew Dice Clay was never terribly funny either. It depends on what else they do or don’t find funny as well.

One person I know who got extremely upset about this ‘comedian’ and was practically calling for his head later posted a snark about a child who’d been struck by lightening at a bible camp. If you don’t think a joke about rape can ever be funny, I don’t see how the death of a child can be either. Of course, it was meant as a joke about religion, but still…

We’re sometimes hypocritical about what gets to be funny and what doesn’t. Religion is a fair target but feminism isn’t. Or vice versa.  Some of Russell Peters’ routines would probably get him booed off stage if he was white instead of Indian. Some ‘end the drug war types’ thought jokes about Rush Limbaugh’s drug abuse were definitely NOT funny.

People might claim that it is about power but sometimes I suspect it’s really a means of rationalizing our own personal biases. We all have our own personal limits of what we find funny, or of what we can joke about; our boundaries, the lines we just don’t cross, which are different for every one of us.

Personally, jokes about pedophilia or child sexual abuse are strictly off limits. Never funny. I’m not talking about the tired Roman Catholic Priest jokes, but along the lines of ‘hey, I have some candy for you… jokes’. I’ve never been subject to such abuse myself, fortunately, but I think you have to have something seriously wrong with you to even joke about such things. That the notorious ‘Chester the Molester’ creator of 70s porn magazines turned out to be a real-life abuser certainly drove home that point in my mind. And I get that same squeamish sense about *some* rape jokes although I always laughed at Pepe Le Pew.

And then I’m aware that when I crack jokes about some of the things I do, that there are people out there who probably feel the same way about the sort of thing I resisted tweeting about above. That there must be something wrong in the head of anyone who jokes – who even thinks of joking – about a public massacre, especially so soon after the tragedy. Not everyone copes with trauma through humour. Many people don’t have that need to detach themselves from things and so joking about anything has to be at least tempered with the awareness of other people’s limits as well. Someone isn’t simply humourless just because they don’t find something funny.

And some people probably have a similar abhorance to joking about the kid who died at the bible camp that I admit finding funny myself. I always find jokes about Religion funny.

Then again, I think God Himself has a sick sense of humour.

However, just because we each have different views on what is funny or what isn’t, doesn’t mean there are no limits, no sacred cows. Although I don’t think people should ‘censor’ themselves, it’s probably best if we at least think a little about the likely consequences before spewing off, especially in this day and age of viral videos and memes that spread like Ebola.

And we need to keep in mind that freedom of speech isn’t simply license to be an asshole.

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