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The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

The Rubicon

The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

The Rubicon

Thought it was funny and it wasn’t? Apologize

Using dark humor as an excuse for offense isn’t an excuse.
Lani Ngonethong
TO JOKE OR NOT TO JOKE. Recently, sensitive jokes caught the ears of many watching the mainstream comedy scene. Most notably jokes from Matt Rife on his Netflix special and Jo Koy on the Golden Globes. They both faced rightful public backlash as well as questionable support.

By the end of 2023, the mainstream comedy scene was a mess. Matt Rife, a rising comedian, earned himself a Netflix special and fumbled it by making a joke about domestic violence. Then came Jo Koy’s disheartening jokes with sexist undertones at the Golden Globes about the Barbie movie and Taylor Swift.

However, common insensitive jokes often slip under the radar when not on such a public scale.

In his Netflix special, Matt Rife: Natural Selection, Rife told the story leading up to the joke; the punchline was this: “If she could cook, she wouldn’t have that black eye.” Many have argued that jokes such as what Rife said are just “dark humor.”

To determine if that assertion might fit a definition, dark humor is a comedy genre used to make light of severe or dark situations. Common examples are death, social issues, and tragedies.

Jokes can indeed be used as a coping mechanism for trauma. Death is traumatizing and sad, and people want to combat those negative feelings. So, they joke about it. Phrases like “laughing through the pain,” as much of a joke as it may sound, portray how humor works with trauma. Instead of denying the pain and trauma, people can face it head-on and, at the same time, laugh.

However, Rife’s joke was not dark humor. For dark humor to work, it should come from personal experience. Rife’s joke called out a woman possibly going through something traumatizing. Not only is the joke unfunny, it is harmful. Whether it was his aim or not, his joke also victim-blamed the woman.

It’s not up to him to take the woman’s situation and present it to the world for people to laugh at. No one has the right to tell that joke besides the woman herself.

It’s not up to him to take the woman’s situation and present it to the world for people to laugh at. No one has the right to tell that joke besides the woman herself.

Dark humor is also used to critique general society. Examples include jokes about the government or societal pressures and problems. Jo Koy praised Oppenheimer for its classic, intelligent, and significant source material and compared it to Barbie, referencing the Barbenheimer memes. Based on the doll, Barbie draws attention to societal pressures on women and aims for female empowerment. His joke left a bad taste in the mouths of many because he seemingly disregarded the true meaning of Barbie by calling it a movie “about a plastic doll with big boobies.” Instead of critiquing oppressive societal problems, Jo Koy’s joke fed into the issue of sexism.

Besides Rife’s joke, the most problematic thing might be his insincere apology. His response to backlash was an Instagram story with a link to a website for special-needs helmets.

Jokes like these are called out nationally but are just as prevalent on campus. Many grades have held class meetings addressing insensitive jokes made within the community. These insensitive jokes are motivated by racial, sexual, and homophobic tensions within the grade.

The form these jokes take, who they are directed at, and who makes them do not fit the mold of dark humor. Instead, it just shows ignorance or explicit ill will to the audience. Confrontations against these jokes are sadly, and more times than not, met with insincerity. Although insincerity is not as clear-cut as in Rife’s apology, they often show similar ignorance and unwillingness to change.

Everyone’s sense of humor is different. Some people prefer dark humor, and that is fine.

However, because dark humor is a fine line between morbidity and satire, do not use it as a shield to excuse a harmful joke. Instead, simply take it back and sincerely apologize. Try to understand the damaging message the joke sent out so it is not repeated.

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About the Contributor
Lani Ngonethong, News editor
My name is Lani Ngonethong, she/her. I am a News Editor for the Rubicon Online, and this is my second year on staff. In my free time, I enjoy playing volleyball and badminton with friends and family. I am also learning how to speak Hmong and Lao. I love to play with cats even though I am very allergic to them. I can be reached at [email protected].

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