Column: Dark humor can work, but only with the right target

Luke Taylor

“All point and no edge:” what’s the point of dark humor?

In comedy spaces, whether they be stand-up sets or TikTok videos, the idea of “dark humor” has become a scapegoat for all kind of jokes.

Much of the current conception of dark humor comes from the idea that any controversy can become comedy.

This isn’t necessarily untrue. Many historical travesties, from war to the current pandemic, have been marked by moments of comedic genius that outlived the issues they satirized.

What today’s comics seem to miss, however, is the idea of “punching up.”

Making fun of someone with a lower social status than yours is also known as straight up bullying.

Making fun of someone who is using their social, physical, monetary, or political power to hurt others is a form of catharsis.

A common example of dark humor is Mel Brook’s “The Producers.” This film follows the story of two producers who want to make a terrible, failed play as part of a scam. They decide to make a play about the most offensive thing they can come up with: Hitler.

The play shows a lighthearted Hitler with “a song in his heart,” who dances across the stage with a squad of scantily clad stormtroopers.

The issue here is that the point of the movie wasn’t “Hitler is sort of funny!” The point is “Fascism and those who follow the ideology deserve every bit of ridicule we can throw at them.”

Mel Brooks, a Jewish man, was very purposeful in his messaging. He has since spoken out against those who claim that all satire is created equally.

The Producers should not be used as an excuse for anti-Semitic humor or making light of the very real harm done by Hitler and his followers. The idea of making fun of fascists seems kind of wild, but think about it this way.

People subscribe to ideas of nationalism and white supremacy because they think that their in-group is better than all others. Making fun of them, straight up reminding them of their problems, is not only cathartic, but a direct attack on harmful ideologies.

If you direct that ridicule toward groups who are historically and currently experiencing oppression, even if you’re attempting satire, you’re just adding to the existing narrative of hatred toward those groups.

One of the rules of comedy is that “if you’re part of a group, it’s fair game to make fun of the group.”

I agree with that idea wholeheartedly, but don’t forget that you can also use humor, like any medium, to promote social progress and stop the spread of harmful ideologies.

In summary, bullying Nazis is pretty cool.


Elizabeth Taylor is a sophomore journalism major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]