Sick jokes form a continuum, from those which are actually funny if a bit twisted, to those which are sick for the sake of being sick.

For instance,

Mommy, Mommy, why am I running around in circles?

Shut up or I’ll nail your other foot to the floor.

has a genuinely clever idea behind it, even though someone who can’t help but think about the ugliness of the implied situation is going to be repulsed rather than amused.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  (If you think, “If she tied his feet to a loop of rope wrapped around two nails, he’d run around in an ellipse”, you should seek professional help.)

This one, on the other hand, rather than being clever, exists only for its shock value:

What’s the difference between a truckload of rocks and a truckload full of dead puppies?

You can’t unload the rocks with a pitchfork.

And is generally told by teenagers impressed by their own daring in doing so.

Make up your own minds about this last one, ROT13’d for your protection:

Jung qvq Wrssrel Qnuzre fnl gb Yberan Oboovg?

“Qba’g guebj gung njnl, V’yy rng vg.”

Mike Schilling

Mike has been a software engineer far longer than he would like to admit. He has strong opinions on baseball, software, science fiction, comedy, contract bridge, and European history, any of which he's willing to share with almost no prompting whatsoever.


  1. I am sadly one of the people who can’t help think of the implication of sick jokes and the broader psychological need for sick jokes. Or to channel Rose, are sick jokes ethical?

    Needless to say this does not make me fun at parties. Though I never really hear dead puppy jokes, only dead baby jokes. I suspect that dead puppy jokes would get more of an evil eye than dead baby jokes.

    I wonder if sick jokes are psychologically necessary as a coping mechanism for various evils in the world. A few weeks ago I was at an event and for somereason it broke into “sex joke-child sex abuse edition” No one at the event struck me as being the kind of person who would ever actually sexually abuse a child but they thought it was the height of wit to say these jokes in rapid and try to out do each other. Why is this? Is it the only way to cope with the fact that evil exists, to make light of it like it is nothing?

    I can see why a survivor of a horrible trauma would need to tell sick jokes as a psychological coping mechanism. But I am not impressed by the teenage impulse (that seems to survive well past being a teenager) to tell sick jokes for the sake of shock.

    Again can you tell that I am really fun at parties?*

    *To be fair, I do get described as “dinner party fun” Which causes people to either really like me or run in the other direction.

    • I was too harsh on myself in this post. I am pretty fun at parties.

      I just don’t get why sick jokes have any appeal because I can’t help but think of the inherent horribleness of the description

    • OK, with some trepidation, I am going to Rot13 one that I saw on a T-shirt online – so it’s not exactly a joke in the sense of “setup-question / answer-punchline”, more a phrase that makes you think “oh, that is SO WRONG”, and then you laugh. I am not going to link to an image itself, though you can find one easily enough.

      Since I know I have at least two people of The Tribe here, I want to warn them that it’s related to them.

      If you choose to look at it:

      1.) Let me know if you think I should turn right around and delete it. I truly don’t mean to offend.

      2.) Can you help me understand why I worry about it being offensive, and also help me understand why it’s (arguably) funny? Because on the face of it, there’s nothing OVERTLY wrong, nor even surprising, about the sentence *itself*.

      I have a theory, but am curious about what you think.

      OK, so the T-shirt has a picture of Hitler looking upwards with a cocked eyebrow, looking thoughtful. The caption reads,

      Ybir uvz be ungr uvz, Uvgyre xvyyrq n gba bs Wrjf!

      • Vg’f “shaal” orpnhfr vg erirefrf gur rkcrpgngvba nobhg gur qverpgvba bs gur svany pynhfr. (Gur dhnyvsvpngvba znxrf lbh rkcrpg fbzrguvat tehqtvatyl cbfvgvir.) Vg’f bssrafvir nf uryy orpnhfr vg’f nobhg fbzrguvat erny, abg fbzrguvat jubyyl znqr hc gb svg gur wbxr.

        But I expect you already knew all of that.

      • Wow that is really distasteful. I am all for free speech but will admit that I wish people did not abuse it by being as offensive and juvenile as humanly possible. Then again I like Mapplethorpe photography so your mile may vary.

        That t-shirt is distasteful for a bunch of reasons.

        1. A person should not make light of the Holocaust unless they were a survivor. And I highly doubt a survivor would wear this t-shirt.

        2. One way to interpret this t-shirt is that everyone hates the Jews. So the Holocaust becomes a net good even if everything else Hitler did was bad.

        3. What does it say about American society that many people think it is the height of wit and sophistication to make and wear t-shirts like this? I’m serious here.

        4. I would suspect that someone who wears any t-shirt from t-shirt hell is completely unaware of the concept of privilege.

        I don’t see why the t-shirt is funny at all honestly. I see why it is offensive for the reasons listed above.

        • OK, so first of all, having gotten the feedback, I can delete the comment if you guys wish.

          Mike gets at why, I think, it startled me into laughter – it’s getting some of the “sick/wrong” frisson from its proximity to real events/people, even though it does not inherently take a position on those events.

          More important, to me it almost has a “hidden” punchline, which is that it draws a thumbnail of the kind of person (the “narrator” or “speaker” of the phrase) who would be so cluelessly out-there as to a.) not have an opinion, at all, on the right/wrong of the historical event and b.) SAY such a thing.

          It reminds me a bit of “Deep Thoughts” by Jack Handey – a lot of times the “joke” was glimpsing something sick or twisted or just plain weird that is implied about “Jack” and his “life”, that’s just slightly outside of the *actual* joke’s “frame”.

          • On the third issue,

            I don’t see the third paragraph as being a hidden punchline. I see it as a tragedy on a lot of levels.

            How can so many people make it to adult hood without realizing that wearing something like that t-shirt is horribly offensive? Can you imagine this conversation happening in another country?*

            *Okay I know that Scandavian countries are having a lot of issues on various racist Christmas costumes but that still feels very different than that t-shirt.

          • Oh, no, I am talking about the joke itself, not the wearer of the shirt.

            The hidden “author”, is the “punchline”. He’s obviously a clueless weirdo.

            Does that make sense?

          • Put another way, it’s the sort of joke that I could maybe see Steven Wright or Emo Philips pulling off on stage. It implies the speaker is just completely on another planet.

          • Glyph,

            I see your logic, but I think the shirt only works if there are people we can point to and identify as the “author”. I’m not sure those people really exist, so parodying them seems silly and, possibly, self-indulgent of the wearer’s true thoughts while giving him a veneer to hide behind. Sort of like Quentin Tarantino (here we go again) and the N-word. Not only does he use it in his films, but he him uses the term. Way too much for most people’s comfort. He’ll often insist that he does it as commentary on people who use the word or the word itself or whathaveyou. But I can’t help but think he gets a sick pleasure out of using it. Probably not because of any actual racist views, but because he likes to break rules and do what he shouldn’t do. So, when he does use it, he can say, “Hey, man, I’m just making a point!” even though I think a part of him just wishes he could say it and not have to defend it.

          • Oh, I have no interest, at all, in speculating on the motives of anyone who’d wear the shirt. That adds ANOTHER confusing layer.

            I am speculating about the “joke” itself, and its mechanics.

          • Glyph,

            Most people are not Steven Wright, Emo Philips, or Louie CK. Simply put, they lack the panache and delivery to pull off a kind of joke like that especially in t-shirt form.

            Louie CK does have a routine about going back in time and raping Hitler. He manages to pull it off. He is the only person that can.

            I am not sure that Steven Wright, Emo Philips, or Louie CK would make the joke on the t-shirt. They would make a joke about Hitler but not in a way that directly mentions the Holocaust and killing lots of Jews.

            The wearer of that t-shirt just strikes me as the kind of person who constantly thinks they are being edgy and wild by saying really offensive things. Or they are just uncivil and do not care about the fact that they did not mature past age 12.

          • Hmmm, we keep getting into the hypothetical wearer of the shirt, and that doesn’t interest me (nor would I purchase or wear such a shirt). The shirt’s wearer isn’t telling the joke, he is just the paper it’s printed on. I am interested in the mechanics of the joke, such as they are.

          • Glyph,

            You were the one who brought up the Steven Wright/Emo Philips comparison.

            And I must say that such a comparison to the wearer of the t-shirt is far more generous than the one I give.

          • Hmm. I must not be explaining myself well.

            What I mean is, to deliver such a joke, it must be done in a deadpan absurdist manner or voice. Because the “joke”, as I see it, is all subtext, reflecting back on a faux-profound deep thinker who is really shallow and clueless. Just imagine someone saying this at a party, and people nodding sagely at it. You’d want to shake them all and say “What? You’re missing the point!”

            There is nothing in the “text” that is untrue, nor *inherently* wrong to say – as I explained elsewhere, anti-semites do love him, the rest of us don’t, and he did do that thing.

            In fact, I would go so far as to say that the joke depends on the listener BEING a moral person, for the joke to work (which implies the joke-writer is also). Because if you ARE an antisemite, I’d bet money the “joke” isn’t funny – since it doesn’t “surprise” their brains in the way it probably does the rest of us, to see the word “Love…”, followed by the rest of the sentence.

          • “Because the “joke”, as I see it, is all subtext, reflecting back on a faux-profound deep thinker who is really shallow and clueless.”

            WHO is this faux-profound deep thinker?

          • And jeez, I don’t mean to imply that ONLY anti-semites wouldn’t find the joke funny, obvs. 🙂 Just trying to explain why I don’t think the joke’s “mechanics” depend on antisemitism, they are in fact playing on its opposite to work (if in fact the joke works at all). There’s no “surprise”, which almost all humor needs, without the speaker making “love/hate” equivalent.

          • Kazzy, “who” is Jack Handey?

            I mean, yes, Jack Handey is a real person, who wrote those “diary entries”.

            But for the purposes of “Deep Thoughts”, “Jack Handey” is a character. He’s a “Humbert Humbert”.

            And what he is saying reveals much about him (Humbert/”Handey” as character), and his life; more than he intends to reveal, in fact.

            The character thinks/presents himself as wise.

            The character is deeply, deeply deluded and weird.

          • But Jack Handy is mocking the thoughts of a caricature of Jack Handy, which may or may not represent certain true aspects about himself, and which there was an air of relatability for the folks who found him funny. We laughed at him, in part, because we thought part of what he was saying made some sense even if we knew ultimately that it didn’t.

            Who is the shirt mocking? Who relates to whatever “truth” it holds? That is the essential question and I’ve yet to see you really offer anything approaching an answer.

          • To my mind, the shirt is mocking the unseen speaker, who the writer has saying a trivially-true thing (that invariably slides into cluelessly-offensive on the way to his listener’s ears), while at the same time presenting themselves as wise.

            There’s also a bit of a mental “trick” going on; by presenting *those* words, in *that* sequence, our brains are tricked into thinking something offensive is being said by the speaker; but if you take each piece, or even cumulatively the whole phrase, there is nothing the speaker is saying that is factually incorrect, or morally wrong on the speaker’s part (he does not condone the “lovers”). He’s simply stating the facts as he sees them, while being ignorant of his words’ impact (and of course the REAL author is ignorant of none of this, which is why he wrote it).

            If that doesn’t make sense, I don’t know if I can explain it any better.

          • But if the unseen speaker does not represent some real thing, I don’t see the point.

            “Love or hate cancer, it’s killed lots of grandmas.”
            “Love or hate child rapists, they fucked lots of kids.”

            I could go on. And won’t. (And Mike, or whomever else, if you feel the need to delete, censor, or Rot’13 these, please feel free to.)

            There is nothing clever about those statements because they mock something that doesn’t exist. There is not easily identifiable person or persons we can point to who are so obtuse as to make such statements. So the shirt isn’t mocking anyone. It’s not parodying anything. It is as if the wearer/creator wishes there was someone obtuse enough to say something like that so they COULD be mocked, but that person doesn’t exist. It is parody in search of a target.

          • Something doesn’t have to exist to be mocked; merely an exaggeration of something. There are certainly people who, in the interest of making their point, miss another.

            Some would argue that is what I am doing right now. 🙂

            This whole thread is about ‘sick jokes’ and it occurs to me that this joke (and many sick jokes) is working on another level as well, and ND kind of alluded to it with “just world”, though I’d argue it’s coming from an existentialist/absurdist angle and generating its ‘humor’ that way – a barking laugh in the face of the void.

            First, the Holocaust is existentially absurd. I do not mean that it is in any way funny; quite the opposite in fact. It is an act of such monumental, senseless evil as to shake our faith in any meaning or order in the universe. I mean, a guy that looked like *that* tried to exterminate a people – multiple peoples, actually, and establish a 1000-yr Reich.

            That is some Darth Vader-level s**t. It literally boggles the mind.

            Second, there literally ARE people who thought he had the right idea. For real, these people exist. In 2013. In America. That is fishing absurd, dude.

            And third, as I have explained, the joke posits a narrator who is either clueless, and/or “fair” to the point of completely missing the point. I have explained, at length, why this is absurd.

          • Glyph,

            Once again I applaud your analysis. I think there is nothing wrong with anything you wrote in your last comment.

            Yet I think it is giving too much credit to people who would wear this particular t-shirt. At the very least on a conscious level they are not doing the analysis of the Holocaust that you just did. Maybe if you gave them a Socratic pounding they would.

            To me when it comes to offensive t-shirts from t-shirt hell, the wearer of the shirt is also the narrator. They are making a conscious decision that this is the face that they want to put forward to the public and that they find this shirt funny.

            I doubt the dudes who wear this shirt are saying “I think this shirt exposes the absurdity of the Holocaust.” More likely they are saying as Mike “Man is this a sick joke. I bet I am going to piss off a lot of people by wearing it. Awesome.”

            Keep in mind that the only t-shirts I have with writing on them contain the phrases “Brew Alchemy” (Dogfish Head t-shirt), City Grocery (a restaurant somewhere), and Smith Butler (two streets in my old Brooklyn neighborhood).

            I did have a t-shirt said “Banana Pudding Republic” most people thought that was funny. I liked that t-shirt.

          • Glyph,

            I understand what you’re saying and fear we are both beating a dead horse at this point.

            Here is (probably? hopefully?) my last comment on the matter: When people see a shirt that is lampooning a clear target, they’ll say, “I get it! They’re making fun of X!” When people see that, I’m not sure they’ll say, “I get it! They’re making fun of Neo-Nazis!” or any other value of X because I just don’t think there is a clear or specific enough target for the shirt to work. Can we parse it out and discover a level of humor? Sure. You’ve done that quite well. But it’s a t-shirt. Most people aren’t going to be able to or simply won’t spend that much time thinking about it. So, as a joke, I think it simply misses the mark. Which doesn’t mean it can’t qualify as a joke… only that it isn’t a particularly good one, as far as I’m concerned.

          • ND – Mmmmm….banana pudding. I want that shirt. I just had some homemade banana pudding on Friday and it was awesome. A simple pleasure I often forget about for some reason (banana shakes are also da bomb).

            Kaz – I am not saying it is a “good” joke (or a “bad” one). I am not even sure it IS a “joke”, exactly, at least in the setup/punchline sense; maybe more of a “prank” (or “graffiti”)?

            But whatever it is, I know I’ve spent more time thinking about what it is doing, and how it is doing it, than most any other I have seen recently. I have no doubt that as its primary mode, the joke’s creator is going for “shock” humor, and I don’t know if he’s thought deeply about it (thinking *too* deeply about *any* joke prior to getting it written down, will probably destroy it anyway) – what I found fascinating was the way in which they threaded the needle so as to carefully avoid ACTUALLY saying anything really offensive or false or shocking, instead letting the joke’s receiver do all the work via context, subtext and implication. As I mentioned, I don’t think the joke works *at all* (to whatever extent it does) unless the receiver (and therefore the writer by implication) hold Hitler and the Holocaust to be monstrous.

          • I gotcha.

            Needle-threading can be brilliantly hilarious. That is part of what I like about the “Say what you will…” jokes. I think they accomplish what that joke purports to do in a more clever, funny way. For the sake of argument, let’s imagine that Hitler really was a fantastic baker. And that this was a well-known fact. It really is of no consequence, ultimately. But if I wore a t-shirt that said, “Say what you will about Hitler… the man could make a fabulous cake,” it would similarly thread the needle, in that it wouldn’t be any form of endorsement of Hitler nor would it say anything untrue, but there is just something unseemly about it. It doesn’t have the shock humor of the shirt in question, which is a pretty fundamental difference.


          • Boo. Bad Hitler Joke.
            I have laughed at holocaust jokes.
            But they’ve got a higher threshold, folks.

            (I honestly would find the whole shirt a lot more funny if it had Stalin instead of Hitler, and Russians instead of Jews — maybe only funny if worn by an ethnic russian, though).

        • 3. What does it say about American society that many people think it is the height of wit and sophistication to make and wear t-shirts like this? I’m serious here.

          That we’re a very large society with a lot of different kinds of people (and I do mean ALL kinds). Also, by definition, half the population has an IQ less than 100.

          IOW, not much, really.

          • You can say that for a lot of countries though where I don’t think this is an issue. Though America is probably a lot more heterogenerous than many others.

            I would like to hear this being a Canadian or French or UK problem.

        • I had a mini-argument one time with a friend-of-a-friend (FOAF, from here on out). One of my favorite shirts has a cartoonish picture of a dinosaur and says, “NEVER FORGET.” It is funny on two levels: one, it’s a funny shirt about dinosaurs; two, the pictured dinosaur looks like a Brontosaurus, the now defunct dinosaurs species that many of us grew up loving, adding a bit of a deeper humor to those of us former Bronto-fans. I’d worn the shirt a number of times and never got anything but cheers. Until I wore I busted it out while staying at FOAF’s vacation home for the 4th of July. FOAF was Jewish. He immediately objected to the shirt, insisting it was mocking the Holocaust. I told him I was pretty sure the phrase associated with the Holocaust was “Never Again”, but he insisted I was wrong and, out of respect as a guest in his home and for the possibility that I was indeed in error, I took off the shirt. He would go on to say that he himself didn’t really care, but his 70-year-old Jewish grandmother would be appalled and he didn’t want that, a feeling I could identify with. We moved on from there and it was never an issue again, at least not that I heard of.

          Some quick Googling when I got home indeed revealed that “Never Again” was the phrase he was thinking of and that my shirt was instantly funny again.

          • “Never Forget” I thought was strongly associated with 9/11. Was there an asteroid, volcano or explosion on the shirt?

          • No. Just the dino.

            My research revealed that “Never Forget” has been associated with many a thing, with 9/11 only being the most recent one.

        • From The Producers:

          “And he was a great painter. Could do a whole house in one day. Two coats!”

      • A fun game my friends and I play sometimes is the “Say what you will…” game.

        An example:

        “Say what you will about Osama Bin Laden… he made a mean French Onion soup.”

        The more absurd the second part, the better. Though accuracy trumps actual absurdity. So if you manage to find a kernel of positivity in an otherwise monstrous individual, double-bonus points.

        That shirt seems to take this idea and goes absolutely crazy with it. If anything, it seems to be a parody on people’s attempt to see nuance, which is a commentary I don’t really get. Nuance is a *GOOD* thing.

        • See, I like the absurdity of the French Onion Soup comment. That comment makes fun of Osama bin Laden because he constantly railed against Western decadence and decay but is there anything more bistro and Western middle-class than a bowl of French Onion Soup?

          • Ha! I hadn’t even thought of it that way… I was just making a bad example. But, yea, that actually works!

            An “accurate” one would be, “Say what you will about Mussolini, but the man did make the trains run on time.”

            A stupidly absurd one would be, “Say what you will about Hitler, but the man never met a puppy whose belly he wouldn’t rub.”

          • Actually, Italian train schedules have always been a bad joke, and Mussolini didn’t change that. It’s accurate only in that it quotes the inaccurate cliche correctly.

        • Kazzy, I also think you get at something with the “nuance” thing too, though again to me it reflects back on the “speaker/narrator” – that is, someone who would attempt to remain (or be) “fair” about the implied question by not taking a position or “presenting both sides”, seems like they are attempting to sound “wise”; but of course instead sound cluelessly stupid.

          • Burt recently referenced the “Grail” joke about “not bickering and arguing about who killed who”…setting aside a large issue (the horror and immorality of the act), to focus on the trivial one (the indisputable fact of its occurrence) is inherently completely absurd.

          • But, again, WHO is the “speaker/narrator”? If there was a person or group of people who had this tendency and the shirt was mocking them by taking it to an extreme… okay, you have a target. But the shirt-maker seems to have invented a non-existent speaker-narrator to mock, which brings me back to it just being gratuitous anti-semitism masking as commentary.

          • Much humor is self-mocking. Think of all the humor that is derived from watching someone doing something stupid. It’s even better when that person THINKS they are being smart.

            So the “target”, if there is one, is the idiotic speaker – they are just bonkers to even say such a thing. It’s implied mock-profundity (because all the “text” is true – antisemites love him, the rest of us hate him, and he did in fact do that) with a subtext of “Huh? What is WRONG with the person saying this?!”

            The “thoughtfulness/reasonableness” of the completely-true statement, masks (and also highlights) the implied deep, deep insanity of the “speaker”. It’s sort of the same thing Leslie Nielsen or Alec Baldwin can do so well – a reasonable or authoritative-sounding statement, contrasted with how deeply weird the speaker would be in real life, provides the humor.

          • Glyph,

            Perhaps but none of Leslie Neilson’s commentary was on this level.

            I agree that the t-shirt says a lot more about the wearer than the content. But that still does not make it funny on any level to me.

          • Glyph,

            You seem to be trying to have it both ways. If it is self-mocking, what self is being mocked? That would indicate the wearer. But you’ve specifically said you’d rather not concern yourself with someone who’d actually wear this shirt. Which makes us think of an unnamed-speaker. But who is the unnamed-speaker? I can make dozens of t-shirts mocking absurd ideas that no one actually holds.

          • This has nothing to do with the wearer. Forget the wearer.

            Someone drew that picture, and put that caption under it.

            When I saw that picture and caption, I laughed and said, “That is SO WRONG.”

            I am attempting to analyze why it made me laugh. I know the Holocaust was wrong, and am not an anti-semite, so that’s out right at the start.

            Much humor depends on surprise and reversal of expectations.

            To my mind, this joke does that two ways:

            1.) In a strict language sense, it primes us by starting out with the word “love”, then moving on to a horrible historical fact. This is incongruous. Hence, humor.

            2.) The “speaker” or writer of the phrase, is, as you note, being nuanced in stating 3 true things: a.) Some love him, b.) some hate him, and c.) regardless of where you fall, there is one indisputable historical fact.

            To formulate the statement in this way, being ostentatiously “fair” and taking care to not privilege the (correct) haters over the (incorrect) lovers is incongruous; it makes no sense to the right-thinking mind. It implies a deluded or deranged speaker in its subtext. Hence, humor.

          • So let’s laugh at a deranged thinker that doesn’t exist?

            I think the wearer and the creator of the shirt matter very much, especially in the absence of a real deranged thinker.

            If I were to make my “Say what you will…” joke about Hitler but said it seriously… something to the effect of, “Say what you will about Hitler, he was efficient at killing people,” a critical rejoinder would be what the shirt offers. You are taking my accurate but absurd statement and pointing out its absurdity by making an even more absurd comment.

            But that doesn’t exist. There is nothing being turned on its head. Instead you just have someone making an unnecessary and gratuitous comment about Hitler and dead Jews that offers nothing constructive.

          • I’ll say it once more; I think all of you are missing the point of the “joke”. Let’s do some parallels that people might actually say:

            Love Carter or hate him, you have to admit that when he leaves politics aside, he’s done some fine things.

            Love Mussolini or hate him, it’s completely unfair to compare him with Hitler.

            Love Obama or hate him, he’s got a wonderful family. (or even “He did manage to get him one smoking hot wife.”)

            That is, the formula is “Here’s something good (or at least not-so-bad) about the guy that we can all agree on, even if we don’t agree that it overcomes what we might dislike.”

            So the T-shirt starts by giving us the expectation that it’s going to end with some sort of praise, and makes us curious what that could possibly be, only to end with a description one of the worst things in history instead, which makes the speaker one of a few kinds of idiot. I’m not saying that’s what anyone shit-for-brained enough to wear the thing means by it, but that’s how the “joke” was constructed.

            Anyway, love Jon Yoo or hate him, he sure did get a lot of innocent people tortured.

          • Mike,

            I understand all that. I just think absent evidence that such an idiot exists, the joke sort of falls flat, because it is not calling anything out, as it is seemingly intended to do.

            For instance, have you ever seen it that a conversation or situation was going such a way, and you foresaw that if someone just said or did a particular thing, you’d have a perfect opportunity for an amazing joke or zinger? But, no one said or did that thing? Now, if you STILL delivered the joke or zinger, you’d just seem odd, no? No one would laugh. Your comment would seem out of place because it would lack the proper context to make it funny. That shirt lacks a context.

            If it is intended to criticize people so out of touch on the Holocaust and Hitler, I’m not sure who those people are. And I’d argue that being a neo-Nazi is different than being out of touch.

            If it is intended to more broadly criticize people who are over-reliant on nuance or who might construct similarly farcical statements about far less serious topics than Hitler and the Holocaust… I just don’t see the point.

            And if you just want to turn people based on their expectations, just go with Tom Hank’s joke from “Catch Me If You Can”…
            “Knock, Knock.”
            “Who’s there?”
            “Go fuck yourselves.”

          • I was just explaining what sort of joke it is. We agree that it’s a miserable example of it. Do you think the John Yoo version is any better?

          • Understood. I don’t know who John Yoo is, so it is hard for me to judge.

          • The Bush administration lawyer who found “legal justifications” for torture. (Honestly, it was in all the papers.)

          • Not knowing specifics, I’d say that isn’t analogous to Hitler. I’d venture to guess there are a great deal more people in America who would sign off as loving, or at least not hating, John Yoo than would Hitler. Those same people might also disagree with whether the people he facilitated being tortured were actually “innocent”. I don’t think anyone save the craziest denialist loon denies Hitler killed a lot of Jews.

      • You know, this joke reminded me of another joke that I’ve never been able to forget. It’s easily the most tasteless and offensive joke I’ve ever heard, and it’s for precisely that reason, I suspect, that I’ve never been able to forget it. I used to think that was disturbing, and said something less than pleasant about me, but after several years of experience (I first heard the joke in high school), and a significant amount of time and energy in exploring the cognitive underpinnings of things like memory and humor, I think it’s perfectly normal that I remember it, and that so is finding such jokes funny on some level, even when we find them offensive on several other levels. In fact, the offensiveness is a big part of why we find it funny. Humor and memory both rely heavily on our expectations, and social mores and taboos are significant determiners of those expectations.

        • Dude, I totally played with fire here, and you’re gonna just leave it hanging out there like that and not tell the joke?

          Wuss 😉

          (Not really. I took a risk here, IMO. I actually sort of worry that this thread is going to get stumbled across by someone who’s not a regular, and just goes nuclear over it).

          • Kaz, dude, I did the best I could, from several angles, to theorize about it. 🙁

            What is being turned on its head, in essence, is the expectation that anyone would ever miss the forest for the trees like that. It’s triviality pretending to be thoughtful, masking horror, with a soupcon of implied tone-deaf/clueless narration, with word trickery/word priming as its vehicle.

            Imagine Fred Willard saying it, as he’s reporting on a Skokie Nazi rally in a Christoper Guest mockumentary.

            That’s the best I can do.

          • Oh, God, I’m sorry! I was asking Chris that question! I’m curious what joke he was reminded of! Sorry, dude.

            But I will say this:

            “Imagine Fred Willard saying it, as he’s reporting on a Skokie Nazi rally in a Christoper Guest mockumentary.”

            THAT would be funny. Because there is a context! But some jackass walking down the street with that t-shirt thinking he is being edgy? Meh.

          • Oh thank goodness. All I could think was “ohhhh nooooo, it’s going off the rails anyway despite my best efforts, doooooomed…”

            I agree, Chris needs to put up or shut up 🙂

          • Kazz and Glyph, I’m going to wuss out and tell you that you’ve probably heard the joke before, and a quick google search shows that it’s pretty easy to find. It’s a Holocaust joke (hence Glyph’s reminding me of it), and it involves pizza.

            Thinking about it, I can now think of a few other equally offensive jokes that I’ve heard, but about a different group of people (remember that I grew up in the South).

          • Oh yea… that’s a bad one.

            It has the over-the-top-ness of a dead baby joke with the personal/sensitivity of a Holocaust joke. Nothing smart or satirical about it… just play ol’ sick.

          • When I was in high school, a couple of the Jewish kids with especially strong stomachs for sick humor used to make Holocaust jokes purely to annoy the more sensitive Jewish kids. (The goyish kids had the sense to stay completely out of it.) The only one I recall is:

            The good news is, we’re sending you to one of the finest hotels in Berlin. The bad news is, you’re going as soap.

            (I stayed neutral myself, mostly because I wouldn’t give the sickos the satisfaction of a reaction.)

          • Coincidentally, I know a bunch of Jesus jokes (no religion, I know, that’s why I’m not telling them), because I used to hang out with a bunch of fervent atheists when I was younger (most of them, ironically perhaps, are now Christians again). They weren’t funny at all, except to the extent that they really pissed off Christians, which at the time made them very funny.

    • ND – this all may be getting too deep for a MD post – but do you think that even people who didn’t directly experience/survive a horrible or tragic event, still might have a psychological need to joke about it, to keep the darkness at bay? Faced with the immensity of something like The Holocaust – even separated by great time and distance from it – I can see why people might need a coping mechanism, a way to diminish and cut down to mental size that inhumanity which we most fear.

      Cavemen who had never yet seen a sabre-tooth tiger, probably made “sabre-tooth tiger” jokes around the fire, to relieve tension and fear.

      And someone at that same fire probably got offended, saying, “hey, my Uncle Zog got EATEN by a sabre-tooth tiger, that’s not funny!”

    • NewDealer appears to be under the impression that people telling Holocaust jokes in a Jewish neighborhood are the “life of the party”

      Writing jokes is pushing boundaries. I’ve seen hilarious fucking trollery that involved “in-game” murder. (it was a dating sim! Does that make it better or worse?)

      I’m convinced that most sick jokes are just bad jokes, pushing boundaries.

      I mean Carlin told some pretty sick shit… but, dude! Carlin!

      • That’s not what I meant.

        What I meant is when I bring up objections to various dead baby type of jokes. People usually see me as being too uptight and taking things too seriously. Of course, they could also feel odd about being called out and then they double down.

  2. I don’t really get the dead puppies joke… what about them makes them more conducive to a fork lift?

    I will say that I sometimes enjoy “Dead Baby” jokes and other similarly vile sources of humor. However, I am very careful about the company I say these in. And I will say I’m curious what our willingness to say these jokes or, dare I say, fondness for them says about us (“us” being those who do… not people in general… I realize a great number of folks have no patience for them).

  3. I saw a t-shirt during the ’08 election that had a picture of Obama and said, “Barack Who’s Sane Obama”. The picture was a fairly neutral portrayal, not a caricature or anything. I’m still not sure if the shirt was offensive or not, either in intent or in impact.

    • I don’t think so. I think that shirt is making fun of the right-wing types who used President Obama’s middle name as an anti-Islam, Obama is really a terrorist smear.

      The shirt is saying that Obama is sane and mentally competent. In contrast, the people who freak out and smear because of his middle name are insane and incompetent. Also Bush gets mocked as being insane and incompetent by the t-shirt.

      • That is what I tend to take away. But I still see it as a play on a “foreign-sounding” name, which tells me it might not intend to be offensive, but still potentially risks being so.

    • I go back and forth on them. On the one hand, some of them are pretty clever and/or funny. On the other, if we’re going to mock a woman who might be the most accomplished deaf blind person ever, than what are we saying to all the other deaf blind people out there?

      • Here’s one that you (YES YOU!) can use. Use it tomorrow after work or, heck, use it tonight!

        “Call me Anne Sullivan because I am a Miracle Worker.”

        • I honestly wonder how many people remember Anne Sullivan and the play/movie The Miracle Worker.

          • We read it in high school. I’m not sure I remember the name Anne Sullivan, but I certainly remember Helen Keller, the “Miracle Worker” and a few key plot points.

          • I played the doctor in The Miracle Worker in college. On stage for the first two minutes, then sitting on my ass backstage until curtain call, two acts later. Worst role ever. But I did get a lot of studying done, since I didn’t have to listen for any cues.

          • At least you didn’t play the cello in Pachelbel’s Canon. (Best rant ever.)

          • I played the trombone in high school and college, so yeah. Best Rant Ever.

    • “I have a soft spot in my heart for Helen Keller jokes.”

      I can’t see the point in them, so I don’t hear them.

    • This makes me remember that Helen Keller is the trump card for “Apples to Apples”.

      That then makes me think of Cards Against Humanity, which is Apples to Apples for evil people.

      My friends agree that this is the worst card in that game: “Wrexvat bss vagb n cbby bs puvyqera’f grnef”

      Unlike Apples to Apples, this game sometimes asks for two or three response cards. And to continue the awful streak, one of the worst combos we ever played was on the topic: “Yes I killed ____. How you ask? _____.”

      First blank: Tenaqzn
      Second blank: Nhfpujvgm

      You don’t need a Helen Keller card when you’ve got that last card in the deck.

      (The trump card for the game is the totally innocuous, yet always hilarious “Eldery Japanese men” card. I don’t know why.)

  4. A further thought on sick humor is whether a person places the burden on the speaker or the listener.

    If you place the burden on the listener then all sick humor is going to be fair game because who cares about “pearl clutching” sensibilities.

    If you are like me and place burdens on the speaker (and the listener) than sick humor becomes more questionable.

  5. Reading through the comments, there are a number of metajokes that come to mind.

    Why did one todder act kindly to the other toddler?

    Because they were in Montessori School.

  6. Somebody alluded it to above; there are comedians of supreme talent that a capable (and at their most brilliant) when they are working with extremely dark subject matter – Louis CK and Chris Rock come to mind as two (living) practitioners of the art that are able to pull it off.

    Most comedians, though are not, and most people *definitely* are not.

    An example of ‘please, *please*, leave it to the professionals’ were the numerous people on Twitter who thought it was the height of cleverness to put Chinese food pics in their feeds and tag it with #PuppyBowl

    (the problem with the rot13’d joke in the original post is that it’s just dated)

    • “An example of ‘please, *please*, leave it to the professionals’ were the numerous people on Twitter who thought it was the height of cleverness to put Chinese food pics in their feeds and tag it with #PuppyBowl”

      Really? Wow. This screams of being “edgy” TM.

    • One of the jokes I liked in the American Office was Michael Scott complaining that HR wouldn’t let him do Chris Rock routines anymore. They cleverly left it at that, because nothing they could actually show would be as awful as your imagination of it.

    • Meowing in the Chinese Grocery Store was (unintentionally) hilarious.

      All in the reactions…

      (apparently I can do a quite convincing meow.)

  7. I am so out of my element here. For instance, I first heard the “dead puppy” joke as a dead baby joke. And I know an entire series of them, predicated on the notion that the situation can’t possibly get any more awful, while still realizing that the situation is NOT REAL. They’re definitely not something I would toss out to get a reaction, I’d want to tell them to someone who can handle the absurdity of it.

    If you think you’re that someone, go for it:

    Jung’f jbefr guna n qrnq onol? N cvyr bs qrnq onovrf. Jung’f jbefr guna n cvyr bs qrnq onovrf? Gurer’f n yvir bar ng gur obggbz. Jung’f jbefr guna gung? Vg rngf uvf jnl bhg. Jung’f rira jbefr guna gung? Vg tbrf onpx sbe frpbaqf.

    And if you feel you need to top THAT… Decode the question before you decide to decode the answer. (If I get a bad reaction on the question, I won’t finish.)

    Jung fbhaq qbrf n onol znxr jura vg snyyf qbja gur fgnvef?

    V qba’g xabj, V jnf gbb ohfl znfgheongvat.

    Yeah, that one’s just for shocking people. (Alternate non-awful answer that still manages to be in the same vein: V qba’g xabj! Ubj pbhyq lbh guvax V’q yrg gung unccra??)

    • I’m not gonna lie, I laughed at that second one (stairs and the answer).

      As above, to me it implies something about the “narrator” – that they are careless, and callous, and don’t even have the social sense not to tell the “truth” in response to the question.

      It kind of reminds me of this one, sort of a “Dice”-type punchline, for males to tell, and heavily dependent on delivery:

      (Qba’g senzr guvf nf n wbxr. Frg guvf hc nf gubhtu vg’f fbzr vagrerfgvat snpg gung lbh whfg cvpxrq hc juvyr ernqvat guvf jrrx. Gur frghc fubhyq or vagrafr & raguhfvnfgvp. Lbh’er gelvat gb funer fbzr fpvragvsvp xabjyrqtr.)

      “Lbh xabj, V fnj n fghql gung fnlf gur nirentr znyr ernpurf betnfz nccebkvzngryl 5-10 zvahgrf nsgre gur fgneg bs vagrepbhefr. Ohg, qb lbh ernyvmr ubj ybat vg gnxrf gur nirentr srznyr?”

      (Chapuyvar fubhyq or qryvirerq va n fuehttvatyl ncngurgvp znaare, nyy “ru”, znlor rira xavggvat lbhe oebj, zvyqyl crecyrkrq gung gur nafjre jbhyq or bs vagrerfg gb nalobql)

      “Jub *pnerf*?”

      • What I think is funny about the “Dead Baby” jokes is that the listener KNOWS it is going to be offensive and attempts to determine an answer yet is STILL blown away by the actual response. If the listener is able to come up with the answer or a worse one, the joke falls flat. As JT points out, the idea is that you push people to a new low. It is shock humor. I’m not sure it offers commentary on the teller other than they are more depraved than the listener.

        And on that front…

        Jung’f oynpx-naq-oyhr naq ungrf frk?

        Gur svir-lrne-byq va zl pybfrg.

          • The ideal way to drop that last one is to precede it with, “Okay, okay, enough dead baby jokes…” Of course, you have to tell a bunch of dead baby jokes first.

            Sorta like these:

            Ubj qb lbh trg 100 qrnq onovrf vagb gur gehax bs lbhe pne?
            N oyraqre.
            Ubj qb lbh trg 100 qrnq onovrf bhg bs gur gehpx bs lbhe pne?
            Jung vf gur qvssrerapr orgjrra n qrnq onol naq n ghegyr?
            V qba’g unir n ghegyr va n gnax va zl ebbz.

            Okay, I really need to stop… BUT OH THEY’RE SO MUCH FUN!

          • That one was also delivered by the previously-assumed-straight-laced roommate… who did a little dance with it… “Tos-TI-tos!” That is how we knew that year was going to somehow work out.

    • Ubj znal onovrf pna svg va gur gehax bs n Ohvpx?

      [Nffhzr fhcre frevbhf qrzrnabe]


        • As yours above, it is ALL in the delivery.

          And all the better when delivered by the roommate you previously thought was very straight laced.

  8. I just realized there’s an entire movie dedicated to this type of joke, and the people who like it.

    It’s called “The Artistocrats”.

      • One of my very favorite versions of the eponymous joke is:

        “Zl uhfonaq naq V cynl n Zbmneg fbangn sbe ivbyva naq cvnab, gura bhe gjb qnhtugref qnapr gb vg: svefg n zvahrg, gura n jnygm, naq fb ba guebhtu gur uvfgbel bs qnapr hagvy gur raq jvgu fbzrguvat pbagrzcbenel.”

        “Gung fbhaqf ybiryl. Jung qb lbh pnyy vg?”

        “Gur pbpxfhpxvat zbgureshpxref.”

        Va ergebfcrpg, vg’f n cerggl boivbhf erirefny, ohg va pbagrkg vg’f oevyyvnag.

        • Someone tells a version of that spin in the movie. It was one of the few iterations I actually found particularly amusing.

          I hated that movie otherwise, and is on my mental list of “most overrated films ever.” The whole thing smacks of effort. The shock wears off pretty damn fast (the “South Park” version’s reference to 9/11 was one of the few moments where I was actually shocked into laughter), and as a result the lack of underlying wit becomes all too transparent.

          • Yeah, that came direct (well, filtered through fallible memory) from the film. I liked the film quite a bit, but to me it’s not about wit or shock; it’s about craft. Inventing, or even modifying, jokes is hard, and most of the results just sit there awkwardly looking pointless or labored.

          • “I liked the film quite a bit, but to me it’s not about wit or shock; it’s about craft.”


            it was one of the last films i saw in the theatre, and i must say i was dismayed at how many grandparents brought their kids to it thinking it was “the aristocats” despite the handwritten sign on the poster for the film at the box office read “NOT THE ARTISTOCATS”.

            it was a bit funny watching them all run out in the first few minutes.

  9. *Pause frame on TV*
    Not-me, “you know who that is, right?”
    Me, “That’s her husband.”
    Not-me, “Humph. I wonder if she really meant it?”
    [short voyage out to wikipedia to look at her profile, to see if there were murder charges]
    Not-me, “Okay, not dead. severely beaten, yes.”
    Me, “Did he do something to deserve that?”
    Not-me, “I know them both.”
    /contemplative pause
    Not-me, “No.”
    Me, laughing.
    Not-me, “I think she may need psychotherapy — or waffles.”

    note: not Phil Hartman (and that’s enough of a clue about the sick aspect of this.)

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