Bernard Allen
Bernard Allen

‘What about all the good things Hitler did?’

Well, apart from giving us a good dose of sadness, the VW Beetle “people’s car” and leaving us promising each other “never again”, I can’t think of anything else. And if grossly inflated vehicle prices and the ongoing massacres around the world are anything to go by, only one of those has really lasted anyway. It’s fortunate then that the title here leads to a different subject altogether, namely dark humour or else this article wouldn’t extend past the first paragraph.

I saw the question “What about all the good things Hitler did?” on a T-shirt once, and yes, I found it funny. I confess, I love dark humour. How dark? I’m not sure as to exactly where my limits are. I still feel a little bad about deriving pleasure out of subject matter which is a source of evil and misery for many people (or animals). But I can’t help it, there’s a little trigger in my head that sparks a laugh. If I pay a visit to somewhere like T-Shirt Hell’s website (www.tshirthell.com) for example, I find myself laughing at the most terrible things that I don’t agree with in the slightest.

Some of the funniest T-shirts there at the moment for me include one with a standard colour blindness test pattern on the front, with the words “f*** the colour blind” written with colour dots in it, or another one that certifies the T-shirt as being 100% organic, and then proceeds to lay out the “organic” constituent ratio as being “65% baby seal, 25% panda, and 10% manatee”. I find those hysterical. I also couldn’t help but laugh at some of the Michael Jackson jokes doing the rounds recently. The one about him apparently having passed away in the paediatric ward from having a stroke was admittedly hilarious. But paedophilia is no laughing matter (neither is rape, unless it’s by a clown, as a “tasteful” T-shirt worn by someone on a local university campus once stated). So, am I a bad person for laughing?

I like to think not. In my reasoning I look at the nature of humour itself. Good humour always takes you in one direction, and then drops you in the opposite ( http://health.howstuffworks.com/human-nature/emotions/other/laughter5.htm) or just drops you in the opposite direction to start with. The best punchlines are the least expected ones. For me, a fine example of a cutting punchline would be the one in this joke:

Venus and Serena Williams are chatting in the change room after a tennis match.

Venus: “You know, I think dad’s (their dad is their coach, for those who don’t know) been giving us far too much in the way of steroids.”

Serena: “Why do you say that?”

Venus: “Well, I’ve been growing hair in places I normally wouldn’t.”

Serena: “Like where?”

Venus: “Like on my testicles, for a start … ”

In discussing dark humour with a friend a while back, he suggested that perhaps an absence of laughter (or a genuinely horrified response) is greater cause for alarm than its presence, and I’m inclined to agree. Laughter is just an advanced form of shock response. In fact, by laughing, sometimes we are distantiating ourselves from the subject matter itself as far as we can.

Of course there are limits, and one should always bear those in mind around us who don’t appreciate darker humour and are likely to either want to lynch you or collapse in a puddle of tears as a result. On a related note, in the instance of somebody getting hurt or embarrassed, help them and show sympathy first, then laugh later with them about it if the situation is appropriate. But I don’t think we should feel too bad about laughing at dark humour in general. And if I turn to a friend, channelling Hannibal Lecter momentarily, and say something like “I ate the liver of the last person who said that with some fava beans and a nice Chianti” and they simply respond with a casual nod or slight salivating instead of laughter, I may be a little worried.