In today’s world of late-night television and stand-up comics, it seems like anything is fair game when it comes to humor. I pose the question to you: Have we gone too far? Should there be limits on what we consider funny?
Off-color and offensive jokes seem to be funny. As someone once explained it to me, “The whole point is to say something so terrible that no one would ever take you seriously that you would say it…so it’s funny.”
I think that once something is commonly done, we sometimes forget the context. Let’s take the ever-popular, “That’s what she said.” This is a phrase that people shout out in glee just about anytime anything that could possibly be construed as a sexual innuendo is said.
But let’s think about that. “That’s what she said [in bed].” Meaning, the speaker is referring to a woman as a prize. The speaker is bragging about having this mysterious woman who says so much in their bed. It’s degrading their sexual intimacy to a joke to be laughed about with friends. There’s no respect for it.
I’m guilty of saying “That’s what she said” myself. And when I think about it, it wasn’t because it was actually funny. It was because I was with a crowd of people who I knew would think it was funny, and I didn’t want them to think I was uncool, or too serious, or too good for them.
There’s another form of humor which I would like to condemn outright, and that’s any kind of humor that has to do with a life-threatening illness. You never know who is in earshot. You never know all of the stories of the people you are trying to entertain. I’ve been in situations where someone’s hand was shaking a little bit, because they were cold, and they said “Whoa, it’s like I have Parkinson’s disease.” Someone else then said “Yeah, I totally have Alzheimer’s because I forget things all the time.”
As someone who lost a parent to Parkinson’s, I have this instant, visceral reaction to jokes like this. I have this feeling in the pit of my stomach, like I’ve just been punched and often I start crying uncontrollably.
Then, inevitably, someone will tell me that I need to lighten up. I need a sense of humor. Well, I’d like to turn that back on them. These people who make jokes like this need to think before they speak and to incorporate compassion and respect for all humankind into their lives.
I ask you this, What’s better: being too serious, or making fun of disease, work conditions, and sexual assault without lifting a single finger to make a difference? By teaching people to laugh at these things, you’re teaching them not to take them seriously, and therefore, not to help.